Ok Seattle homeowners, can we get real for a minute? It’s just you and me.

We need to talk about our garages. You know, the ones on our property that were built for storing motor vehicles.

Let’s be honest: many of us don’t use our garages for parking cars. I was tooling around Madrona the other night, looking for a parking space, and every spot on the street was taken. How could that be, I thought, when every house had a garage? Why are all the residents of Madrona parking on the street when they have perfectly usable garages?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because our garages are stuffed with more junk than a Greenwood antique shop. The typical Seattle garage contains six pairs of snowshoes, four vintage dining room chairs, a Fender amplifier, and at least one kayak. Can’t have that stuff in the house, of course, so in the garage it goes!

I don’t mean to pick on Madrona, it’s just where I happened to be. But I’ve been in enough Seattle neighborhoods on those pleasant Spring Saturdays, when the garages are open and everyone’s working on various “projects.” I know the score. I’m looking at you, guy in Phinney Ridge who brews his own beer. And you too, lady in Wallingford who keeps a  loom in the garage for the day you start, what, a… textile business?

And don’t get me started on the townhouse folks. You guys don’t have basements, so there’s no way in hell you’re using your garage to store a car. Not like you could anyway… most Seattle townhouse garages can’t fit anything bigger than a Mini Cooper, and even then you have to do a 17-point turn to get it in the auto court.

So next time you show up at a community meeting, complaining that some new apartment or condo is going to take up precious street parking, you may not get much sympathy. You can’t just leave the snowshoes and the kayak in the street for 23 hours a day, right?

I say it’s time for a city-wide purging. Let’s get rid of all that crap, because, let’s face it: you went kayaking that one time, you didn’t really enjoy it that much, and you can rent Kayaks pretty cheap at Agua Verde or REI anyway.  Is your garage sparkling and you use it only for your car and always park your car there? Good for you; maybe work on your neighbor.

Personally, I don’t have a garage. I have a basement, and as you can see from the photo above, it’s full of junk. If I had a garage, then I’d probably be using it for junk storage as well.  I’ve got at least three REI tents in there I don’t use anymore.  I spent last weekend making trips to the transfer station and Goodwill in an effort to start my own purge.  It felt great.

But hey, if you really want to keep storing junk in your garage, that’s your business. Just keep it in mind next time you’re circling the block looking for a spot.

70 Replies to “A Garage Intervention”

  1. “I’ve got at least three REI tents in there I don’t use anymore.”


  2. Even my apartment is full of junk I am trying to sort through and get rid of.

    I didn’t realize I still had a camera that uses XD memory… wow… getting rid of that as soon as possible.

    Want another reason to put your car back in your garage? Maybe your friends/family from out of town will have a place to park when they visit you.

    1. I have a camera that uses film still sitting around and it’s not even an SLR. Spring cleaning is coming to my studio apartment this year.

  3. Yes! Let’s do it. As a beer brewing townhouse owner, I’m being made fun of twice here. Yet I park my 7 year old Subaru in my garage, not on the street (I make those turns).
    We’ve got a rule in our house, if you want something new, something of equal size has to go. You have to want new things more than the things you already have (first world problem I know). Oh, one other rule… No kayaks.

  4. I actually don’t have a garage and I’m glad for that. It’ll help me to keep the level of junk I have down to a minimum. If I ever feel like I’m running out of space, then it’s time to throw junk out.

  5. Funny, you know what my Craftsman-owning landlords use their basement for? My apartment!

  6. Frank often writes that there’s not enough affordable, in-city housing. Seems to me we’re looking at a picture of not a basement, but a potential affordable room for a small family.

    1. I’ve absolutely loved my 800 sq ft Madrona basement for $950/month. I’ll be sad to leave it next month when my landlords have their baby and no longer want tenants.

    2. That’s the plan, Sam! As soon as I get financing lined up. Turns out banks aren’t giving out HELOCs like candy anymore. :(

    3. When I was at the UW I rented a room in the basement of a Lake City home. After a couple of years my girl friend (now wife of 25 years) took over the lease and rented out the basement to a UW student. I drove by a year or so ago and the house has been “remodeled” into a mansion. Not surprising since it was a prime no traffic corner lot right at the crest of where the terrain drops steeply assuring a panoramic view of Lake Washington forever. I doubt they are renting out any of the rooms but probably have a fleet of kayaks in the three car garage.

  7. This is why it is so annoying when some entity offers to pay for free parking permits for all the surrounding neighborhoods. That biennial fee — small though it may be — is what gets people to move their cars back in the garage. This bit of charity for well-to-do homeowners only exacerbates the parking problem.

    I still have yet to get a response from my senator on why he is trying to force Sound Transit to pay for free parking permits for homeowners with garages.

