If you look around your home and see more books than you know what to do with, you aren’t alone. Buying books that you may or may not ever get around to reading is a common phenomenon: The act of accumulating piles of books that you intend to read one day is called tsundoku in Japanese, and in the early 19th century, British aristocrats with a nearly pathological passion for books were said to suffer from bibliomania.
In the modern era, a minor book-hoarding habit usually isn’t considered serious enough for a mental health diagnosis—but it can certainly create a lot of household clutter if you don’t have a system for sorting your collection of literature. With that in mind, here are expert tips for organizing your own home library.
1. ASSESS YOUR ENTIRE COLLECTION.
Whether you’ve been collecting books your entire life or are just now building a home library, do an inventory of what’s currently in your collection. Before you start putting your books in order, you’ll want to decide what you want to keep and what to give away or donate. Damaged or moldy books should obviously be tossed, while duplicate copies and that boring novel you didn’t like can be given away. Keep thinking about editing your collection as you get deeper into organizing process.
Beyond that, it’s up to you to decide how extensive you want your library to be. “As an organizer, I'm authorized to say there's such a thing as too many suitcases, too many plastic food storage containers, or too many dolls with eyes that move,” Jamie Shaner, founder of Home Solutions of WNY in Williamsville, New York, says. “But never, ever, too many books.”
2. PUT BOOKS WHERE YOU NEED THEM MOST.
Many bibliophiles have books in every room of the house—and that’s OK. Shaner suggests keeping books where they are most useful. That means cookbooks go in the kitchen or pantry, favorite novels for bedtime reading go in the bedroom, craft and hobby books go wherever that activity takes place, and so on.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VERTICAL SPACE.
Once you have an idea of where in your home you want to keep your books, invest in shelves and bookcases to display your collection. Shaner recommends embracing your home’s vertical space. “A tall bookcase that’s 36 inches wide will hold twice as many books as a short bookcase that’s 36 inches wide, without taking up any more floor space,” she tells Mental Floss. So install shelving to the ceiling, if possible, and look for tall bookcases that will maximize your storage potential. Some affordable bookcase models even have optional glass doors so you can display your collection while protecting it from dust.
4. GROUP SIMILAR BOOKS INTO SECTIONS AND SUB-SECTIONS.
Follow Shaner’s organizing mantra of “like with like” to simplify your process. “The first thing I recommend when organizing a book collection is to sort into general categories such as fiction and nonfiction,” she says. Fiction can be subdivided according to genre—romance, mystery, literary, and so on—and then alphabetized by author. Nonfiction can be broken down into categories such as history, travel, biographies, art, and more. Those sections can then be organized by theme: For example, art books could be grouped into Neo-Classicism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism sub-sections. Shaner points out that grouping similar books together will give you a better idea of what books you have and help you make decisions on what to keep and what to cull as you go along.
5. TRY A CATALOGING APP.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of organizing your books, you could ask a librarian at your local library for tips—or use a website or app dedicated to the subject. Shaner recommends using LibraryThing, a free site where you can catalog your personal collection online to help you maintain your home library. Other popular book cataloging apps you can try include libib and My Home Library. GoodReads is a free and popular site where avid readers rate and recommend their favorite books—and that can offer ideas for new additions to your library.
6. STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN FASHION AND FUNCTION.
You may be tempted to organize your books by color, or to try something trendy like turning the spines inward. But be warned: It may look pretty, but you probably won’t be able to find the book you want when the time comes. “It actually sets my teeth on edge when I see photos in décor magazines with all the books covered in white paper, or the bookshelves arranged solely by color,” Shaner says.
You don’t have to sacrifice style entirely. You can still have a beautiful—and organized—library by incorporating discrete groupings of objects to create a gallery-like look. “I like making a small vignette of like-colored books to display with a favorite décor item, such as a piece of pottery, a sculpture, or a treasured memento,” Shaner says. The majority of your library, however, should be organized around making your books easy to access, rather than easy on the eyes.
7. ORGANIZE KIDS’ BOOKS TO INSTILL A LOVE OF READING.
You can encourage your kids to develop good reading habits by building a miniature home library them, too. “Children’s books are wonderful on a bookshelf in each child’s bedroom,” Shaner says, where they could be interspersed with beloved toys or the child’s framed artwork.
And research shows it will pay dividends later. A 20-year study published by sociologists at the University of Nevada in 2010 suggests that the presence of books in the home has as much of an impact on children's future educational attainment as factors like parental occupation and education levels. If you need suggestions to get your youngster’s library started, the Association for Library Service to Children has a few helpful recommendations for building high-quality children’s book collections from birth to age 14.