How to Organize Your Bookshelves

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How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

I love books.  I do.  And I always have, ever since I was a little girl.  Books were my friends, my constant companions, my escape from reality anytime I needed it.   There’s just something about the way the pages feel, the satisfaction of losing yourself in a storyline and being transported to another time or place…it’s a little big magical! And while I do love my Kindle, I don’t think anything can quite replace the feel of a book in your hand.

When we remodeled our home a few years back, I was thrilled to convert our dining room into my very own library. Now maybe it doesn’t quite rival the library say, at Hogwarts, but it’s definitely a childhood dream come true. And I love that having an abundance of books at home has helped my kids become avid readers too.

But despite my best efforts to declutter my home, and despite the fact that these days much of my reading is done via Kindle or Audible, keeping all those books organized can be hard sometimes! There’s just so many of them!  And each one is like a friend that I can’t let go of!  Can anyone else relate?  The struggle is real, friends!


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But all is not lost! If you are a book hoarder like me, here are a few ideas for how to organize your bookshelves that might just help:

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

Tidy Up Your Bookshelves

When you’ve decided to organize your books, the first step is to assess. Ensure you have a space big enough to store your books. We’re so fortunate to have built-ins now, but for many years we relied on simple pre-fab shelves you can purchase at IKEA, Target or another retailer. If you don’t have enough shelving, you may also want to consider some DIY shelves made from planks of wood and cinderblock, pipe, logs or other separators as they fit the aesthetic of your home. There are literally hundreds of ideas on Pinterest and Houzz, many of which can be done with found materials or items you might already have on hand.

Oftentimes, you can find inexpensive used bookshelves on Craigslist or on your neighborhood swap board. Look for shelves made with solid materials and with little damage. Pre-fab shelves with laminate over pressboard are often hard to repaint or decorate, so be sure you love the color and you’re happy with the shelves as-is. The good news about this type of shelf is the backing can be easily removed or changed. Old shelves look fresh mounted on a wall with the back painted a contrasting color or even covered in a pretty wallpaper or fabric.

Once your shelves are ready to go (even if you’re just updating your existing bookshelves), first dust everything off. Set up your bookshelves in the spot where they’ll live when filled. (You won’t want to move them when they’re filled with heavy books!)

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

Sort Your Books

Next comes the hard part: sorting your books. It’s very difficult for me to part with books—and I find the feeling is universal among many book lovin’ mamas I know. Something feels wrong about simply throwing out an old book, even if we never plan to read it again.

One of the ways to make parting with a few books a little easier is to know they’re going to a good home. There are several ways to do that: donate or sell your books, or give them away.  There are pros and cons to each option:

  • Donating Your Books

Between shipping costs and the prevalence of electronic books, many national charities that previously accepted used books are now obsolete. Although post offices do offer flat rates and book rates, it’s always easiest to donate locally. Consider your local library, thrift store, Goodwill or Salvation Army. Other options include: senior centers, schools, and hospital and hospice organizations. They always appreciate new reading material. Many churches will also accept some reading materials and may even have humanitarian programs or sponsor community outreach.

The organization Books Through Bars helps donate books to prison programs on the East Coast, as does Books to Prisoners on the West Coast. For $.50 each, you can also ship books to the program Books for Africa. All of these organizations have guidelines about the types of materials they will accept, so check before you send. It’s a wonderful way to give a new home to your books and ensure they’re bettering someone else’s life.

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

  • Selling Your Books

First, let me just say—you probably won’t get rich selling your books online. Unless it’s a very rare copy or special edition, used books just don’t sell for huge returns. There are several places you can try, however, so selling can be a good way to clear out your clutter and earn a little bit of cash.

If you have recent textbooks, manuals and business books, you can check the ISBN and Book Scouter will search their database of resellers to see who will give you the highest return. You can also try Powell’s Books and Cash4Books, as they both buy textbooks.

Both (eBay’s bookselling service) and also offer ways to sell your used books directly to other users. However, it’s based on your rating system, so new sellers can have a disadvantage.

