WESTON, Fla.- Few household activities inspire more dread than reorganizing the garage.
Americans' garages are filled with the requirements and detritus of daily life - paint cans, golf bags, bicycles, dusty trophies, power tools, old clothes, boxes of moldy magazines. Sometimes it gets so stuffed the family car doesn't fit anymore.
If garage organization is on the agenda, there are several approaches to take, whether you tackle it yourself, or need some help disposing of and organizing your belongings. Homeowners can attack the job at a variety of price levels, from less than $100 for small do-it-youself jobs to the tens of thousands of dollars for a custom-made system from a garage reorganization company.
Lori Sadaka, who lives in the upscale suburb of Weston, outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., spent about $20,000 on her three-car garage. HouseWall Garage System installed hanging bins and baskets, heavy duty cabinets, new flooring, ceiling fans and even a sensor that tells you when to stop driving the car into the garage.
She said she was embarrassed by the way her garage looked and encourage people of any budget to take the plunge if they get fed up. She is parking her car in the garage for the first time in 15 years.
"We were just afraid to touch anything. Everything was dirty," she said. "Getting things off the floor and being able to see it was a big attraction."
She's clearly part of a trend: sales of garage organization products totaled about $750 million in 2006, up from about $500 million in 2001, according to HomeWorld Business Magazine's Houseware Census.
The cheapest way to reorganize, of course, is to do-it-yourself. But there are several essential steps, including product selection, storage, disposal and design.
First, the homeowner must decide what should be removed from the garage. Obvious things, like rusted lawnmowers or old carpets, are easier to get rid of than things with emotional value, like awards and books.
"Break the job down into small manageable pieces," said Barry Izsak, author of "Organize Your Garage in No Time." "You don't get all that clutter overnight, so you won't be able to organize it all overnight. (But) it takes a lot less time to undo the 10 years of clutter than to accumulate it."
After deciding what stays, separate the room into zones - lawn and garden, sports, cleaning and maintenance, a work area with a workbench, memorabilia.
Next, it's time to think about storage options, which can get tricky. Homeowners should ponder how they want to store things - either in cabinets or on hooks, in see-through or non-transparent drawers - before buying anything.
Marc Shuman, president of GarageTek Inc., says, "The best place to start a DIY project is online."
Homeowners can easily find affordable storage products on the Internet or in hardware stores that, while not specifically designed for garages, still can be used there. Those include plastic containers that sell for less than $30 in a variety of sizes, or basic wall shelving that's adjustable and costs less than $60.
Some are made of weaker materials such as particle board, while others can be made of more durable materials such as fiber board, heavy-duty plastic or metal.
If people are looking to spend less than $500, things such as peg boards and adjustable chrome racks are useful, Izsak said. Also, it's wise for those on a strict budget to consider "redeploying" unwanted cabinets or furniture for use in garage storage, he said. Those include old kitchen cabinets, wall units, desks, drawers from bedroom furniture and bookcases.
"You can have a solution without spending a ton of money," Izsak said.
Meanwhile, several companies sell individual storage products or complete systems that are designed specifically for the garage but still require self-installation.
Products include everything from wall mounts for hanging tools and bicycles, to workbenches and cabinets that have legs or can be mounted on walls to keep them off the ground for safety and clutter reduction.
These products are sold at U.S. retailers or at company Web sites. Individual cabinets can cost up to $700 or more, while workbenches can be found at $600, with smaller tool caddies coming in at less than half that price.