A beautifully organized bookshelf can be very decorative and can invite you to read more, which is one of the top resolutions people make. But organizing books can be a daunting task. You’re probably not going to use the Dewey Decimal System, and that’s about it for standard methods. If you just add new books to your bookshelf according to where you have space, you may have a hard time finding the books you’re looking for. A truly creative option, like shelving all your books with the spines in and the pages out, will pretty much guarantee that you will never be able to find your books.
Instead, try our step by step method.
Identify your available space
Book lovers may think that organizing books is mostly a matter of getting more bookshelves, but at some point you have all the books you can fit into your space. Get a clear idea of the amount of space you have, including bookshelves and places where you’d be willing to put more bookshelves. Get a clear idea of the number of books you have.
If you have enough space for all your books, that’s excellent. If not, you have to cull some of your precious books. Here are some possibilities:
- Get rid of duplicates. Sell them or donate them.
- Give some of your books to people you know would enjoy them. Knowing they’re going to a happy home can make the loss easier to bear.
- Take some to a Little Library, where books are freely available to all comers.
- Replace favorite books with ebooks. Your Kindle can probably hold more than your bookshelf, and you will still be able to read them whenever you like.
- Be honest about their usefulness. Are your old chemistry textbooks still precious to you? Are books on software from ten years ago still accurate (hint: no)? Do you still need a cookbook for the Atkins diet? Some books are wonderful for centuries, but some are not.
Identify your goals
People use books and bookshelves in different ways. You probably use them in different ways in different rooms of your house, too. For example, your collection of cookbooks might be where you go to get ideas for meal planning and to find recipes to use while you cook. In that case, they should be in your kitchen or pantry.
But if you like to read cookbooks like novels while you eat take out food on the couch, you can keep them in the living room with your novels.
You might put beautifully bound volumes in the living room as part of your decoration and keep your Harlequin romances on a shelf in the bedroom, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
If you don’t immediately know how your family uses the books in your home, take a few days to notice. Do you leave the sewing room to go get a reference book on sewing from another room? There’s a clue that you should put those reference books in the sewing room. Maybe your toddler’s books mostly get read in the playroom.
One you know what the books and bookshelves are for, you can take the books to the rooms where they are most useful.
Work in manageable chunks
If you have a couple dozen books artfully arranged on a single shelf with photos and vases in the spaces, it makes sense to take down all the books, clean the bookshelf, and out them all back in an orderly fashion.
If you have hundreds of books distributed throughout your home including the bathrooms and the linen closet, do one section at a time. Make an overall plan, draw some diagrams if you need to, and work on one shelf at a time.
The goal of organizing books — unless you really have books only for decoration and never plan to read them — is to be able to put your hands on the books you want when you want them.
For most of us, organizing books by color doesn’t lead to this result. Bookstore workers and librarians will tell you about people who come in asking for a book whose title they don’t remember but they know it was yellow. These people are almost always wrong about the color of the book. If you are an exception to that rule and you like the blocks of color, go ahead.
Otherwise, consider one of these organizing principles instead:
- Subject makes sense for nonfiction. You can put all the cookbooks together, all the books on history together, and all the biographies together. This is usually the best arrangement for families, since everyone can remember that the books on gardening are on the top shelf.
- Author makes sense for fiction. If you tend to remember the authors of books, sorting books alphabetically by author can be perfect, even for nonfiction.
- We know people who keep their favorite novels together, and people who sort by genre, keeping mysteries in one spot and classics in another.
- Size might work if you have big spaces for tall books and small spaces for small books. You might want to sort within those groups by subject or author.
Make it look good
How much you should prioritize the look of your shelves over the ease of finding and using your books depends on how you use those books. stacking some books among the vertically stored books can look snazzy. Pulling a book from the bottom of one of those stacks and putting it back again can be a bother.
Line books up with their spines even if you like a tidy look. Pushing them up against the wall means that air can’t circulate and is not always good for books anyway, so this is a good habit. Keeping books of the same height together looks even more tidy, as long as it doesn’t make it too difficult to find those books.
Use bookends to hold books upright.
On the other hand, if you like the look of a less informal arrangement, with some books slanting, recognize that this can make your books break sooner. Consider moving them around sometimes, or at least make sure your favorites stay upright.
Dust books occasionally with a microfiber cloth or a vacuum brush attachment.
Organizing your books will make you happier at home — and Scholastic tells us that having lots of books is good for kids in ways that move beyond just encouraging reading.