    1. Parking permits should be required on all non-metered streets for any parking over 2 hours.

      Maybe it will get my idiot neighbors to park in their own damn driveway rather than blocking mine with their giant SUVs.

  8. Frank, the wiring in your basement does not meet code, plus it’s dangerous. Suggest you change photos, or at least photoshop some conduit in.

  9. My house is a very traditional city home. Full basement, 2 storey construction surrounded by way too much lawn. Our house contains 3 or 4 persons, depending on the time of year, and we have ONE car that we park on the street because our detached, off-street parking garage was designed for a Model-T. There’s also a bus stop across the street that we use frequently (we own more ORCA cards than cars). Across the street from us there is a tall, skinny townhouse that contains 2 adults, both of whom own cars (1 SUV + 1 truck) that they always park along side our house because their garage is full of stuff and it’s too small for either of their cars. The neighbor’s house also has a curb-cut that eliminates one parking space in front of their house. So they are actually using 3 parking spaces (2 next to my house + 1 in front of their house for the curb cut). And people wonder why tall, skinny houses aren’t popular!

    1. Maybe it should be the larger vehicles that aren’t popular.

      In the neighborhood I grew up in, at the height of the BIG-SUV-SIZE BOOM some people down the block bought a Ford Excursion that turned out to be too big for their suburban-ass garage. So they parked it in their driveway… across the sidewalk. That winter was snowy, and I injured my knee and had to get around on crutches for a month. I wasn’t too happy with crutching through the snow to get around their illegally parked vehicle but my parents told me it wouldn’t be polite to ask them to show some respect for their neighbors and the law, because they were relatively new to a block with lots of long-time neighbors and having trouble fitting in. My neighborhood didn’t allow overnight street parking at all, so their choice was between basic respect for society and keeping their new car. They chose the car — no wonder they didn’t fit in.

      Anyway, part of the demise of the Excursion (and an advertising point for its only-slightly-less-ridiculous competitors) was that it didn’t fit in most people’s garages. Today’s vehicles are larger than a Model T but on a day-to-day basis they don’t really do anything more: they carry people (most often one, and up to a handful) from one place to another. The popularity of cars we consider very small in Europe and Asia has a lot to do with the size and shape of available parking, too. As US inner cities have become richer in the last decade-plus we’ve seen more nicely-appointed small cars come on the market. Maybe this will continue until all these old garages become usable again.

    2. What burns me up is several SUVs in one block, each taking up 1 1/2 parking spaces, leaving no space for disabled people who can’t walk more than a block or two from their car to their destination.

  10. What used to be non-issues for past, heartier generations, things like circling the block a couple of times to look for a parking space, or a bus being a few minutes late, now sends today generations … well, I think this video explains it all.

      1. Circling the block looking for parking a few generations ago = a minor inconvenience.

        Circling the block looking for parking for today’s narcissistic generation = unacceptable. “Society must be reorganized around me! I should not have to wait one second for what I want!”

        Of course, they don’t admit that’s the reason. They hide behind nobel issues like waning to prevent climate change.

  11. I still don’t understand why all non-single family neighborhoods aren’t immediately turned into RPZs.

    1. Why not include single family zones?

      Institute RPZs citywide and make people pay for street parking.

      1. Because the cost:benefit for charging for RPZ in single family neighborhoods doesn’t make monetary sense sense.

        At least in denser neighborhoods, you stand to recuperate enough to justify running the program. It’s not a money making operation for the city.

  12. If some of these people had a garage sale, they could empty out their garages and then rent it out to people in the neighborhood who want to pay for parking – or storage. I don’t have a garage, but my neighbors have one so skinny they wouldn’t be able to open their doors if they did get it into their garage.

  13. You’ve really got two questions here:

    1. Why do we accumulate so many things we never use?

    2. How do stop needing space to waste space parking cars?

    Answer to 1: Because we’re human beings.

    Answer to 2: Both renters and buyers should start insisting that landlords and builders provide storage.


    1. Another answer is to keep on filling our garages with junk and keep parking our cars on the street, then when people complain there isn’t enough street parking, instead of coddling them, tell them to quit their whining, toughen-up and deal with it.

      1. Well said. Another option is to park on the lawn. OK, that options is not available on all houses, but neither do all houses have garages. Either way, the assumption that the city should bend over backwards (by preventing neighbors from building more units or requiring that those units have parking) for fear of public parking spaces is ridiculous.

  14. I don’t have a garage or on-street parking; thanks, arterial road!

  15. I don’t know about Madrona, specifically, but in places like Ballard, a lot of older houses have garages, sure. Some are detached and near the back of the driveway and some are those really scary steep ones under the front of the house.

    What they all have in common is that they’re unbelievably tiny. A friend in Ballard has a basement garage and if she parks her 15 year old Accord in there, she can’t open the door and get out.

