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5 Organizing Hacks for Library-Worthy Bookshelves


Design: Sarah Lyon, Photo: Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photo

Whether your home is filled with hundreds of different books or you've managed to whittle down your collection of reads to just a few dozens, you can likely agree that organizing a bookshelf to look both visually appealing and provide ample storage can be tricky. Is there a certain order in which books should be arranged? Is placing books in color order a major yes or a faux pas? What is the best way to style a bookshelf in a child's room?

To help answer all of these questions and more, we've consulted four professional organizers from across the country, who weigh in below regarding bookshelf organization techniques that are bound to wow you. After all, there's no reason that your at-home shelfie can't look majorly library worthy.

Keep reading for five top tips that the pros couldn't resist sharing.

01 of 05

Determine a Shelf's Purpose

styled bookshelf

Design: Sarah Lyon; Photo: Allie Provost

The way you proceed with arranging your bookshelf will depend on how you intend for it to be used. First, though, go through everything on the shelf and part with any books you anticipate that you'll no longer read, professional organizer Millie Naor suggests. Donate these titles and relish in the extra space you have to work with.

Whether a bookshelf is functional, decorative, or a mix of both will affect the next steps, Naor notes.

"If your bookshelf is more decorative, you can organize the books by color, mix different types of books together (fiction, non-fiction, travel, coffee table), and add different trinkets and decorative items on top or on the side of the books," she explains. "If you are looking for a more functional library, I would group the books by type, and then you could organize them by alphabetical order."

Looking to make a bookshelf both functional and decorative? "I recommend getting creative with the way you organize books," Naor says, and what we gathered from this? Think outside the box a bit.

"Put them back by type and organize them by size, space them out, make small piles of books with your favorite decorative items on top," she continues. "With larger coffee table books, you can display them beautifully stacked on one another by size and color."

02 of 05

Think Carefully About Placement


Design: Sarah Cole Interiors, Photo: Jared Kuzia

When organizing a bookshelf, you should keep placement of the various books top of mind, according to professional organizer Tracy Bowers. "Keep hardcover books separate from paperbacks," she encourages.

Once you've tackled this step, be thoughtful about where the books are actually set on the shelf. "Bring all the books forward with just about an inch or two of the shelf showing," Bowers says. "You want what you see to have a nice consistent clean line."

Keeping height in mind can also help you determine which books to place where professional organizer Joanna Wirick says. "When placing books on a bookshelf, arrange them shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest," she explains. "This creates a nice cascading effect. If you are stacking books horizontally, place the larger books on the bottom and smaller books on top."

Feel like incorporating some decor onto your shelves? By all means, feel free, but note that there are a few techniques to keep in mind when styling. While people have many different views regarding the concept of arranging books by spine hue, Wirick is all for it, noting that if space allows, you can even designate a color for each shelf.

Bowers shares that it is a good idea to have some open space with some beautiful decor pieces here and there throughout the shelf. Her one rule: do not push books back and put decor in front of the books—that gives a very cluttered feel.

03 of 05

Organize by Date Read


Joanna Wirick

Wirick suggests this tactic for bookworms in particular. "If you are an avid reader, write the date you finished the book on the inside cover," she advises. "Organize books chronologically by when you completed the book. This is an especially great tactic if certain books were read at special moments in your life."

04 of 05

Keep It Clean

hardcover books

Design: Sarah Lyon, Photo: Lauren Zillinger for Laura Metzler Photo

Let's face it—as is the case with actual library books, at least some of your reads at home most definitely show signs of wear. Not all books are as crisp and pristine as they look in styled photoshoots, after all.

Wirick shares a quick tip for displaying reads that have seen better days: removing their hardback covers. Simply remove and recycle the original jackets to reveal the hardcover underneath.

Bowers agrees that removing book covers can result in a streamlined and elegant look. And bonus: most of the time, hiding beneath the book jacket is a stunning hardcover design most likely in a more neutral hue, giving your bookshelf a décor-focused look and feel.

05 of 05

Try This if You Have Kids

kids bookshelf

Design: Rosanna Bassford, Photo: Laura Flippen

Designing a shelf for little ones? Professional organizer Kathryn Lord shares some tips specific to children's spaces.

"When thinking about children, you have to organize something so it’s easier for them to use," she explains. "Color-coordinating children's books will help children even as young as two, as they know what color their favorite book is even before they can read, and they know where to put it back."

Bowers agrees that color coding is a major go for young ones.

"Color coding is fun and looks pretty," she says. "But keep sizes together, arranging from tallest to shortest, within each color." Aesthetics and function? We're all for it.

Sorting books by topic is another tactic that can also be beneficial for young ones. "Themed books can support their learning," Lord adds. "For example, having all the books about ‘people who help us’, ‘elephants’ or seasonal themed books for Easter, spring, summer, etc."

In general, keeping the number of books set to a minimum won't just help a shelf stay more organized, it can also be helpful for children's focus.

"Too many books can cause overwhelm, so reducing the amount available and rotating means they will read a higher range of books than if they are all available all the time," Lord says.