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!
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:
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!)
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.
- 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 Half.com (eBay’s bookselling service) and Amazon.com 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!
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.
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?
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Please don’t forget about Little Free Libraries! Most communities have them. The general idea is ‘take a book, leave a book’ but many people who host them keep a stock of donated books to add to the shelf and keep the content balanced. It’s ok to keep anything you love, but the general idea is to read them and pass them along for others to enjoy. It’s fun! (Google it, if you’re interested in finding out more about it.) I’m lucky to have one near my house; I’ve found all kinds of wonderful books to read and love!
I organize my books by author. All of Linda Howard’s book are together and below Lisa Gardner books. I tend to keep romance, fantasy, mystery and non-fiction in separate areas as I am able. Donated quite a few but held on to my favorites.
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?
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!