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How to Organize a Bookshelf

Jun 14, 2022 Brien Chua

Don’t know how to organize a bookshelf? No need to worry.

Bookshelves are one of those places that can very quickly get messy if you ignore them for a while.

You can leave them looking all spick and span one day and then come around a couple of days later to see the same place looking like it's been ransacked.

To keep your bookshelf looking nice and tidy, it’s important to spend 10 – 15 minutes daily taking care of it. That involves doing some light dusting and replacing any of the items that have been moved from their spots.

But, before that, you need to know about some basic rules and tips to help you organize a bookshelf properly. And that is what we are going to be helping you with in this post.

Tips on How to Organize a Bookshelf

1.  Start Fresh

First things first, and that is to completely empty out your bookshelf.

An artist can't draw on an existing painting now, can he? The same goes for organizing bookshelves.

You need to have a blank slate to start fresh, and you can do that by emptying out any books, stationery, and knick-knacks you may have put on the bookshelf. Once the thing's empty, you can get started with actually organizing it.

2.  Heavy Stuff at the Bottom, Light Stuff at the Top

Take this as a rule for whenever you have to organize a bookshelf.

Always place the heavy stuff such as large book volumes and big boxes in the lower-most section. Thereafter, move upwards with the lighter items such as medium-sized books and trinkets.

At the very top, you should have some small knick-knacks and ornaments.

You can appreciate the sense of this step by imagining how a bookshelf would look like if the placement of the objects was flipped…meaning if all the heavy stuff would be resting at the top and all the light and dainty stuff was placed at the bottom.

I mean, the whole thing would be veering this way and that with all the weight at the top.

3.  Stack Your Books

There are mainly two types of books that people generally keep on their bookshelves.

One type includes the books that are not very frequently read, and they pretty much sit on the shelves most of the time.

The other type includes the books that are read frequently on a daily/weekly basis.

As far as the former type is concerned, it’s alright to place them in vertical stacks. However, the books in the latter category are better off placed in horizontal stacks.

Books that are placed on top of each other are easier to take out and put back. Hence, this orientation is better for books that have to be frequently read.

4.  Sort the Books According to Size and Color

All the books on your bookshelf – regardless of whether they are placed horizontally or vertically – should be arranged according to their sizes. Books placed in a neat ascending or descending order have a much cleaner and more attractive look to them as compared to books placed haphazardly on top of/next to each other.

Similarly, you should try and group the books together according to the colors of their bindings and covers. For a broad classification, you can place all the black-colored volumes on one shelf and all the colored ones on another.

5.  Don’t Place All Your Books on One Level

This is also a very important point to keep in mind when you want to organize a bookshelf.

If you have, for example, ten books to place on your shelf, don’t place them all on the same level; even if there is just enough space for all of them to fit on it.

What you can do is put four of them on one level, then three of them on the level below that, and then three on the penultimate level.

There are two benefits to this type of arrangement.

Firstly, your books will have room to breathe. They won’t stay squished together, and you will have an easier time taking them out and putting them back.

Secondly, this type of scattered placement looks artistic, and it can improve the overall look of your bookshelf.

6.  Don’t Use Your Bookshelf Just for Keeping Books

A bookshelf that only has some books on it looks dull and boring.

Ideally, books should only take up half of the space available on a bookshelf. The rest of the space should be given to other useful items and trinkets.

You could, for example, place an ornamental clock somewhere near the top of the shelf. You could also place things like a penholder or something artistic like a small painting.

7.  Don’t Fill Every Shelf to Full Capacity

This is another useful tip that you can keep in mind.

When placing items on each level on the shelf, don’t load it to full capacity. You could, for example, place a few books on a single shelf along with some trinkets and then leave some portion of the whole space empty.

This stops the shelf from looking overstuffed and it’s more pleasant on the eyes.


And that’s pretty much it.

If you want to organize a bookshelf, the first thing that you need to do is get a clean slate. Completely empty out everything from the shelf and start fresh.

Thereafter, you can start placing things on it while following the tips mentioned above in this post. Check out these organizing hacks for library-worthy bookshelves that illustrate some prerequisites like proper placing to decorating your home library.

One of the most important points that you should keep in mind is that a bookshelf is (despite the name) not only for books. You can keep other types of items on it as well such as a few decoration pieces. Things like this make the shelf look more artistic.

And, yes, once you do organize your bookshelf, don’t ditch it. Bookshelves can very easily get untidy and unorganized. You should keep coming back to keep setting the things back in their places and to make sure that everything is in its spot.

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