How to tame car restoration clutter

Car restoration is a hobby that can generate serious amounts of clutter because every item is something that could come in useful someday. Keeping it tidy and organized really helps.


When I buy a car, I expect it to work. It’s a deal-breaker if it doesn’t.

My husband Richard’s idea of fun is to buy a 43-year old maroon Jaguar XJ6 with immaculate bodywork and an engine that doesn’t run. He then scoured the country for two rusty old 307 Chevrolet engines and a TH700 gearbox (whatever that is). From these he hoped to extract everything he needed to get the car working. I thought it was madness, but he loved the challenge.

Over a two-week period, I watched with interest and some growing concern as our previously pristine garage first became home to a car that couldn’t be driven and then to a growing pile of engine bits randomly heaped in a corner alongside old paint cans. I’ve seen too many cluttered garages in clients’ homes over the years for warning bells not to sound.

But I needn’t have worried. Richard had seen far too many cluttered garages himself while out and about looking for all the car parts he needed and he had it all under control.

The right storage makes all the difference

The “before” photo here shows the sad state of disarray that had built up. The “after” photo shows what it looked like by the end of the day after he’d installed a metal cabinet and some racking and got everything organized.

Before and after photos

He gave me a guided tour.

On the top shelf was a drive shaft that he needed to check to see if it fits. The next shelf down was for pistons, pulleys and things like that. The middle shelf was for electrical bits such as the alternator, distributor and air-con. I must have temporarily lost consciousness when he explained what’s on the fourth shelf down but came round in time to hear that the bottom area is for something called transmission.

‘And best of all’, he beamed ‘is that after the engine is built, I’ll be able to use the racks for any bits I take off the car.’

He completely lost me there, I must confess. I own a car myself and never feel the urge to take any bits off it because I know it won’t work properly without them. But he tells me that’s Phase Two of the project. Many pieces will need to be taken off, lovingly restored to their former glory and put back in place again.

I stared open-mouthed in wonderment at this point as I mentally racked up how much time this would take and how I would die of utter boredom if I were to attempt it myself.

Three and a half hours from chaos to order

Knowing how many home garages in the world could use a makeover like this, I asked Richard how long it had taken him to do it. I thought six or seven hours, for sure. But no. It took him an hour to go out and buy the storage at our local hardware store, then just two and a half hours to assemble it all and organize the stuff.

The end result is not a thing of beauty or something I would want inside the home. But it’s as presentable as a collection of rusty old car parts can be and it tranformed the garage into feeling orderly instead of sinking into chaos. Richard could now find what he needs without rummaging around and I had a tiny bit more understanding about what the appeal car projects could possibly be.

In many homes, the garage is the man’s domain. But what many people don’t realize is that the state it’s kept in affects everyone who lives there, so it’s in everyone’s interest to bring it under control. It takes three simple steps:

1. Get the right storage
2. Group things according to type
3. Discard what you no longer need or won’t fit in the space

Job done!

For Richard this was a one-off project – something he’d always wanted to do. He assured me that when he’d finished, he’d sell the storage cabinet and racks, dump anything he didn’t use and just enjoy driving the car. And if it turned out he didn’t have time to complete the project after all, he’d sell the car and parts for what he paid for them and move on. The trick to a happy life is to keep up to date so that energy doesn’t stagnate.

Update 10 months later

All the garage clutter has gone and there’s a beautiful, fully restored and fully functional car in its place!

Fully restored car

Interior & engine

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2018, updated 2023

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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6 Responses to How to tame car restoration clutter

  1. This is a great article, it goes to show that no matter what, you can have a organized garage. I had a 1970 VW Bug I owned for 42 years, had restored it before, this was my only car. I worked on it for about another 3 years, waxing it, touch up paint, replacing broken parts, before letting it go. I had everything organized and tidy in that garage. Some people told me it was the cleanest garage they had ever saw, lol 😆 The real reason it is kept so clean, is that it is an attached garage and any old car smell can make it’s way into the living space. Miss the bug, but I found a new good home for it.

  2. This article was absolutely hilarious! I cracked up reading it! When I was married……long long ago…my ex husband told me that the first time he used his garage in his first marriage, the car got snowed into the garage, so he never used the garage again….and hence it was full of clutter in no time.

    I reignited an old love of sailing recently and after several months of reading sailing magazines I saw that the common theme was “disaster – the mast broke…yadda yadda but I somehow kept going, or “the rudder broke….yadda yadda – same drama story”, or “the engine failed…more yadda yadda”…. It took me months to come to the realization that so many man (for it does seem to be a man thing!!!) absolutely love having something to fix, cos then it gives them something to do, and also something to talk about!

    Funny how we never heard these dramatic stories from Ellen McArthur as she quietly and efficiently sailed solo round the world!

    Love the car though! And my new garage (well shed!) in my new home has the grand total of three tins of paint, a rocking chair and three sun loungers!

  3. My boyfriend has an old tractor (belonged to his Father) he wants to do up. It has been parked by the side of the farm road for years. He put shelves in his garage though and did tidy some parts, boxes of tiles, etc, there. He has another tractor that needs working on but it seems to big a job for him to start. I’m hoping my decluttering will release some energy.

  4. My friend Mike fixes wrecked cars as a hobby, so it really resonated with me when you said ‘I must have temporarily lost consciousness’ when he was explaining what was on the fourth shelf down! Mike is always talking about frustrating problems in the repair process that cannot easily be solved, and often I find myself drifting off and daydreaming while he’s talking about various wire harnesses and loose bolts and tire pressure sensor monitor lights that won’t go out (Oh! I must be listening to something then!), only to awake with a start and wonder, oh man, what was he saying? I can’t tell you the number of times that I say, what was the problem again? Which car was it again? I try to be a good listener but something about car repair talk just makes me zone out. I retain nothing. What can I say! Ha ha! 🙂

  5. Sounds like a dream! I used to restore my old motorcycle. I kept my shed immaculately tidy with all the parts in their place relative to the space that I had, so that I could find things. When it went wrong, I would fix it. I knew exactly what to do. It was quite therapeutic really. I then moved back to the UK, a few months later my pride and joy was stolen. I didn’t really have a safe haven for it there.

    It took a while to get over that, but eventually, when I was ready, I sold all the extra parts I had on ebay and made another £500 (a year or so later) on top of the insurance money I received for the bike. Chapter closed and Job done. I still have fond memories of the 18 years I spent with my old bike, but am no longer traumatised by it’s untimely ending. I’m sure Richard will enjoy the project and I hope that it works out.

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