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Librarian Hacks: Quick & Helpful Tips for Tidying Up Your Home Library

Posted on August 9, 2023 at 6:00 am

By Alison Johnson

Assessing Your Collection

Do you have stacks of books littering your tables and floors? Books on every available surface? If not, you might want to skip down to the categorizing and grouping section to give your book collection a refresh.

If so, I completely understand. I have books just about everywhere—probably because I love to always have a book within arm’s reach. I’ve come to realize that it can get a bit out of control in my house. When so many books are scattered about—so much so that when I gather them up, they do not fit on my shelves—then I know I have some book weeding to do!

Space is limited, so if I don’t do a yearly book clean up, then I have no room for new books that will be released in the next year. Plus, the pileup can get so bad that the towers of books can become tripping hazards. Also, a side benefit of going through my book collection is cleaning the shelves and other surfaces as I go along.

If your book collection is like mine, here’s my approach for culling and organizing my piles of books and bookshelves. I hope it is helpful for those of you who have book towers in your home as well!

Getting in the Mood

Decluttering and organizing requires a lot of decision making, which can drain your energy and mental state. To keep myself from getting tired, I listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook (usually an audiobook).

If you have as many books as I do, then it is going to take you a while to get through them all. Listening to something keeps me from stopping or getting distracted halfway through the process.

You can get audiobooks and stream music through the library! In our Digital Library, you’ll find hoopla for streaming audiobooks and music and OverDrive (Libby app) for downloadable audiobooks.

Quickly Scanning

I do a preliminary scan of the books in each room and pull out all of the books I know right away I do not want to keep. I just follow my gut and don’t second guess. This step is quick and can be satisfying.

You would be surprised at how many books you know right away that you can let go of. This is an instinctive process so go with your first impulse. Don’t overthink it! Later, I go through my reject piles multiple times, so there is always a chance of a rescue from the pile.

Next, I organize my reject pile into books I want to donate and books I need to return to their forlorn owners who wonder where they went. I seem to always have a book or two that need to be returned to their homes.

A tip for donating books: Check with a local Friends of the Library group because they might want more books for their book sales!

A Closer Look

After this first weeding, I do a more in-depth evaluation of the books that are left on shelves and in piles.

The following are my criteria for whether or not to keep a book. You can use these as a guide or create criteria that make sense for you, your space, and your collection.

I keep a book if:

  • I’ve read it, loved it, and will likely read it again
  • It has sentimental value, such as a gift from a friend or a signed copy
  • It is part of a collection or series of books that I’m still reading
  • I just want to keep it (no explanations needed!)

I get rid of a book if:

  • I have never read it and will most likely not read it in the future
  • It makes me unhappy in any way
  • I’ve read it and did not like it
  • I never finished reading it and know I never will
  • It is damaged or tatty (This is great excuse to find a new copy!)

If you end up not getting rid of many books, no worries! Remember, this is about bringing new books into your life not creating regrets by getting rid of books you want to keep. You may just have to get creative in finding ways to store your abundance of books:

  • On a windowsill or below one
  • On top of cabinets
  • In awkward spaces that usually remain empty
  • In a vertical stack on the floor (so long as you make sure they are away from the main walking paths in your room)

Categorizing & Organizing

This next part is my favorite!

Everyone organizes their bookshelves differently and that is the way it should be. When you are able to find a book right away when you look for it, that’s when you know your organization plan is working.

My very favorite books tend to congregate together. Books that are nostalgic, that I read as a child, are on shelves together. If I have multiple books by an author, they get shelved together. I have a lot of science fiction and fantasy, so I categorize them by sword and sorcery, dystopia, urban, space operas, apocalyptic, etc. If I am feeling ambitious, I color coordinate them within my categories. A side benefit is that it is easier for me to see where the categories begin and end on the shelves.

You could categorize books in many different ways and group them however it makes sense to you. Here are some ideas for groupings:

  • By how much you liked them
  • By book spine color
  • By author, title, or genre
  • By topic
  • By story pacing
  • Or if they have a turtle flying through space in them or not

Basically, anything goes! Whatever makes sense to you, try it.

Nothing is set in stone because you have your next book weeding to try different ways of organizing your bookshelves until you find what you like.

I also don’t think anyone should feel pressured for having too many books or for getting rid of books to make room for more!

Check Out These Books

If you need more than just your bookshelves organized, check out these books for your other decluttering projects:

Along with these titles, you’ll find some great ideas for simplifying your life, home, and your relationships with yourself and others in the booklist Simplify.

Librarian Alison Johnson

Alison Johnson is an Education and Enrichment Librarian at Spokane County Library District and the community librarian for the Deer Park Library. She creates library programming and events for children ages 8–18. This means she gets to play with many things, including messy paints and mini robots. When she has free time, Alison enjoys hiking trails with her dog, paddle boarding (on very calm waters), and reading while enjoying a cup of tea.

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