How to use empty shelves to start your organizing project

At first glance these may not look like the progress shots they are.  

A problem many of my clients have is the lack of room to spread out and sort. If you simply don’t have floor or table space, you can spin your wheels shuffling things around, sometimes making things worse.

As an organizer, my mind doesn’t always zoom to the end result, but rather, to where we can make space to start sorting - and we can always make space.  If there’s a shelf in the room that is (or should be) empty, I’m quick to designate that as the “safe place” for important items as we find them. It’s my job to keep things moving, and clearing a set of shelves for the crucial sorting step is a favorite way to do this. Once we can see the major categories in front of us, figuring out their final homes is remarkably easy.

Here are three examples of how to do this:


The above picture is from a basement office with the luxury of a lot of built-ins. My client actually ended up demo-ing all of them in the end because he had so little to store!  Here is a video from 2015 where I explain how we used this shelf to sort. Some of his categories were:

  • Past trips

  • Few piles for family members 

  • House

  • Financial

  • Family History


The above picture is actually from a walk-in clothing closet. It’s a long story as to how I ended up sorting all of my client's paper up there! What I can say is that due to a pending renovation she quickly needed to get it all in one room for the first time in years and this partly empty closet was exactly what we needed.  Those shelves didn’t stay empty long. Here are the categories I sorted on them:

  • Her son’s school

  • Credit cards/financial

  • Morgan Stanley

  • Insurance

  • Honda & Ford

  • Life Insurance

  • Estate/Trust


This above set of photos is more of a before/during, instead of a before/after.  Just pay attention to the top and bottom shelves where we set up 4 super simple categories that helped us to quickly move through a very mixed jumble of paper. He was preparing to sell the home, so we had to act fast! This allowed us to make a decision on each and every piece of paper in the office, without getting hung up on where it would live forever.

  • Personal to sort

  • Medical to sort

  • Shred

  • To File

Have you ever found yourself using shelves as an interim fix when processing a large organizing project? Do you have a set of underutilized shelves in your room-to-be-organized that you can see using in this way? Do you have set of shelves elsewhere in the house that you can bring in for sorting? Please share in the comments!

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Office Organizing Expert Kacy Paide loves to do what most people hate: organize offices & paper.

She works with folks who are desperate for a more functional, more beautiful, more inspiring office. Kacy has been a Professional Organizer since 2001 and has worked with over 500 clients. Call her crazy, but she loves a good mess and wants to fix yours. Learn her time-tested solutions in her eBook, The Inspired Office: Organize Your Life One Paper at a Time. Based in Silver Spring, MD, Kacy is nationally available for consulting & speaking.