"It's the one room of the house where the door opens daily for the world to see, yet it's the most unsightly, poorly utilized and neglected room in most families," says Barry Izsak, a professional organizer and author of Organize Your Garage In No Time.
It's clear that Americans are getting a little desperate about what they should do with all their stuff, and that the stalled real-estate market may be making people's garage storage problems worse. Shoppers can go to organize.com, for example, and spend $1,800 on a complete garage reorg or stop by the Container Store for its $1,200 sleek Elfa garage shelving system. They can spend entire paychecks on plastic container systems and steel shelving at Lowe's or Home Depot, or stock up on vast quantities of Rubbermaid.
"We're trying to sell solutions," says Audrey Robertson, a spokesperson for the Container Store, which recently announced that is exploring the possibility of a sale. "We feel like a failure if someone walks in and says, 'I want to buy this shoebox,' instead of understanding that their whole closet needs reorganizing." And it's working: The Elfa shelving systems, she says, now account for about 25% of the chain's sales.
Total sales for fiscal year 2006 are expected to reach close to $500 million, a figure that has grown 15-20% a year. The Dallas-based company was founded in 1978 and has 38 stores in 17 markets, with three new stores planned for this year.
Increasingly, consumers are also calling in pros like Izsak, who is the president of the National Association of Professional Organizers, which has doubled its membership in the last four years. Organizers typically charge between $50 and $150 an hour, Izsak says, and help consumers focus on the root causes of the clutter. "It's often better to let an objective professional define the problem, and come up with specific product recommendations," he says.
Yet, even with sales of these systems increasing, there's also evidence that more people are just giving up on their garage clutter entirely and opting for storage instead. The New York Times recently reported that 11 million American households rent storage space, an increase of 90% since 1995, at a time when most houses are getting bigger and families smaller.