  • Give or Trade

The site Paperback Swap allows you to connect with other users to buy and trade your books. You simply list your books on the site. You can also browse other users’ listings for the cost of shipping the books.

Alternatively, try listing your books on Freecycle, Craigslist, or on your local community swap page on Facebook to see if anyone wants them. It can be appealing to list them in “lots” (i.e. Lot of Kids Books, ages 5-7) or group by type and series. If you can find a local taker, you don’t have to worry about shipping.

If you’re looking for fun and adventure, try BookCrossing. You can download labels for free and release your books “into the wild” in your city or town. You can track the books you’ve released, discover who found them, and see how far they’ve traveled. Fun!

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

Organize Your Books

Once you’ve sorted your books and pared down to those you want to keep, it’s time to decide which method you want to use to organize them!

There are several ways to go about organizing your books. It really depends on your preference, usage and the “look” you prefer for your shelves. One of the most visually pleasing ways is to organize your books by color. Depending on your organizing style (and if you’re a visual learner), you might actually have an easier time finding just what you’re looking for and it’s undeniably beautiful.

Another method is to organize your books by type (fiction and non-fiction, reference, children’s books, etc.). I find this is one of the easiest ways to quickly sort books and keep your mini-library in order. Once you have your books sorted by type, you can decide if you prefer to arrange them in alphabetical order, which is practical, or by height and size, which is more aesthetically pleasing.

You may find you have a plethora of paperbacks or a collection of beautiful vintage hardcovers. If this is the case, grouping these similar books together can be a great way to keep your shelves looking beautiful and uniform. If you’d like to use a few books as visual accents for your living room or a more formal bookcase, consider covering the books with paper and/or vellum. Not only will the books match and be beautiful, but they’ll be protected as well. That said, I wouldn’t recommend undertaking the project of recovering all of your books (especially if you have hundreds). It could be QUITE a project.

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | Cleaning & Organizing | Home 101 | Home Management | Organizing Books

Put Your Bookshelves Together

When I think of truly beautiful libraries, I always think of the bric-a-brac, found items, sculptural pieces and other decorations that give shelves personality. If you have so many books they fill the shelves completely, consider placing a few items in front of your books on the shelves, or using framed art and photos in front of the spines to add visual interest.

If your bookshelves have some space, you may want to add some beautiful vases, some meaningful objects or bookends to break up the shelf and make it look appealing. Using items of a uniform color (all white or all black, for example) can add a lot of punch to a shelf and make it really come together.

When setting up your bookshelves, you’ll want to also consider the placement of the shelves in correlation with the height of your books. If you have many paperbacks and short books, you may want to leave a little space between your shelves to break things up a little, provided you have the option of moving the shelving.

As you put your books back, give them a little once over. Smooth any dog-eared pages and shake out any of those random bookmarks and papers hiding in the books. Show your books a little love and they will last much longer.

After you get everything put back on your bookshelves, you’ll be amazed how much easier it is to find books quickly and easily. You may also find you and your kids are motivated to read a little more and bask in the beauty of your library!

Share Your Thoughts: Are you a book hoarder too?  How do you keep your books organized?

How to Organize Your Bookshelves | How to Create a Home Library | Organize Books | Declutter Your Books


  1. September 16 at 10:21AM

    I love books too – I was a big bookworm as a child! As a new mom, I don’t have as much time to read as I would like, I still enjoy getting as much reading time in as I can. I used to be a book hoarder, but I’ve recently started selling some of my books on Amazon – the ones that I know I won’t read again. There are some that I just couldn’t let go, though! As for organizing, I try to maintain a nice balance between being aesthetically pleasing and easy to find!

  2. Stephanie
    September 16 at 12:26PM

    When I need to unload books, I load them up and take a trip to Half Price Books. I believe it’s a nation-wide chain. They may give you pennies on the dollar for your books (they also take Magazines, CDs, Movies, and Video Games, I think)- but I usually take enough magazines and/or books to get a little bit of money for Starbucks! I find it’s a lot easier to get rid of extras that way than to try and sell at a garage sale or online. Of course, nothing beats a Goodwill donation for ease, either!

