How to Organise Your Bookcase

Are you suffering from an overflowing bookshelf? Do you suffer from book chaos because you've simply got too many? Here's how you should bring order back to it!

I love books. I love reading them, I love talking about them, and I especially love owning them. I like to think of my book fetish as a healthy addiction (my friends and family do not always agree, for they sigh that I must have enough books to last me a lifetime, so why bother buying more?). The only downside is that eventually, and inevitably, you end up with so many books that you lose track of where you’ve put them in your bookcase. Therefore, I have tried to develop a way which makes it easy to organise all of your books in a way that makes perfect sense to you.

If you read on, you will find a way to organise your hundreds of books, scores of authors, and dozens of genres, in all ranges of colours, and it will no longer be an ordeal deciding where your latest acquisition should be placed. You will never lose track of your books again, and it will bring a smile to your face every time you look at your personalised bookcase. It’s quite easy, really, to organise your bookcase in your own, unique way. You just have to think about which method you will use, and then the fun can start!

Step 1: The Materials – Here’s What You Need

This one is easy. All you need is an empty bookcase (or two, or however many you need), and all your books. You might also want to create some space in your living room, as there will be lots of books lying around for the duration of your project.

(By the way, the books you see here are not all of my books. These are merely leftovers that didn’t fit into my bookcase. I might also do a piece on what to do when you own too many books later.)

Step 2: Think Carefully – Decide on a Shelving Method

This step is the most important one, as the choice you make here decides the future appearance of your bookcase.

There are several ways in which your bookcase can be organised. I will highlight the most useful ones here, as it will help you decide which one you would like best:

– Alphabetically. Well, this is easy: just take a look at the author’s last name and organise all your books from A to Z. Many people think this is the method that makes most sense, as it is easy to locate your books. It will also be really easy to add new books to your shelf as you can simply look at the author (or the title, if you like to spice things up a bit!) and place them accordingly.

– Chronologically. Arranging your books chronologically means you look at the date on which the book was first published. This method is a bit trickier than the previous one, as it involves some research on when exactly the book was published. Warning: Make sure that you’ve got the right date. Your specific edition may be printed years later than the original release of the book, and then you might end up with a hundred-year-old copy right next to the latest Booker Prize winner. Hmm, let’s not do that.

– Geographically. To be honest, I’ve never used this method, but apparently some people do. American books go with American books, British with British, and all the other languages go with each other, too. Or, to make things more interesting, you can also arrange them according to location within the book. Now, there’s a challenge!

– Size. Many proper libraries use this system: it allows one to store as many books as possible, as the shelves fit exactly, leaving no empty space. It can look quite neat, but it means you have to remember the size of all your books in order to find the book you want to read.

– Genre. This is the arrangement I’ve been using for quite some time, now. I studied English literature at university, so to me it makes a lot of sense to think about the book’s contents rather than its appearance or its publication date. For instance: I’ve got shelves dedicated to children’s literature, fantasy, poetry, and so on. This method works splendidly as long as you can come up with possible genres to divide your books into. The best thing about this system is that it takes no time at all to locate a particular book you want to read, as you know exactly in which shelf you should be looking for it.

– Colour. I have always sworn to myself I would never, ever, arrange my books by colour. It looks nice, true (I hate to admit I actually kind of liked it when I sorted my books by colour when I wanted to have a nice main picture), but I think your books turn into decorative objects rather than functional ones. Also, you’d have to remember the colour of each book you own in order to ever find them again.

Think carefully about which system appeals to you the most, because the next step is based on the decision you’re making now.

Step 3: Initiate Chaos – Create Piles of Books

You’ve just decided which classification system you’re going to use, so now it’s time to put it to the test. It is very important now to make sure you’ve got enough space available in your room, because you’re going to need it.

It doesn’t make sense to start organising your books within the bookcase, as books are prone to either slip from the shelf and drop to the floor (and we don’t want to do that to our precious books, now, do we?) or hide behind other books while you’re filing them. Instead, try creating piles of books according to the system you’ve just agreed upon.

By the way: do make sure there’s enough space between each individual pile, otherwise they might accidentally merge together, leading to unnecessary chaos, and, well, piles of random books.

Step 4: Get Structured – Sub-organise Your Piles

The problem with settling on a specific shelving method, is that one of them simply won’t work. So, you’ve decided on genre – well, how will you continue? Will you just plunk all your fantasy books on a shelf and then be done with it, regardless of the author, size, or anything else? Or just make sure all your British books are packed together, or do random A-starting authors go before the B ones? I don’t think so; there’s no fun in it, and I don’t think it would actually count as a system. Therefore, we need to make sure your books are organised within the shelf you’ll place them in.

There are several ways to suborganise your books, and it’s fun to play with it. For instance, I have a shelf full of American Classics (that’s definitely a genre!), which I’ve arranged chronologically as this makes the most sense to me. Simultaneously, another shelf (Children’s Literature) is organised alphabetically, and yet another one is done in an entirely different way. You are allowed to deviate from your original system, of course! It’s all up to you to decide what works best for you.

Creating these smaller piles makes it easy for you to see at a single glance whether you agree with the system you’ve currently employed. Furthermore, it allows you to determine within seconds if you think there’s room for improvement.

If you think you’re happy with your suborganised piles, continue to the next step.

Step 5: Find Your Favourites – Decide on the Location of Your Books

Children’s Literature, one of my favourite genres

Like me, you’re likely to have books that you prefer over others. What I do, is to make sure the books I like best are placed in the middle of the shelf, rather than at the bottom shelf or squashed between other, more attention-demanding books. They’re your favourites, give them the attention they deserve! As you can see in the picture, I’ve decided to start with my children’s literature series. I’ve put them together on the middle shelf, and I’ve suborganised them alphabetically. I think I’m quite satisfied, so I’ll keep it this way.

This is the last thing you should consider before you can start involving your bookcase.

Warning: this step is for the advanced bookcase organiser only, as highlighting your favourites might destroy the entire system you’ve just carefully developed.

Step 6: Solve the Puzzle – Filling and Finalising Your Bookcase

There. You’ve read all the steps, and hopefully you’ve come up with a great way to arrange your books in your bookcase. It might have taken some time, but now you’re ready for the final step: filling your bookcase! All you have to do now, is take all your piles, have a final look at them, and make sure you like the way they’re put together. If you’ve checked and double-checked everything, and come to the conclusion that you approve of this system, then there’s nothing left to do but to place all your books in your bookcase.

This all sounds deceptively easy. It might be a little more difficult than you expect, for not all shelves have the same height, which might interfere with your plan to put specific books together (especially if you combine hardcover books with pockets, for instance). Also, sometimes there might be an overlap between genres, and you have to decide for yourself where you think your book would feel most at home. If you think you need to rearrange books, do so before you’ve already filled your entire bookcase!

Finally, the most important thing you have to know is that it’s never truly perfect. Take a look at my bookcase. There are still some books lying around disorderly, and I’m sure there are things that just don’t make sense the way they are now. This happens, so don’t worry about it if you’re facing the same issue.

Let’s see how long it’ll take before I start reorganising everything again…


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