It’s early in the year to be talking about garages. I tend to reserve garage organizing for summer when the weather is warm and dry, but I recently experienced a garage miracle. It was like going through a wormhole in a science fiction movie. On one side was a chaotic, dark and slightly scary garage, and on the other side was an orderly, clean and manageable space with room to park two cars. Or at least a Prius and a power lawnmower.

Somehow the stars aligned, the weather was clear for a few days, my husband was in a good mood and I found some inspiration, meaning I found the key place to start and made the decision to “just do it.” Knowing where to start makes the difference between overwhelm and a positive organizing experience. In our case, it was a bicycle that was parked in the middle of a bunch of tools and junk. I started with putting up hooks to hang the bike. That created some space and the beginning of a system that kept me motivated to see the project through.

Once the bike was up I looked around and identified anything that was trash or needed to be donated. I was really surprised at how much trash there was, me being a professional organizer and all, even if it was on my husband’s side of the garage. When a space is messy, it’s easy to let empty bags and boxes, leftover materials from a household repair or hobby, collected dead batteries and light bulbs, etc. pile up. There might be bags of old bills for shredding or bins of toxic items you’ve been meaning to properly dispose of. Sometimes it just takes a dedicated day of “dealing with it” to move these things out of the space. Prepare by making calls or searching the web with the best way to dispose of these sorts of items in your area.

Also essential is shelving. My husband and I had lined the walls of the garage with good quality shelving many years ago. We also put a row of shelves down the middle of the garage, which reduces parking space but adds essential space for storing summer furniture, patio umbrellas, luggage and things. If you don’t have shelving yet, you will probably want to wait for dry weather to start your project because putting in shelving means emptying out the space onto the driveway first.

Shelves create homes for your things, up off the floor. There is something almost magical about a cleared floor. It lifts the energy and transforms the space. Just in terms of practicality, a clear floor makes any room easier to keep clean, whether you are sweeping, vacuuming or blowing it out with a leaf blower.

My favorite shelving is Metro or InterMetro brand. Knock-off versions which are perfectly wonderful are available at Home Depot and CostCo. These shelves are wire, so little things, like small tools, will fall through and need to be containerized. If you have the budget, a tool chest is the best way to store small tools like screw drivers and wrenches, with deeper drawers for hand tools like drills and sanders. Plastic containers with lids can be stored on the shelves to hold rolls of tape, hardware, rags, gardening supplies, cleaning supplies, sports gear, and other items that are not too badly affected by temperature fluctuation and moisture.

Unless your garage is a finished, weather tight room, I wouldn’t store memorabilia, photographs, clothing or anything else you would like to preserve.

The next part of the garage organization was labeling the new containers we added. I got small plastic containers with drawers for nails, screws and other small bits my husband had collected in a variety of mismatched containers. Even in a garage, matching containers add to the peace of mind. Always go for clear containers, or a standard color for large bins, like grey. Try to keep containers to the same brand and lid type for each of the various sizes you purchase. You won’t end up with a lot of mis-matched tops and bottoms that way.

We designated one shelf to gallons of water and two back packs filled with emergency supplies. That (and a final thorough floor sweep) added to the relaxed, in-control feeling we had when the garage cleanout was complete. There will always be tweaks and regular maintenance needed to keep it in order, but for now it feels like nothing short of a minor miracle.