How To: Organize Your Bookshelf by Laura at HowToGYST

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[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have productivity expert Laura Hutchinson guest post on the site today. Take it away Laura!]

If your bookshelves are starting to look a little unruly (hey, a gal’s gotta have options), here are some simple, practical solutions to help you bring your A-game to your next #bookshelfie.

1. Declutter

As a confirmed bookworm myself I see you wincing and hear your silent screams. Trust me, I know it’s not easy to say goodbye to dear friends so let’s make this step as easy as possible.

Take all your books down – even if you only tackle one shelf at a time – and try my Wave Technique. This is where you start with the easier decisions and face ever tougher ones with each pass.

So first, quickly scan through and separate the books you know in your heart you’ll never (re-)read. These should be simple, snap decisions. From there, you’ll move onto anything you’re still a little undecided about. And so on.

In so doing you’ll build up a bit of momentum, as well as some confidence in your decision-making skills.

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Take a leaf out of Marie Kondo’s book and don’t worry about what you’re losing. Instead, focus on how much joy the keepers bring you. Your bookshelves deserve only the best so it’s up to you to curate a great collection. Every so-so book you say ‘yes’ to means saying ‘no’ to the book that could be your future BFF. 

Save the joy-sparkers, and set the rest free to feed some other bookworm’s soul. 

(If you’d like to learn more about my KonMari experience when it came to books, check out my post here. It’s why you’ll no longer find very many physical books on my shelves.)

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2. Dust

Before you put anything back, give both the shelves and the remaining books a good dusting. Just like you, they deserve a clean home and to look their best. No-one wants to be sniffing and sneezing each time they snuggle up with a book.

3. Choose functional or fun

Yes, you can have both but, if it comes down to a decision, which is more important to you? You’ll have different tastes and tolerances to others so go with whatever feels right. Here are some popular organisational options:

  • alphabetically by title
  • alphabetically by author
  • by genre (or Dewey decimal system for the truly hardcore)
  • by colour
  • by size
  • by personal classification (eg. favourites, read, to-be-read, etc.)
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Rainbow collections are all well and good but if your natural inclination is to look for a book by author, it’s not a practical solution for you. Yes, make it pretty if you can and if that appeals to you (more on that below), but ease of accessibility should usually be your driving factor.

If it’s holding back your inner book nerd, you need to make a change.

(Of course, if you have multiple bookcases, it’s fine to have one that’s just for the ‘gram.)

4. Size matters

Try to keep books of a similar size together; it will make the whole display “flow” a lot better. This goes not just for height but also spine width too. Having a random mish-mash will generally make your shelves look much less polished and put together.

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It helps if you try form a pattern:

  • mountain, with smaller books on the outside growing up to larger books in the middle
  • valley, with bigger books on the outside sweeping down to the smaller volumes
  • checkerboard, alternating between large and small (this works particularly well if you’re using cube storage, such as IKEA’s Kallax units)
  • alternative, with one shelf starting with smaller books on the left and rising, and then the shelf below starting with larger books on the left and then decreasing in size
  • zig-zag, making a mix of mountains and valleys on one shelf

Experiment or mix-n-match to see what works best for you.

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5. Mix it up

Once you’ve decided on the organisation option, go ahead and implement it. But instead of simply lining them all up like little soldiers, try stacking some of your books on their sides. (Helpful hint: don’t put books you want to read on the bottom; you’ll find it a nuisance to take them down.)

When all your books are lined up the same way, it starts to look like a wall. Your eyes will skim over it as one solid mass. When you break up the pattern, however, you’ll take more notice. You’ll skip from one section to another, admiring the aesthetic. You could even mix in some magazines, catalogues, notebooks, or newspapers to add some visual interest and uniformity.

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Also consider placing your favourites facing out so you can see the full cover. Some books are too beautiful to be sandwiched. 

If you’re struggling to picture it, think of how a bookstore is set up. Yes, there are rows of books on shelves but they also have some bestsellers that stand out.

So go ahead and put your best book forward.

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6. Add depth and dimension

Your book collection can give a great insight into your personality. Feed into that by layering in some treasured trinkets.

For instance, your collection of Harry Potter books looks lovely but how about adding the wand you got for your birthday? Or some other magical elements? Now you don’t just have a stack of books, you’ve got a story.

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7. Balance it

Unless you’re going for an ombre or rainbow effect, having all the dark-coloured books on one side and the lights on the other may make everything look “off”. Try to have a balance between tall and small, thick and thin, dark and light.

It doesn’t have to be symmetrical, but your eyes should dance across the collection, not settle on one small spot because it doesn’t seem quite right.

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8. Leave some negative space

There’s a vast different between a carefully curated collection and a pile of clutter. Your books can’t shine if they’re all stuffed together, so don’t jam-pack those joy-sparkers. Give them the space to sparkle.

Also, rows of books generally look best if the spines are lined up. This will give your shelves a much more polished look. But instead of having them aligned to the front edge of the shelf, I recommend pushing them back by at least a half inch or so. This helps eliminate the crowded look.

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9. Take a photo

Once you’ve got everything set up the way you want, take a step back and snap a quick picture. It’s amazing how quickly you can spot something “off” from looking at it in a photo, even when the thing itself is right in front of you.

When I set up the shelves in my home office I thought everything looked great. Then I took a picture and immediately saw that it was too dark on one side, making it look unbalanced.

(Bonus tip: this is also a great technique for organising a room. One quick photo and all of a sudden you can easily see all the unsightly cables and murky corners.)

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10. Tweak

Don’t be afraid to switch things up as you live with your shelves for a while. You might have thought one system was perfect for you but now that you’ve been using it for a while, you find it bothers you.

Or it may have been perfect at the time, but now your circumstances have changed or you’ve added some extra volumes to your collection and you want to switch things up. Go for it!

Or sometimes you’ve lived with something for so long that you become “blind” to it. Changing things around can revive the space and leave it feeling fresh and new and exciting again.

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Your shelves are not static space. Let them evolve over time, just like your interests. Never shy away from switching things up if they’re not serving you anymore.

You spent a lot of time and money on that book collection; it deserves to be shown off in the best possible light.

And if you’re gonna go ahead and ‘gram it (and why shouldn’t you), tag me @HowToGYST to give me all the heart eyes and so I can send you some love.

Looking forward to your best #bookshelfie yet!

P.S. If you’re looking for something new to read, I do a monthly series on my blog called The Book Nook where I share my most recently read books and a quick review. I’d love to see your recommendations in the comments over there!

About the Author:

Laura Hutchinson is an Irish productivity expert who teaches people how to get more done in less time, and to live a simpler, happier life. Her no-nonsense approach provides practical, realistic advice you can implement in your busy schedule to see immediate results. You can find her at HowToGYST.comyoutube.com/HowToGYST, and on all your favourite social platforms as HowToGYST. So if you’re ready to get your sh*t together, let’s grab life by the lemons… and start squeezing!”

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