Now Walsh is presiding over the purge phase of the process with militaristic efficiency, issuing orders to the Johnsons, their two helpful cousins, and Allison's boyfriend, Checo Fernandez, as they select items to pitch into the donate pile or the Dumpster. In general, Walsh suggests getting rid of anything not used in the past 12 months. The garage shouldn't be a place to store your good intentions, he explains—equipment for some future self who may one day have time to tinker with the family cars or learn to reupholster the living room furniture. Instead, it should reflect your current life. Kay is initially resistant. When Walsh asks if she really wants to keep two random bottles of acid, she figures they might come in handy as cleaners someday and replies with a definitive "Yes."

"Acid never goes bad," Checo volunteers.

"In all my years organizing garages, no one has ever said that," Walsh notes drily. It's Allison who finally lowers the boom: "Kay Johnson! Get rid of it!"

But Walsh is also humane, sparing Jeremy's old snowboarding boots and the weight machine Allison swears she'll use when it's no longer buried under boxes, as well as Tony's army uniform from Vietnam (he called from Costa Rica to make sure it made the cut). Kay eventually relinquishes four of her six glue guns and dozens of her husband's old paint containers and bottles of engine oil. "We're just hoping he won't notice," she says, with a hint of mischief. Walsh reserves one slice of concrete for old paints and chemicals, which Allison will arrange to have safely disposed of.

Step 2: Rethink the Space
Two hours in, with the dumpster full and the Goodwill pile swelling, Walsh asks the Johnsons the most important question about any room: What do you want to use it for? Parking is high on the list (because of the junk, the family's two cars haven't fully fit into the garage in a decade). The women also request storage for files, tools, chemicals and paints, gardening equipment, Jeremy's stuff, and holiday decorations, plus an area for working out. Based on these categories, Walsh divides the garage into zones. "When everything has a designated area," he says, "you always know where it belongs, which helps you set limits on volume." In other words: Whatever doesn't fit into its appointed zone is toast.

Now team Johnson is sorting the stuff still left in the driveway into categories, and with Walsh to back her up, Allison is ruthless. "Say goodbye to Santa Claus!" she cries when Walsh instructs Kay to fit her acres of holiday decorations into two green plastic bins. "No way!" says Kay, who grabs the figurine from her daughter, jams it into an already-full bin, and sits on the lid in a desperate attempt to close it.

To delineate zones, Walsh recommends using color, especially in storage-heavy rooms like garages and basements. Visually differentiated areas help ensure that everyone knows what goes where, he says, making it more likely that things will be returned to their place. He hands Allison a brush and a can of orange paint and points to a pegboard he drilled into the wall above the tool bench—soon to be the orange tool zone. "Don't be messy!" he says with a wink.

Next: The Johnson's garage, after


Next Story