What Does My Garage Say About Me?

What’s hidden behind that sliding door tells a lot about the kind of person who lives there. So what does my car-less cement room say about me?

Illustration by Mark Matcho

We’re celebrating three years with our dog. Before we got him, I could have predicted a few of the things that Muggsy was going to change. I’d get bumped down from four to five on the list of house favorites. Dog hair would end up on everything. Chair legs would get chewed. We’d have less couch space.

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Check. Check. Check. Check.

Other things I couldn’t have foreseen—including how often I would be standing and walking in the wind, snow, cold, rain, rain, and rain. But this isn’t more venting about how much I hate rain because I hate my rain boots—because I got new ones. I actually love that Muggsy has forced me out of the house. I’ve gotten to know a bunch of neighbors and learned where every trash barrel is.

And I get to do what I love the most, which is look at other people’s stuff. I look at lawns, which are all better than mine. I look to see if we’re the only family that doesn’t have a fence. Apparently so. I see where sump pumps empty out and marvel at banisters that go up to third floors.

But my favorite-est thing is to look at garages. I like them all—the ones in back, the two-bay ones, the little compartments carved out of the main house. The one I love the most is the attached garage with direct access to the house. I have the first part but not the second, so with our combo starter/finisher home, I’ll never know the joy of getting into the car without having to put on a coat. That’s the pain that I will always carry.

What I love even more is when someone’s garage is open. I consider that an invitation to take a look inside. I’ve seen hat collections, heavy punching bags, and a couch that frames a lounge area. I once saw a full kitchen. You know what I don’t see much of?


I don’t have mine in my garage. At one time, I did, or at least I could have. Before a snowstorm, if I pushed everything against the walls and folded in my side-view mirrors, I could fit in exactly one vehicle, and it was the most dreamy of things. I could pull out; no scraping, brushing, or defrosting needed. (Granted, I still had to clear the door and shovel the driveway to actually back out, but that’s nitpicking.)

That time is no more. Now my garage contains multiple bikes, a second lawnmower since I haven’t disposed of the first, 75 feet of hose, which is 40 more than I’ll ever need, and multiple air conditioners, some of which are actually ours.

But there will never be another car. It’s pure driveway from here on out, and I see many others have followed suit. What changed? Well, our cars did. At one time, not too many decades ago, guys would hibernate in their garage and attend to whatever the car needed because it was their “baby,” says American-history expert Vincent Cannato, associate professor of history at UMass Boston. And, well, the car could actually be fixed.

Nowadays, cars are all computers, and there’s little DIY work that’s left. Part of the shift isn’t bad. Cars are more efficient, safer, less pollute-y. They have better sound systems and come with cup holders and places to put your sunglasses. All thumbs-up innovations. But…

Cars have way less personality. The ones of my youth were big, loud, and had huge doors that opened if you went around a corner too fast and bench seats that required a group effort to adjust. I guess it’s a good thing that cars have become more utilitarian, but a touch more distinction wouldn’t hurt. When walking through a parking lot, I’ve had to remind my wife a few times, “That’s not ours,” as she was about to get into a Jeep Cherokee or Chevy Equinox or Subaru whatever. We have a Honda CR-V.

Would having an old Monte Carlo be cool? Maybe. Would I want one so I could work on it, reclaim my garage, and with it my macho? No effing way. I’d have no clue what to do and would most likely get stuck underneath on that rolly thing.

The truth is that a lot of people can’t fix a car, yet they go on to lead happy lives. What’s really stirring in me is this: As much as I say I love garages, deep down, I’m envious of what people do with them. Wow, you can hang bikes up on hooks? Shovels, too? Man, that shelf, which is not an old door, looks even. How’s that even possible?

Garages just make me realize all the things I’ll never do and can never be. My dad was a good man, but he had zero handiness about him. He owned a toolbox that sat on the floor of the mudroom. It had lots of nails and a flathead screwdriver, but honestly, if it couldn’t be fixed with Scotch tape, it wasn’t getting fixed. I never saw him on a ladder with more than two steps. Hence, I’ve rarely been on a ladder.

I’d like to break that legacy and go up on my roof, or at least to the gutters. First, I’d have to buy a ladder, and sure, I don’t know the best way to angle one or secure it against uneven ground, but I could give it a go. But then…it’s kind of like skiing. I didn’t pick it up while I was young. Before you pigeonhole me as sickly, I was playing town youth hockey, bantam division—which is a miniature chicken, if you didn’t know, a great tag to put on a child—so I’m kind of a low-level badass.

Still, I’m not taking up skiing, because I don’t want to break something doing something I have no clue about. Same goes with a ladder. I’d slowly climb up, make a little move, then slip, and, on the way down, I’d have enough time to think, So not the best choice. As I lay in the hydrangeas for 45 minutes, my wife would eventually find me and say, “56 and going up on a ladder for the first time since overnight camp? Dumbass.” And I’d deserve that and would still have to take Muggsy out that night.

But screw my lack of mechanical skill. The garage is just a room, and a room with tons of upside. It’s got a cement floor and no preciousness. You can drop and bang into stuff and not worry. Put a car in there? How obvious and sad. It’s really the place of dreams. The Who started in a garage. Amazon did as well. I could do anything in my garage because it’s my garage. And my God, I’m supposed to be an entrepreneur. I mean, I was supposed to be a poker player, then a chef, but I’m definitely supposed to be an entrepreneur, sitting on a stack of vinyl records by my Halloween decorations while raising seed money.

I’m not, though. Unless you count the peanut-butter bagel, I don’t have a winning idea right now.

My garage just holds items. Deep down, I know I’m never using the wicker chairs someone gave us that we didn’t want, but I can’t part with them just yet, because we might have the outdoor party that we’ve never talked about and would need seating for. Or maybe my 12-year-old son will have his friends over and say, “Forget YouTube. You know what we want? The water table. It better still be there.” It’s another chance I can’t take.

Garages like mine are the utility drawer for items that aren’t allowed in the house, “a kind of purgatory for stuff,” says Tim Love, associate professor of architecture at Northeastern University and founding principal at Utile, a Boston- and Providence-based architecture and planning firm. They’re also a permanent display of every bad impulse and unrealized aspiration. Oh, the kids were gonna be badminton champs…. That kayak seemed reasonable for $900, even though rentals are only $25…. Watch it. This summer, I’m gonna take those paving stones and make us a patio.

Who am I kidding? I have racquets but no shuttlecocks, and how are the kids gonna train with no shuttlecock? That crushed Olympic dream is on me. I’m destined to just have piles of stuff, and not really good ones at that. I’ve got the saddest garage on the block and feel like an outcast, but then I go out on a dog walk and notice a garage with a door that hasn’t gone all the way down since the summer. Okay, I have some people in this town.

Maybe it’s not so hopeless. Maybe I could invent something in there. The problem is there’s so much stuff, some of which I know contains hazardous materials, and the town’s yearly get-rid-of-it day was last weekend, because of all the things that I get a text, followed by an email, followed by a phone call about, that isn’t one of them.

You know what would be great? A rolling dumpster that slowly comes through once a month and allows everyone to come out and toss in their crap. It could even play a song like an ice cream truck to give plenty of annoying warning. Ooh, that’s a pretty good idea. I should start looking for angel investors for what could be called Leave-a-Dump.

That part might need some work, but I’m on my way.

First published in the print edition of the March 2024 issue with the headline, “Life, Love and Other People’s Garages.”