    So there’s that.

    1. I have seen a lot of those too small garages and always have the same thought: How did the homeowners ever get their typical 1940-1970’s car in there in the first place, if our current compact car won’t fit??

  16. Some time ago, San Francisco started charging an annual fee for all new curb cuts since they disrupt the sidewalks and give building owners and exclusive spot of public space. Some proposed to extend the fee to all curb cuts in the city with an option to opt out of the fee by painting the curb brown, signifying that it is an available parking space.

    Here’s a Streetsblog article about it: http://sf.streetsblog.org/2009/01/30/concrete-giveaway-free-and-exclusive-parking-on-the-public-street/

    1. When did driveways start being called curb cuts? I couldn’t figure out what a curb cut was until I looked at the picture and saw it was driveways.

      1. A driveway isn’t a curb cut; a curb cut is an interruption to the curb where there is a driveway apron. An ADA ramp at a crosswalk also has a curb cut.

      2. Also for it to legally be a driveway in Seattle it must be a curb cut that leads to a covered parking space (garage or carport; doesn’t have to have room for a car; it can be full of other stuff). It’s legal to block an illegal driveway when street parking even if you block in a car parked in that driveway. The car you blocked is treated by the law the same as if it was parked on their lawn with no curb cut.

  17. Another problem is how the car of today is far oversized. Even ‘compact’ cars have luxuriant and excessive amounts of space inside!

    1. Says who? I like my spacious 7 seater car. I’m 6ft2, my kids are already huge. grandpa and grandma can’t bend their knees that much anymore. Plus I like the leather and surround sound system.

  18. I have always been a fan of how they do it in Japan. If you want to buy a car, you need to show that you have an off-street spot to park it. If you do not have a parking spot on your property, you need to show that you are renting one. In a country like this with much more parking space per person, we should have no problem pulling this off.

    1. I think it’s precisely because there’s so much space per person that we haven’t had any policies like this. A policy like this goes against the ingrained thought (thanks, 1950s) that free parking is a human right.

    2. There is also almost no way to do parking on most streets in Tokyo… too narrow.

      Unfortunately this means a number of folks pull the “emergency light trick” to go buy things at the corner store:

      1) Park your car in the middle of the street
      2) Turn on your emergency lights
      3) Jump out and go into the store to buy things
      4) Get back before traffic enforcement shows up

      Fortunately, Tokyo is much much easier to get around without a car so this doesn’t really stop the average person from getting around town.

  19. In our two car suburban garage we store one car… and a fleet of bikes and strollers. The second car lives in the driveway, until it is sold, to be replaced by a cargo bike (which will live in the garage).

  20. We used Zipcar for the first time a month ago to get rid of a broken chair that wouldn’t fit in our apartment’s dumpster. In the 4-hour block with a station wagon we managed to take a box to Goodwill and three dead printers to Re-PC, came back and took the chair to the transfer station in South Park, and a box of pesticides and a gasoline can to the hazardous waste site across the street from it, and on the way back home made a Costco run — all within the four hours, for $45. That took care of all our bulky tasks in one swoop, so we were quite happy about it.

      1. Wonderful!

        But three things. This only applies to vans. (1) There were no vans available on short notice. (2) We decided a station wagon was better because it’s easier to maneuver and park in congested spaces. (3) A van may cost more (?).

  21. Everyone should inventory everything in their house each year and give everything they haven’t used in the last couple years and take them to Goodwill. It’s green (recycling!), it’s tax deductible, and it’s healthy mentally to just let things go.

  22. There was an article linked from this very blog a while ago, from Dearborn, MI, about how the practice of converting a garage to non-car-storage use was particularly prevalent among certain immigrant groups, leading to complaints by older residents that they were using up all the street parking. It was particularly visible because some of the garages were being turned into social spaces (maybe smoking lounges, IIRC?), so they were often left open with their furniture on display, to invite neighbors in to chat.

    It’s always a bit ironic when people complain about their neighbors taking up all the street parking for one reason or another, a complaint that could only be leveled by someone that’s also using the street parking. I can’t say it resonates with me all that much.

    Here in Seattle, SDOT’s current position is that street parking is essentially a public resource, whose use is subject to a minimal set of conditions, usually only restricted in particular cases. It doesn’t even have a program for managing residential parking demand in the densest residential neighborhoods (existing permit zones are explicitly not that — they are only designed to limit non-resident parking on residential blocks, and some the criteria for creating a permit zone involve measuring non-resident use). So sometimes residential parking has a bit of tragedy-of-the-commons to it. Appealing to Seattleites to clear out their garages won’t really do much to help us fit more cars in our neighborhoods, but that’s kind of a dumb goal anyway. I think eventually we’ll have to come up with a broader program governing use of residential curb space, which might at least get us out of the position where some people that place great value on having a place to park have no good way to obtain one.

