top of page
  • 3 min, 41 sec Estimated Reading Time

Organize (Stage 4 to Getting Organized)

The goal of organizing is to improve access to your belongings not just to store more in less space. So one strategy I start with is identifying organizing zones.

Organize by Zones:

Organizing Zones for Your Paper - Hot (red), Warm (yellow), Cold (blue)

The Hot Zone is the zone closest to you and easiest to access.

For your desk: this is the area you can reach without getting up from your chair. The top of your desk, that center drawer and even the filing drawer is prime real estate, so keep it for items you use routinely. The easiest access file drawer(s) should have the most current and active files.

For your clothes: this is everything in your closet you can access without a step stool. Do not use your primary closet as storage for out of season clothing or clothes that don't fit. The dresser in your room is also in the hot zone though the bottom drawer may be more warm than hot. The drawers need to open and close easily so no stuffing more items in. Make it easy to access and return each item.

For your hobbies & crafts: this is the area closest to where you work. Keep the projects you're currently working on closest. If storage is limited, store only to only those items you need for the current project in the cabinet, drawer or container. The more often you use a supply or tool, the closer it should be to where you work.

For your kitchen: this is the shelves, cupboards, and drawers you can access without getting on your hands and knees or using a step stool. Again if you use it routinely, it should be the easiest to access. Do not store the turkey fryer you use once a year here. And don't store that gadget you use every day at the back of the cabinet.

Another way to identify the hot zone is where things are naturally placed. My mail hot zone is a basket near the front door. We enter with our hands full of things and shed items as we go. The entry table is a natural place for our cell phones, our keys and our mail, so that's where we keep them.

The Warm Zone is the next easiest to access. It's for items you use but don't need access to routinely.

For your desk: this may be a bookshelf behind you or across the room. This may be the very top shelves or the very bottom ones. Any place that is in the vicinity but you have to make more of an effort to reach is in the warm zone.

Another warm zone in the office is the bottom-most file drawer. You usually have to kneel to read the labels or hurt your back trying. Keep the files that are no longer current but aren't ready to be archived just yet. Remember to sort through this file and let go of anything you don't need before you move it to the warm zone).

For your clothes: that top shelf or the far back corner in your closet can be your warm zone. Another closet in a guest room or the space under your bed might be used as a warm zone for your out of season clothes.

The warm zone can be a top shelf that you need a step ladder to get to, it can be a labeled container stacked in the garage that only takes a minute to access. If you have to crawl over numerous piles and stacks, open a few containers to "see what's in it" then that's not a warm storage area. WARNING: when identifying your warm zones, someone else's hot zone should not be used.

The Cold Zone will be more difficult to access and may take longer to get to.

This zone is for storing those items you use once a year, if at all, but can't get rid of yet (like tax files). Cold zones can be at the bottom of the pile, down the hall or even in another building. Keep in mind, you still need to make the decision that it's worth your time, your effort, your space and your energy to keep. This is not intended to be a dead zone.

Organizing Zones in an office - Desk is Hot zone, table, bookshelves, filing cabinets are Warm zones, Cold zones are in another room

You can use Hot, Warm, and Cold zones for the various activities in your space. Think of what you do and where. Then stage your tools and supplies according to the zones:

HOT — close and easy to access;

WARM — nearby and a little effort to reach; and

COLD — more effort required to access.

31 Small Steps to Organize Your Paper book by Shawndra Holmberg, CPO-CD, buy at

If you want more information about organizing your paper, check out my book 31 Small Steps to Organize Your Paper available at

Keep Maintenance Easy:

As you organize, think about how you will maintain it. Think about 'how easy will it be to return an item to its designated home?' Make it as easy as possible.

Check out Begin with End. Though the focus in the article is on paper, the strategies apply to all organizing projects and spaces.

I learned long ago that I rarely put an item back if I have to pick up or move or handle something else to do it. So my rule of thumb is no stacking or organizing items over two deep. Okay...if I have three fry pans, then yes, I'll stack them. But, even then it has to be super easy to put it back where it belongs.

create the life you want


Stage 1: Clarify what you want Stage 2: Let Go of what doesn't work Stage 3: Sort like-with-like & let more go Stage 4: Organize in zones Stage 5: Maintain the systems you create

bottom of page