With spring well underway, it’s the perfect time to spruce up your space, including those bookshelves. But if you’re anything like me—well, let’s just say my shelves have seen better days. (Sorry to all the books currently stacked on the floor. And the dresser. And in the back left corner of my closet.)
Sure, bookshelves are an essential, straightforward storage solution. But they can also be the focal point of a room, or a way to showcase your personality and taste. Keeping them organized not only makes for a better-looking room, but it also saves time when you’re searching for a specific title.
Not sure where to start? Luckily, inspiration abounds! There are so many ways to arrange and organize your bookshelf, whether you like a minimalistic approach or want it to feel lived-in and homey. Here are some tips for making the most of your shelf space.
Organize Your Bookshelves in 3 Steps
All other benefits aside (and there are many), books are the perfect way to add color and texture to your space. If you have a large collection, first of all, congrats! We love to see it. Second of all, you’ll probably need to sort through them before you start organizing and arranging your bookcase. Yes, this can feel tedious, but it’s well worth the effort! Then you’ll have a clearer idea of which books you own and where they live, and you can move on to designing your space—including the perfect reading nook.
“I absolutely look at people’s bookshelves. And I have some judgment. I mean, they’re openly showing you themselves.” -Andrew Sean Greer
Step 1: Gather Your Books
Gather all—yes, all—of your books into one spot. That means grabbing the TBR stack from your nightstand, the cookbooks from your kitchen, and the old college textbooks collecting dust in the attic.
Once you have them all piled up, it’s time to channel your inner Marie Kondo. Does that dogeared copy of The Catcher in the Rye spark joy? If so, start a “keep” pile. If not, start a “donate” pile. Do you have to follow this rule? Of course not! It doesn’t work for everyone, just like rainbow shelves or grouping by genre doesn't work for everyone. But it’s a good place to start if you’re willing to part with a few paperbacks.
If you do have some books you’d like to pass along, consider donating them to your local library (or tiny library!), Goodwill, daycare center or school (if age-appropriate), retirement home, or assisted living facility. There are also a number of nonprofit organizations that accept book donations, including the Prison Book Program and Kids Need to Read.
Now that you’ve decided which books to keep, it’s time to start organizing.
Step 2: Get Organized
This step depends entirely on you—specifically, your needs, space, and personal taste. Do you want your bookcase to add a splash of color to your room? Or are you simply trying to declutter and make your shelves clean and functional? Here are some ideas you can steal, mix and match, or disregard entirely.
Arrange by color. One of the most “popular” ways to do this is the rainbow method, i.e. ROYGBIV (or VIBGYOR, if you’re feeling rebellious). Sort your books out by color, then shades within that color.
Alternate rows and stacks. Switch things up by including a mix of both vertical and horizontal stacks. This adds more visual interest to your bookshelves. Plus, horizontal stacks can act as bookends.
Organize by topic or genre. Group together fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, kids’ books, and so on. If you want to get even more specific, break them down into subgenres: self-help, thriller, amateur sleuth. Forget what other people will think about your arrangement. This is meant to make your life easier and (hopefully) bring you some joy and peace of mind.
"Ultimately, the number of books always exceeds the space they are granted.” -Alberto Manguel
Go by size. Line up same-sized books together. We recommend keeping larger coffee table books (when they’re not on the coffee table) on the top or bottom bookshelf, lying down.
Know your ABCs. Fans of functionality, this is for you. Order your book collection alphabetically by the author’s last name or the book’s title. Then wave goodbye to the never-ending search for that first edition you found serendipitously on the train back in ‘93.
Highlight your favorite books. Pull out the titles you love most (or even eye-candy covers—great books can also be stylish, after all. Have you seen our Belletrist picks?). Display the covers on their own or surround them with related paraphernalia. If you need more inspiration, look no further than your social media feeds.
Follow the two-thirds rule. Again, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all guideline, but we’ve found it helpful. The goal is to fill just two-thirds of each shelf. Leave spaces empty for a cleaner look, or fill them with tchotchkes and plants. Ultimately, this will prevent your shelves from becoming overcrowded and make it easier to pull out books when you need them.
Step 3: Design Your Space
Shelf goals achieved! Now what? Consider where you’d like to spend the most time reading your books. If you don’t already have a cozy reading nook, it’s time to create one. Consider these tips before you begin.
Look for a quiet spot. If you’re easily distracted like me, you need a space that’s somewhat private. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Transform a closet, design your own outdoor hideaway, make use of a built-in bench or window seat that has, until now, been strictly cat territory.
Use as much natural light as possible. When windows aren’t available, make sure you have a soft reading light on hand.
Make it portable with a rolling shelf. Who says you have to stay in one spot? Load your stacks and snacks onto a rolling cart so you can move around as needed.
Get cozy. You’ll want this to be a space where you can sit comfortably for extended periods of time, without getting cold or cramped. Blankets and pillows are essential.
Add things that make you smile. Or things that help you feel even more at home. For me, that means artwork, plants, photos, and more plants.
Now You’re Ready to Start Reading
It’s time to sit back with a cup of coffee or tea and admire your fresh, new spring arrangement. How do you keep your shelves organized—and your reading nooks extra-cozy? Any tips we missed? Share your #shelfie and ideas with us on Instagram.