Kennedy: Why 25% of Americans don't park in their own garages

Common two car garage in a modern suburban home. / Photo credit: Getty Images/iStock/trekandshoot

Confession: I used to be a garage snob. Let others use their garages as indoor storage units, I sniffed. The Kennedy family will never cave to clutter.

Famous last words.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 25% of homeowners with two-car garages don't park any cars inside. Meanwhile, about a third of households can wedge only one vehicle into a garage built for two.

Alas, we have finally joined the "25 percenters." Our two-car garage is so full you can barely walk through it, much less park cars there.

The word garage derives from the French "gar-BAGH" - kidding. But it would make sense. What starts as a little legitimate clutter around the edges of a garage - a recycling bin here, a dirt bike there - slowly grows into an unmanageable mess.

For 17 years I fought the good fight. I didn't have a house with a garage until I was about 45 years old, and had I vowed that I would never let it be used for unintended purposes.

"A garage is for parking cars," I would insist. I said this so often, in fact, that my kids would roll their eyes and smile.

I wrote a column in 2017 about my joy after spring cleaning the garage. Some furniture had stalled on its way to the dump, blocking one side. But a trip to the dump felt like squirting decongestant up one clogged nostril. I could smell the sweet success of two-car occupancy again.

So, if I'm being honest, our clutter creep started several years ago. When you move into a house, the garage is blissfully empty. If you're lucky, it might even have some built-in shelves or wall hooks for hanging tools.

The first wave of extraneous garage clutter might come under the heading of "useful stuff" - an upright freezer, perhaps, or a discarded dining table used as a work bench. But soon you start stacking things on top of the freezer, and the tabletop quickly becomes covered with junk, too.

Slowly but surely, a ring of clutter builds around the perimeter of the garage. For example, in our garage, there is one shelf filled with old music CDs, the refugees of the digital file-sharing revolution.

As things evolved, I blame the pandemic for the total repurposing of our garage.

We were good until last spring, when our youngest son began collecting table saws and other woodworking tools. They were supposed to go into a shed behind his aunt's house, but he begged to keep them closer to home.

The table saw begat lumber piles, which begat furniture samples, which begat clutter on top of clutter. This continued through the summer until one side of the garage clogged, followed by the other.

Suddenly, all vehicles were banished to the driveway, and we were doomed to a long dark winter of frosty windshields and rain-spotted car paint.

Meanwhile, I quietly joined the 24% of Americans (according to an Impulse Research survey) who are ashamed to leave their garage doors open. We no longer even route guests through the garage into the kitchen.

Oh, the shame. The heartbreak.

There was talk of renting a dumpster to wipe away junk and restore my garage to its rightful purpose.

Christmas break came and went though, and the dumpster talk has died down. But there's always spring. Maybe we'll have a big neighborhood yard sale. Yeah, that's it.

I have visions of divesting piles of lumber for free. A go-cart for $10. An old bike for $5.

For now, though, it's just wishful thinking.

But, dear readers, as you are my witness, I'm not giving up on my two-car-garage dream. Not now, not ever.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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photo Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo