For as long as I have had books, I have been battling against messy shelves. This was not helped by the fact that I never had actual shelves as a child and had to resort to tucking books away in any nook and cranny that I could find. I have probably tried about 18 different ways of organizing books and bookshelves between various spring cleans and moves, so I have a lot of opinions on the subject.
There is, of course, no one true way to organize your books. That said, there are some things that will be helpful to almost any reader and I’ve made a list of 15 that I’ve found useful in the hopes that they’ll help neaten and tidy a few other libraries out there. If you’ve already got a system that you’re loyal to, you might also enjoy this quiz about what your shelving says about you.
And, if you’ve been forced to live without real bookshelves to date and you’re not sure where to start with a) where to get any and b) how to not empty out your bank account, check out this list of cheap (but nice) bookshelves for a place to acquire some tips and inspo.
1. Bookends are a great way to keep your shelves nice and tidy. You can invest in the intended-for-purpose kind like these darling cat bookends from Etsy or you can go for the makeshift kind, which can be anything from a vase to a brick to a teapot – whatever you fancy. I wouldn’t recommend a ceramic teapot, though.
2. Set aside a designated spot or two for the resident cat/dog/bunny/other beloved creature. This is an essential. I do not advise neglecting or you might find books knocked on the floor (or on your head if your little baby is murderous like mine). Now, I know that they might not stay in the pet spot, but if you don’t have it, I guarantee they’ll make one.
3. Keep a shelf (or a pull out box if a shelf is too much real estate) for your TBRs so that you can dip in periodically and chop that list down to a mildly reasonable number.
4. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Organize one set of shelves by genre and the next by alphabet. This’ll help you figure out the system you like best without it feeling like a huge, overwhelming commitment.
5. Place a sticky note on the spines of a series if the latest book is somewhere else (say in your box of TBRs). This will end accidental overbuying and make it easier for you to get what you want faster – giving you more time to read. These sweet little kitty and plant ones are a win with me, and if you do a quick search, you’re very likely to find a set that match your aesthetic.
6. Consider investing in a candle, diffuser or other kind of scenting device if you’re not a fan of the musty book smell (if you are, carry on as normal). If you like the book smell and your books aren’t cutting it, consider investing in an artificial helper like this soy candle.
7. Have a list/spreadsheet/app of all the books you own so that you can easily see if you’ve got something without having to check through your shelves, your online shelves, and your audiobooks every single time. An added benefit to this is being able to add on notes about ratings, subject matter, and even keep track of where books are being lent out.
8. Grab some removable labels if you want to label your genres, or if you have a different set of descriptors for your shelves. Consider the ‘Very Specific and Emotional Options’ section of this lovely post. I guarantee it’ll give you ideas. I make no guarantee that they will be good ideas.
9. Use loot and merch to fill out your shelves in a way that’s easy to alter so that you’re not scrambling for space and every so often having to move everything three down and to the right – your back will thank you, trust me. Bonus: you get to buy a bunch of little trinkets.
10. If you’re running out of space when organizing books, be inventive in finding it. Ottomans and trunks do fantastic work as both improvised shelves and comfy places to curl up.
11. Keep a shelves-specific duster in easy reach. There is nothing worse than having a sneezing fit all over your lovely books.
12. Have a designated bookmarks bin/box/basket. I, like many others, am a huge fan of the improvisational business card, scrap of paper, or necklace (yes, I actually used a necklace as a bookmark. It worked alarmingly well.) However, it’s always nice to have bookmarks around. No one says you have to put them in a book – admiring is also a valid option.
13. Embrace the horizontal stack – it can add a ton of space to your shelves. Vertical is what we’re often accustomed to because it seems like a horizontal shelf will forever be precariously uneven, but if you have shelves with a lot of height, it’s the best way to do things. If you have very short shelves, perhaps make a different choice.
14. If you’re the kind of person with a good memory or you’re the type to have series that go for more than ten books, consider the double stack. If you’ve got deep shelves, double stacking is the best way to make sure you’re using all your space.
Side note: I’ve never liked double stacking *and* horizontal stacking personally when organizing books, but you should definitely play around to see if it works for you.
15. If all else fails, embrace the stacks and get yourself used to living in a book hoard. You might have to deal with avalanches of paper once in while but you may also develop the ability to absorb books by osmosis – sounds worth the risk to me!
If you’d like more inspiration or you’d just like to coo over some gorgeous shelves, I suggest you check out this list of fabulous shelves or this list of expensive bookshelves. Most of them might be too impractical to own but they’re pretty to look at even so.