    • September 16 at 03:46PM

      I sell at Half Price Books, too. Also, used children’s shops (like Once Upon a Child) will often buy books. Even if I don’t get much money from selling to resale shops, it makes it easier for me to part our books and DVDs, and I feel like those stores provide a valuable and helpful service to families who don’t have much extra money to spend. It’s a win-win!

  3. michele
    September 16 at 04:35PM

    My husband, daughter and I are all ardent bibliophiles and have bookshelves in every room of the house. They are overflowing and overdue for a purging, but every time I try to purge, I think “maybe I would like to read that [again] after all” and can’t let go. But, our basic organization plan, when it is functioning, is library style. Fiction, non, reference; and sub-divide alphabetically. I might end up with a giant hardback beside a tiny paperback–and that will bother me–but not as much as offending the ingrained loyalty to library science I learned as a library helper all through school! (My one exception is the largest media shelf I could find with the shelves adjusted to dvd size to hold my collection of paperback murder mystery series. There are just so many it seemed meet to pull them out.)

  4. Mary
    September 16 at 09:38PM

    While moving around two dozen years with the military, we kept our personal library to a minimum other than some kid books. Now that we are retired we continue to use our public library for most of our reading needs. However…I am a quilter and have quite an extensive collection of those books. It is time to hone it down, remove the older publications, and I’m thinking of organizing them according to technique, with a cross reference by author/title. Lots of spaces for quilt/sewing Knick-knacks too. Another item for my ever growing to-do list.

  5. Charlene
    September 17 at 07:36AM

    Are you familiar with Our life time membership was $25 and you can organize all your books easily since a few letters or words fills in the other spaces. I can find out if I still have a book before I look through all the book shelves. You can try it out free, up to 100 books, I think it was. I’ll just let you check it out.

  6. Allyson
    September 17 at 07:47AM

    Libraries often take donations, and then they raise money through book sales. Anothe great organization is Books For Soldiers–look online for them.

  7. September 19 at 07:53AM

    Our children have more books than they do toys, which I love! I also love the different programs that are listed in the article. My husband and I have a rule in our house with the children’s books. The books they are gifted by parents and grandparents we put in a special place. The books they pick from the local thrift store they keep on a reachable shelf. When that shelf gets too crowded, or we find books scattered on the floor, we have a “book clean out” day and they decide which book stays and which one is donated. This has helped us maintain cleanliness in our home, especially with the books.

  8. September 19 at 10:23AM

    Our bookshelf just recently went through a major purge! I got rid of all of our hard copy books (with the exception of probably 6). It was so relieving to be able to be rid of them, but since I couldn’t contain my books to one shelf, it was just easier to let them go.

  9. Lynne
    September 20 at 04:07PM

    Great timing, I just started revamping my bookcase, placing quilting books together, pottery and ceramic manuals on another. Vacation photo albums together along with cookbooks. I arranged some family photos, collectables and vases among the books. I like the effect of favorite things and books sharing the same space.

  10. September 28 at 10:12PM

    Hi, thank you so much for the great idea. I have always had troubles trying to organize my books. I love reading and I have a lot of books however, I always find it difficult to tidy up my study room. It’s either I’m lazy or I find it time consuming to clean and organize my bookshelves. With these great ideas, I can clean and organize my study room in just a blink of an eye 🙂
    P.S. I can start buying more books.

  11. March 11 at 11:21PM

    I am a book hoarder. Even worse are the thousands of craft magazines I have saved, some dating back into the 1930’s and earlier! I just now had your wonderful article surface in my little world and find your ideas inspiring and inspirational as well as VERY informative! I had no idea about book sharing and the like. I actually COULD part with a few of my old collections! Thanks ever so much!

  12. August 11 at 10:25AM

    I really struggle to get rid of my books, even the ones I didn’t like which is madness! I never knew you could donate books to prisons, that’s a great idea.

    I always organise my shelves by book height. It just looks the neatest to me. However, I think I will also start lying them down horizontally and not just vertically, and then putting ornaments on top of them?

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