Sunday, February 15, 2015


Two years ago we did a massive decluttering effort in our house, and among everything else over the course of a week, out went boxes and boxes of books. We put them on the giveaway shelf in the basement of our apartment building, and as we came and went we would check to see how many and what titles had been adopted. Happily, most of our books found new homes.

The clutter is starting once again to proliferate, with books shoved carelessly on shelves or left in piles on surfaces. I go from enjoying the sight of books all around to wanting to restore visual neatness to our shelves. When we first moved in and again when we decluttered, I arranged our books not alphabetically, not by type or genre. Instead I set them out on our shelves in height order, pulling each book forward as needed so that the spines also lined up evenly at the front. My family thought this weird, but no one felt invested enough to challenge my system, which I decided was as valid as any other.

Here was my daughter's bookshelf after decluttering. OCD much? Granted she was away at college and I had free reign. She had given me permission to "go for it." Her shelves sure don't look like this now.

So how do you arrange your books? What is your preferred order and are you passionate about it or laissez faire?


  1. Oh this is such an excellent post. For one thing I love peeking at other peoples' book shelves as much as I love libraries. Just yesterday I was lying in bed staring at the massive wall of books that lines the south wall thinking that I might try to organize at least the top shelf in my by color. As it is I have the books I have yet to read on their sides I have the books I wrote or had stuff published in on one shelf and that's all the organizing there is. Library books go in the hallway lest they get swallowed up by the others. I have a pile of culled books in the hall that I walk down to the Little Library on my street. I am in constant flux about books and their beloved presence in my small house their need of dusting (ugh I am not a duster by nature but dust eats paper) and the clutter that appears on the shelves things I love that are not books so I am always putting things down then moving them. It makes me happy to see a well organized bookshelf. I have yet to own one.

  2. Ha! I love how everyone has a different system about this sort of thing. I don't put my own books in any particular order -- and I don't have nearly as many as I used to, having discarded many of them over my many successive moves. But the ones I keep I line up on shelves, pulled forward to even the spines, with no regard to height, and I stack a few at the ends to serve as bookends.

    I'm especially sensitive to this because of the library! There we put them on shelves all pulled forward to level the spines, and a lot of times the kids push them to the back, which drives me CRAZY -- because then I have to pull them all forward again.

    As you said, OCD much? :)

  3. Sort of by subject and/or author and there are no book police around here to enforce even this lazy method. The children's books are definitely in one separate section.

  4. Having just cleared three shelves of my own bookcases, I can attest to both the work and joy in a newly de-cluttered space. As to your question, I group both according to subject and book size and height because I am a bit OCD and like symmetry. I wish you a happy week ahead. I have been blogging again by fits and starts and am once again in upper respiratory nastiness though things are improving...I hope they are for you as well.

  5. I keep my own bookcases organized by genre. And here is this. When I go to the library I organize the books. I pull them so all the spines line up. I also push them together with those metal book ends so none are tipping. Doing this is like a meditation for me and I find it incredibly relaxing. I have no doubt librarians love people like me.

  6. Books!

    I have my books arranged by genre, theme or author. My professional books are on shelves in my office behind my desk. Biographies/autobiographies are on the top shelf (above the professional books). Children's books are on smaller bookshelves in my office and in a guest bedroom. My books by Joseph Campbell and various books on comparative mythology are together. I have other shelves for plays. However, there are always books that do not fit any category so they get placed according to size. Luckily, I can usually find whatever I am looking for fairly quickly. I would love to have a room with beautifully constructed built-in shelves I could call my library where everything is arranged just so, but that'll probably never happen. In the meanwhile we do the best we can.

  7. I love this post too! I have discarded a lot of books over the years as well. I have several books on my iPad now. Books I intend to keep forever are on one shelf. Then I arrange books by subject and then size and height. I push all of mine back but I like the way you and Steve do it better. I also put fiction books on one shelf and non-fiction on another. I don't separate kids books out cause I am a big kid and if it's here, I read it too. Professional books are in another bookcase behind my desk. And except for what I am currently reading, all my books are in my office... Likely due to the size of my house then anything else. Sweet Jo

  8. I arrange my books by color. And I pull the spines out to the edge of the shelf too, like you. I read to do that in some magazine once and it looks neater. When we moved out here I gave away seven large boxes of books and I regret it sometimes. In my mind I might someday need them for a pinterest-worthy library. However unlikely.

