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15 Tips for Organizing Your Bookshelf

These days a unique library or collection of books can be rare. However, for the rest of us who still cherish these old-fashioned objects, showing them off can be as important as reading them. If bookshelf aesthetics aren’t your thing, it’s still important for your personal array of books to be at least well-organized, right?

If your bookshelf and books are a complete mess, and you feel like there is no order or design to their storage, look no further. Here are 15 ways to organize and beautify your bookshelf!

15. Have all books in one spot

If you’re able, collect all your books in one centralized area. This helps from book clutter being spread, and also helps when locating books. If it’s not possible to have every book in one shelf or area, break groups into genres or categories, such as putting all your books about art by your desk, your favorite multi-book series near your bed, etc.

Then at least when you’re looking for a specific title, you’ll know which area to look in. Of course it’s best to have them all in the same storage unit so you’ll go one place when needing to pull a volume from your collection in the future.

Having them all stored in the same spot also helps in design fluidity, instead of having many sections or blocks of books broken up all over your room or house. Try investing in one very large bookshelf to house your library, and save other small shelves and areas for non-book storage.

14. Book jackets

Address any books that have book jackets. Do you need them? If you want them to protect your precious tomes, that’s fine. However, are any jackets torn, damaged, folded, coming off, etc.? Are there any clear plastic jackets that are yellowed and cracking? Replace any old clear jackets with fresh ones.

If you don’t care about jackets either way, see if any inner covers hold the same image as the jacket. If they do, and you don’t need or want the outer jacket for protection, they’re moot. If the jacket is more aesthetically pleasing to you than the inner cover, that’s another fine reason to stick with the jacket.

Any old book jackets or covers needn’t be wasted however; either recycle them if able or, hold on to them for crafts such as art pieces or even wallpapering your library in them. Either way, decide which jackets you want, need, or don’t need. This will help with aesthetics overall.

13. Cut the fat

This idea is borrowed from the Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method. Take each and every book in your hands, read the backs and/or introductions, summaries, etc. Flip through them; examine the pages, the font, the condition, etc. Pay attention to one book at a time, really deciding if you want to keep this book in your current library or not.

Is it a book you’ve read but don’t plan on reading again? Is it some impulse purchase or one that was gifted to you that doesn’t sound appealing anymore? Do you think a friend or family member would enjoy a particular book more than you? Are any borrowed that need to go back to owners? Do you have multiple copies of anything?

Do you want to replace any damaged books with new versions? Any books that you haven’t read yet and don’t know if you will be keeping them or not can go on their own shelf or special area of “to read” to decide if you do want to keep them after reading.

Have a pile for “donate,” “give away to friends or family,” “replace,” “to read,” and “recycle” — for any that happen to be beyond repair.

12. Bookplates

Once you have weeded out books that you feel you will keep in your library for the remainder of the foreseeable future, it’s a good idea to label your books. Bookplates come in dozens and dozens of different styles and varieties.

There are stamps, stickers, page punches, or you can simply write your name in pencil on the inside covers, or, if you don’t want to mark any of your books, try affixing a small strip of clear tape on the inside cover and writing over it with pen or marker. When you want the label to come off, just carefully peel off the tape, and voila! No damage!

Marking your personal collection somehow will help when lending books out or if you want to pass them down for generations. You can also write on the inner cover of special gifted books, so the inscription will mean a lot to the receiver and they’ll know where and who it came from.

11. Series

If possible, have the same style/version of books in a series. It’s always more streamlined and visually appealing to have a crisp row of books with similar art, build, and design. It will make it easier and faster to identify which part of the series is which, rather than having a mix of large, small, hardcover, softcover, new, and old books in a series.

If you can, stay on the lookout for copies you need at bookstores, second hand stores, online, or invest in box sets of series you cherish.

Of course this isn’t necessary for organizing your bookshelf; if you already have the full series and can’t afford to replace mismatched copies, as long as the series is together, in good shape, and identifiable, that will work in the end.

10. Climate

This is one thing in your house that is directly affected by the environment it’s in. Make sure your book storage is out of direct sunlight, humidity, dust, smoke, etc. In the long run, books and pages are fairly delicate and need proper storage so they’ll stay in good shape over time.

Maybe you’ll need to move your shelving unit on the other side of the room to keep it out of the sunrise every morning, which will no doubt cause fading over time. If the particular environment your library is stored in has too much humidity, a dehumidifier will work to keep the climate comfortable for your books.

Any other threats of dust, bugs, or any other external damaging factors need to be addressed to ensure the longevity of your collection.

