Dear Kathi,

We are really motivated to clean out our garage this summer. We want to play ping-pong during our Labor Day party. To do this, we need to put the garage in order. This is the largest part of the preparation for our party. It is piled high with boxes, tools and old toys.
I’m not even sure where to begin. What guidelines do you advise for this huge task?

Suzi and Kevin, Oceanside


Gather boxes, in all shapes and sizes along with a box of large trash bags. It helps to start this project the day after trash is emptied if possible.

Hire an expert or get a team of people to work on this project. Without a good support system, it could turn into an overwhelming task that will be abandoned part way through. While friends and family may be willing to help, be sure you have a plan in place to direct the process from start to finish.

Consider what categories of items you want to store in your garage. Does luggage really have to live there, or can it live in the attic or an indoor closet? Do you have a shed? Maybe your paints and chemicals could live there instead of the garage. Items that are typically housed in the garage are tools, gardening supplies, recycling bins, bicycles, sports equipment, camping gear, automotive supplies and seasonal décor.

Once you have determined what categories of items will “live” in your garage, begin pulling everything out of your garage, and grouping into these categories in the driveway. Use a lot of boxes during this process. Relegate loose objects to small boxes within each grouping.

Purge any excess, broken, or unnecessary items. Reconsider, donate or trash items that do not fit your categories. If you discover random parts or singular items that you need to keep, group and store them with the closest similar category. If this is too much of a memory stretch, store them in a visible place so you will remember you have them.
Once items have been consolidated like with like, you are ready to begin planning where each category should live within your garage.

Determine where you want each type of item to live by frequency of use and available space. Parking is probably your most frequent garage activity. Make certain that the area around your car is open and easy to get in and out of the car and the garage.

The recycling bin can live near the inside door to your home for quick access. Tools should live near the workbench, shovels by the fertilizers and so on. Shelves at eye level should hold the most frequently used items. A large shelf near the inside door is a great location for the extra rolls of toilet paper from the last warehouse purchase.

Plan for an entire weekend. Set aside enough time to work on your project. Back-to-back days are recommended so items that are being sorted do not have to sit outside in piles for long. Plan for an entire weekend unless you are working with a Professional Organizer. A seasoned professional will usually reduce your time by half because they have been through this drill many times.

After your garage is put back into order, commit to a regular schedule of maintenance. Promptly put things away after using them and schedule a couple of hours of maintenance every season. Follow this strategy and your next Labor Day party will be a breeze!
You can read more specific advice about garage “zones” in an article published in The Coast News by visiting

Please submit your questions to: [email protected]
San Diego Professional Organizer