As a professional organizer, you’d think I’d know all the major organizing holidays by heart (Organize your Home Office Day, Clean Out Your Closets Week, Time Management Month and my personal favorite, Simplify Your Life Week, and so on), so when my editor called to ask if I knew September 9th was National Clean Out Your Garage Day, I had to chuckle and say, “Of course it is.”

With the holidays only three months away and the weather finally cooling off,  All you have to do is pick a date and time and inform everyone who lives under your roof that participation in this all-day project is non-negotiable.

Working together as a family builds character and respect. If you work together to clean-out and organize the garage, chances are you’ll have a better chance of keeping things in order.

Today’s column is not about purchasing fancy garage organizing systems in order to “hide” the mess, but rather about taking control of the clutter and working with the existing shelves and cabinets most of us already have in our garages.

With this in mind, the first item on the agenda is to CLEAR THE WAY. This doesn’t mean creating a “path” by pushing everything to the side, but rather tackling the debris (bikes, sporting equipment, shoes, boxes and bins, et cetera) that’s scattered all over the floor before you even attempt to clean-out the shelves and cabinets

Once the floor is cleared, then it’s time to stay on task and follow my lead: EMPTY, SORT, DECIDE & CLEAN.

Rome may not have been created in a day, but if you focus on the end result and are committed to getting it done, organizing your garage in one day is possible. Think “baby steps” EMPTYING one shelf or one cabinet at a time and no matter how frustrating the job, do not give up!

Lay everything out in front of you (one shelf, cabinet…at a time) and be brutally judicious as you SORT through every single item, asking: “Do I need this? Do I use it? Will I use it?” I hate to break it to you, but only way you’ll ever be able to park your car(s) in your garage is if you purge!

Once you’ve DECIDED what to do with all the stuff (sell, donate, give away and/or recycle) you don’t need and don’t want, it’s time to put things away using common sense as your guide, but not before thoroughly CLEANING every surface. Group “like” items together (ex: garden supplies, car washing supplies, etc.). Put the items you frequently in the most accessible location. Any products with a high chemical content (i.e.: probably poisonous) should be stored out of reach of young children. (For more information on how to discard all hazardous waste products: www.colliergov.net/recycles)

Before putting anything away, it’s important to ask your kids’ opinion, “Can you reach this? Does this make sense to you? If we put a shoe rack here, will you remember to take your shoes off before entering the house,” and so on. If your children (and spouse) are part of the problem, it’s important they’re part of the solution as well.

Easy to reach, easy to see: It’s important to put things away where everyone can see and reach them. If you must use bins, make sure to limit the number, and make sure they are medium-sized and clear plastic, which makes it easy to see what’s inside and easier to lift. (Note: get rid of ALL cardboard boxes, which are ideal environments for creepy-crawlies and large rodents to burrow, nest and breed.)

Tough luck: Once the job is done, sit down with your family and explain the “facts of life” or in this case, the “three strikes” rule. It’s pretty simple: the first time someone forgets to put something away, he/she will be called out on the violation told to put the item back where it belongs. The second violation merits a “friendly” reminder of what will happen should there be a third incident. The third time it happens, the item gets taken away until the child “earns” it back.

Trust me, when your kid, who is on the varsity football team, gets benched because he doesn’t have his uniform or helmet, he’ll learn real quick that sloppiness will not be tolerated. The only way to stay organized is to enforce the “three strikes” rule. It’s not “tough love,” it’s tough luck!