9. Make sure books aren’t too tight or too loose

While we’re on the subject of physical storage of your books, make sure they aren’t fitting too tightly or too loosely on the shelf. If too tight, they’ll be hard to take out and put away and have more opportunity to get damaged. If too loose, they can lean and potentially bend the pages or curl the covers.

Spread out the storage if they’re too packed in and pop in any kind of bookend to ensure they don’t lean or fall over if on an emptier shelf. Looser is typically more damaging since the books can lean, but tight isn’t preferred either as it will deter readers from selecting volumes if they can’t get them out without a struggle.

Make sure the books are fitting comfortably on their shelves.

8. It’s okay to stack books sideways

If there are books that won’t fit on the bookshelf without squeezing them in too tightly or are too tall, it’s acceptable to stack them sideways. Especially with volumes that are too tall to be safely stored or don’t fit vertically. Some people think horizontally stored books are taboo or can look messy, but if done right, it’s perfectly fine. 

Try making sure any stacks are level, and arrange by size, largest book at the bottom, for balance and a more intentional look. Don’t feel you need every book aligned vertically only! Even if you don’t need to, mixing up storage horizontally and vertically can add a lot of visual interest in your bookshelf.

7. Storage inspiration

If you don’t have or don’t have room for a typical bookshelf, or just want something more creative, alternatives are definitely out there. Search for inspiration of creative book storage on sites like Pinterest to trick out already existing shelves or something custom to fit your space. Who says you need boring, average shelving?

Things like floating shelves, bookcases made out of books, super creative shapes, an entire wall of cube shelving, a DIY out of old crates, shelving under a window seat or reading bench, on the underside of a staircase…let your imagination go wild for alternatives that will make your bookshelf exciting and custom-fit to your space.

6. Arrange, somehow

Now, there needs to be some sort of order to your personal library. However, you don’t need to arrange them by the Dewey Decimal System. Just arrange somehow. By height, color, alphabetically, genre, series, etc. Whatever way works best for you and what you thinks makes the most sense for what books you have in your collection.

For example, putting series together is an obvious must, but you can also store all your books by one author together, or all books that fit a certain genre like fiction, horror, mystery, poetry, etc. Take a look at your collection as a whole and go with what arrangement you feel is right.

5. Make spines even

A very simple trick to make your bookshelf look more polished and appealing is to align the spines the same distance from the edge of the shelf. Firstly, push all your books back on the shelf until you find which book sticks out the farthest. Use this to align the rest of the books with.

Pull the rest of the books back out, past the widest book, and use something straight, such the edge of another book, to carefully push the books back very evenly, until they’re lined up with the widest book and are an even distance from the edge of the shelf.

This makes bookcases look so much more intentional and neat, and is an easy way to straighten (literally) your bookshelf so it doesn’t look as cluttered.

4. Shelf decor

If you have a particularly large bookshelf or some shelves with empty, extra space, it’s nice to adorn your books in little trinkets and décor. Even more so with book-appropriate décor such as trays of bookmarks, bookends, literary quotes, art, or sculptures, etc.

Play with colors and textures in your decorations. Of course you needn’t only keep book-related items here. Other options are small statutes, plants, picture frames, trinkets, art, and more. However…

3. Don’t obstruct books

Try to keep trinkets to a reasonable amount, however. Too much clutter will obstruct access to the books. Keep what’s directly in front of the books to the sides and try to put the majority next to the books on the ends or on emptier shelving. Unless a section of books are purely collectable and not read, reduce any objects that are blocking them.

This will keep the books inviting and open; you want the books to be read, right? How will you see the titles and access them if there are too many things blocking them?

2. Balance

When it comes to styling shelf décor, a good rule of thumb is “balance.” If there is a tall stack of books on one side, match it with something of equal height. Or, play with heights and have ascending sizes, as well as widths. Play with colorful decorations or color grouping.

Try taking all the objects you’re planning to set on the shelves and lay them on the floor, experimenting with pairings and groupings. If you feel stuck, try turning to the internet (Pinterest, YouTube, etc.) for research and inspiration of how you should handle your shelf decorations.

Aesthetic balance — paired with literal balance of your bookshelf for security — will be a winning combination to make your shelving look finished and really organized.

1. Lighting

A last, optional aspect that is something to at least consider is lighting. If your bookshelf is your pride and joy, you probably want to feature it in your home, right? Consider overhead or track lighting, as well as under shelf lighting, even something like fairy lights to adorn the perimeter.

This will bring your newly organized and beautified bookshelf to life, and be something to behold. See what style of lighting you like the best and what will fit in the room. You needn’t get overhead lights installed; floor lamps or light garlands can work as well. Show off your great collection and hard work you put into designing your bookshelf!

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