  23. I never really thought about on-street parking until a few years ago when I began reading this blog. I realized, then, that taking a lane away from traffic to allow parking is just plain crazy. And along the new Mercer, there is street parking on both sides which I think is stupid. Not only do you take away a lane for traffic flow(or bicycles or wider sidewalks), you also take away time from people who have to wait for the person to attempt/fail to parallel park into that spot. And, driving on 50th between Interstate 5 and Green Lake Way, inevitably there is a parked car that is begging to be towed away between 4pm and 6pm.

    As for residents parking on the street, someone years ago wrote on here about why is the city subsidizing someone’s parking when they have a garage? It’s like Seattle/we are giving the resident extra square footage for their home.

    1. Sorry, but your prejudices are showing. Bicycles and pedestrians are ‘traffic”, too. The purpose of roads is to move people from place to place, not cars.

      1. Hey, whatever works, whether it is cars, bikes, or pedestrians. Many times as I walk in Seattle, I imagine how nice it would be if instead of two lanes being used for parking(one lane each direction), that space would be used to make traffic flow smoother. That could be by making a center lane for left-turns, adding bike lanes, and/or making the sidewalks wider–especially in areas where there are restaurants that want to use sidewalks for seating. That’s why I am kinda pissed that Bell Street was allowed to have parking on it when it was remodeled.

      2. Besides, I don’t think you really read my posting. I said we should take away the on-street parking and turn it into lanes for traffic, whether it is for cars, bikes or pedestrians. And yes, my prejudice is showing; on-street parking is a waste of space.

    2. Something I noticed while cycling down 15th Ave. NW is how it originally had six lanes, but then the markings were stripped away from the rightmost lanes to turn them into parking.

      Considering how often people complain about traffic and about on-street parking, which would they prefer to have considering there’s only so much space?

      1. I think the part of 15th you’re looking at is still 6 lanes during the day. Parking is allowed only after the evening peak is over (6PM?).

    3. ” I realized, then, that taking a lane away from traffic to allow parking is just plain crazy.”

      Not in residential neighborhoods, it slows down traffic, creates buffers for the sidewalks for kids to play on.

  24. Yes. If you want extremely convenient and free car storage next to your property, find a way to devote the 1-2% of your square footage to on-property car storage. Cleaning out the garage is one of many not particularly difficult ways to do this.

    1. 1-2%? How small is your car/big is your house? My car, which is a very small Prius c, is 66.5 inches wide – 5.5 feet give or take – and 157.3 long – a bit more than 13 feet. So its footprint is 70 square feet. Assuming I could get out through the moonroof I’d still need a huge 3500 sq ft house to put even 2% of the square footage to it, and that’s a really small car. Larger cars can have footprints well over 100 sq ft.

      The best thing for space in your house is to get rid of your car and get a bike.

      1. Oh I get what you’re saying. Park the car outside. Yes, that’s what I do. My lot is maybe 5000 sq ft and it can easily fit two cars.

      2. I was thinking lot size, not necessarily in the house. Assuming ~90 square feet, and 5-7K lots. (Since most people have no problem storing their car on the street when avialible and free, I’m assuming indoor storage isn’t necessary on property either.

  25. I don’t use my Seattle garage because it was built for a Model T, not my 7 seater.

  26. when it comes to dealing with the “stuff” in our lives/households, there is another change which has come about over the last half-century: the death of the ATTIC!

    growing up, most everyone had an attic –sometimes just accessed by a pull-down ladder– and they actually held quite a bit of stuff. but many older homes have had the attic converted into finished space, a new houses don’t have them. So all that “attic stuff” seems to have migrated to the basement, and the basement stuff went to the garage…..

    and fyi: why don’t new homes have attics?

    as chronicled by Sarah Susanka in her book “The Not So Big House”, homes used to be completely framed-out –“stick-built, if you will– right up to the roof; but a more efficient (read “cheaper”) technique was developed using prefabricated roof trusses, and lower-pitched roofs (allowing bigger-volume homes within zoned height limits). if you ever get into one of these modern attics you feel like you’re trapped in a playground jungle-gym — not the sort of space which lends itself to storing much of anything.

    1. You can get roof trusses that are built with a space for storage. I had a house built with those over the garage. See room-in-attic here.

      1. yeah, no doubt there are trusses specifically built to allow for space — and they are typically called “attic trusses”….

        but they are (unfortunately) not the standard or common because (no surprise) they cost more — so home builders typically don’t bother since its a feature most people won’t even notice or value.

        as much as I am loath to subscribe to long chains of causation linkages, I think it is fair to say that:
        Roof Truss Construction causes Parking Problems.

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