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Spring cleaning 101: Organize your book collection

Spring cleaning 101: Organize your book collection

Any book lover knows just how quickly your shelves can become cluttered with paperbacks shoved deep into the shelf or piled up in perilous towers on the floor. Having a home filled with books can be wonderful, but there comes a point when they begin to take over.

There are a number of ways you can organize your book collection, but to have tidy shelves, you will likely need to do some culling and giving away.

How do I decide which books to keep?

If you are looking to reduce the size of your collection (which may be necessary if you want your shelves to be clean and uncluttered), the first step is to put all your books in one place. Take them off the shelves and out of their boxes, painful though this may be. You can arrange them in stacks or lay them out over a large area -- the important part is that you get an idea of just how many books you have, and take the time to consider whether you will keep or give away each one.

This step is by far the hardest, so remember that everyone has a different view when it comes to culling. You don't have to get rid of books -- only you can decide when a book is ready to leave your collection. But the more books you part with, the easier organizing your library will be.

Duplicates: The easiest place to start is by tracking down any duplicates. Every reader has that one book they love dearly, and they own four copies because they can't help buying it again. Unless you have special editions or copies with sentimental value, there's no real reason to keep two of the same book. This is a great opportunity to turn your favorite books into gifts for friends or family.

To-be-read books: You may want to separate your "read" books from your "to be read" titles. Take a look at each book and consider whether you will really get to it someday. How many years have you owned each book? If you haven't read it in three years and don't plan on reading it any time soon, why hold onto it? You can let go of popular unread titles fairly easily, as you can likely find them at your library or at a used book sale if you ever get the itch to read them.

Everything else: You could separate your books into childhood favorites, epic series, and classics and tackle each section individually. But in the end, there are two main reasons to keep a book: sentimental value, or re-readability. Do you like looking at this book on your shelf and remembering its characters, or the point in your life when you read it? Do you think there's a good chance you'll read it again? These are both key questions to ask when deciding whether a book should stay or go.  

What to do with the books that leave your collection

Once you have these books boxed up, you should think about where you would like them to go. Some may make good gifts, while others may be best suited to a book drop or donation center. Public libraries are often overwhelmed with book donations, but you can call your local library to see if they're interested in any or all of your books.

How should I organize my collection?

You should first consider whether your bookshelves need an upgrade, as reorganizing your collection is a great time to opt for a matching set of bookshelves.

After you have your shelves situated and have cleaned them, it's time to shelve. There are a number of ways you can sort your collection.

Hardcovers and paperbacks. Dividing your hardcovers and paperbacks not only looks nice, but it is also very space efficient. Paperbacks can be stacked on top of each other or can fit into smaller shelves. If you have a large number of mass market books, you may want to separate those as well.

Genre. If you are really going for a "library" feel, you may want to separate your classics, nonfiction, children's, and genre books. This allows you to browse your books by category. If you keep your books in separate rooms, you can even put different genres in different areas of your home. You may also want to keep your unread books on a separate shelf so you can track your reading progress.  

When it comes to shelving, stacking your books by laying them on their sides can maximize your available space. Switching it up between vertical and horizontal shelving can look quite nice, too. To make your library easy to browse, you should alphabetize your book either by author or by title.

The book collector's shopping list

A barcode scanner: As you shelve your books, you may want to create an up-to-date inventory using a barcode scanner.

Folding bookshelves: These are a great option for anyone who moves frequently, as they are easy to tuck away and transport.

Bookends: If you have any extra space on your shelves, you will want a few pairs of bookends. Bookends are also a great way to make it easier to reorganize your shelves as you acquire new books since they mean you don't have to shift shelves as often.


Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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