(Money Magazine) -- No room in your garage ... for your cars? Welcome to the club. A quarter of Americans with two-car garages can't park in theirs, and another third can squeeze in only one vehicle, according to the Department of Energy. Getting a grip on the jumble of yard tools, sports gear, and random junk is daunting, sure. But you'll make the space more attractive and useful -- and spare your car from the elements too. Just follow this game plan.
First, toss or donate everything your family doesn't use. Group the rest by theme: yard tools, sports equipment, beach toys, and so on. Stow the small stuff in translucent, stackable, snap-top bins ($5 to $23 at thestoragestore.com) so you can see what's inside.
Can't bear to face the mess alone? For $200 to $1,000 you can hire a professional organizer to help (find one at napo.net). Or bribe a neat-freak friend to dig through the clutter with you. To keep a lid on the chaos for good, you need a real organizing system; your best choice depends on your space and budget.
The simplest solution is to put freestanding shelving, such as the 48-inch-wide, five-tier Real Organized system ($90 at lowes.com), on the back wall. You can also hang shelves high enough on the side walls so they don't interfere with car doors. The Elfa Utility (at the Container Store) offers a range of shelves, bins, and tool hooks that attach to horizontal strips. One-wall systems start at $250.
If space is seriously tight, put up shelves that hang from the rafters (about $70 at hyloft.com). Or install simple pulley systems that hoist bikes and kayaks out of the way ($15 to $70 at Amazon.com). You can also hire a handyman to cut an opening in the ceiling, install a pull-down ladder, and lay a plywood floor on top to create a hayloft-like storage area (about $600 to $1,000).
If you're lucky enough to have a wall at least three feet away from the nearest vehicle, it's worth spending extra money on an attractive storage system that you can also modify to suit your needs. For example, Gladiator Garageworks makes a line of rugged steel cabinets, workbenches, racks, and tool drawers that sit on locking casters-- no installation needed ($100 to $800 apiece at sears.com).
The best-looking, most flexible option is to cover the walls with horizontally grooved paneling onto which you can slide various shelves, racks, cabinets, hooks, ball caddies, and golf-bag racks. A single wall of GarageTek's product costs $2,500 to $3,500 (garagetek.com). That's a splurge -- but it's money well spent to turn your garage into useful space, gain control of your stuff, and put your cars back where they belong.
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