  9. I let go of books. I've cultivated several rather vast libraries in my lifetime, and then I purge them completely and feel no regrets - especially when I sell them off so that I know the recipent really wants them.

    Right now I have a small selection of books because I findi it difficult to get to the library during working hours. I generally keep fiction and non-fiction separate, but the engaging things go to the top either way. Because all I ever want to read nowadays is memoir or interesting nonfiction.

  10. Aaah...books, my first love!

    I've limited myself to three shelves. Two for pleasure, one for academics. On all three shelves my books are arranged by height. No consideration is given to subject or author. I've not purged as I should so all three shelves currently sport a good number of stacked books too.

    We won't discuss the stacks of books on my side of the bed, both on the floor and in baskets...

  11. I love the idea of a giveaway shelf in your building!

    Greg and I disagree on book organization. We have settled into dividing books into sections (fiction, memoir, graphic novels, etc) and we put them alphabetically by author within each section. He really wants to arrange them by height, width and color.

  12. Oh dear, you asked, there is no short answer for me! I love a post about books or bookcases, so thank you. I could write a book about my books, or just my stack of books about books, which I just dusted off and went through an hour ago. I have been picking through my 12 or 13 bookcases in 5 different rooms filled with thousands of books, literally, to find ones to set free at Goodwill. I think I took 4 books in the carload of donations, it should have been 40. I think your shelves look lovely, artfully arranged and tasteful, and I'm envious. Not nearly as OCD as mine, and so less cluttered.

    I lovingly catalog my books on LibraryThing but struggle to find them in my house, and lately struggle to remember the details of stories I know I loved reading. What better reason to keep them when I'm done? I'm need to cull, but I get so sidetracked reading bits of the books I think I'm going to toss, like today, when I pulled out a very old book, tiny, with that old book smell and fell into Westminster Abbey through Irving's eyes and I know I'm hopelessly doomed. So that book is now on top of different pile, by my reading chair.

    Most of books are shelved by subject, and I've toyed with a Dewey system, but that would be blatant evidence of my OCD. I like to see them stacked by topic, then color, then height, though. I'm in the market for a Dictionary stand for my Webster's Unabridged, which is huge and needs a worthy display. I have an entire bookcase of Art books, a full shelf of educational Dover coloring books, a bookcase and a half of Literature and Reference and the remaining ones mostly Contemporary Fiction, Memoir and Non-Fiction, grouped by authors or topics. I have a top shelf, double stacked on my biggest bookcase of my favorites, the ones that really touched me, and instead of setting them free, I haunt Goodwill for duplicate copies to give away.

    I have a stack by my reading chair of my ARC's, I've never been this far behind on my reviews, so I have to stop throwing my name into the hat. I'll never be able to downsize to a smaller house at this pace, my books need their own house. But I don't know how life works without books to read, in any format. You don't even want to know about my kindle.....

    Thanks for sharing your book displays and for helping to motivate me to continue to whittle to the essentials, and for letting me babble here about my books.


  13. Ooooh, I am loving hearing about the way your organize and love your books! There is actually a bookshelf in every room of my house, and in the hallway as well. They are all full despite what seems like successive purges of books in which literally hundreds of titles went out the door. I, too have a few favorites, and I keep on my beside table whatever books will most inspire me in whatever work project I am immersed in. Right now beside my head at night are Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns and Capote by Gerald Clarke. I am trying to write a biography of someone who has led a very rich but not widely known life. The writing in those two books is stunning. One can aspire...

    1. Love, love, loved The Warmth of Other Suns. I need to find time to reread it...

  14. My books in the living room are arranged by genre. Children's books live in two or three shelves on their own and there is no rhyme or reason to this section. Same with mysteries. All over the rest of the house, though, are many books stashed here and there, and they are shelved thoughtlessly. I know what books are on the shelf near the kitchen, for example, but anyone else would look at them and wonder what brought them to that spot.