by Susan Caplan McCarthy
March - Spring Cleaning
If you feel protective of your books, you’re not alone. Many individuals consider their books a part of who they are and who they want to be. When it comes to organizing your books, consider not just the value of individual books but contemplate the space(s) you want to devote to storing and displaying them.
Chances are that you currently own:
Evaluate Your Space
Do all your books fit on the shelves you’ve dedicated to storing your library? If you have more books than bookshelves or if you cram books into every available space on your shelves, take this as a sign that you’ve exceeded capacity. Before you consider buying more shelves (do you really have space for that?), curate your library.
Gather All Your Books Together
Gather your books from everywhere in the house, including those you may have tucked onto your kids’ or spouse’s bookshelves (do not declutter or organize someone else’s books). You don’t have to gather cookbooks, but you will want to sort them at some point.
Sort Your Books by Type
Group your books by category/genre/topic/author. And then, break them into subcategories so you can really see what books you have on the same topic.
Avoid the temptation to start reading books while you’re supposed to be sorting them!
Consider What You’ll Do with Unread Books
The exception to grouping books by type are books that you’ve never read. Move these books to one shelf, like the top shelf of a shelving unit. As you add more unread books to this shelf, sort them into categories. Libraries and bookstores highlight new books by putting them in their own location to encourage that they get noticed and read.
Be honest with yourself, do you still plan on reading these books? Maybe you bought a book because it was popular (eight years ago) or someone recommended the book or gifted it to you. Maybe you thought a book would help you attain a goal.
Owning a book doesn’t imbue you with the information in it. Holding onto a book that you don’t read has no benefit. Personally, I discovered that the longer I held onto a book, the less interested I was in reading it. The excitement I had for the information existed when I first bought the book.
Organize Your Books
I’m a fan of grouping books by genre and author or topic, the way you find books organized in a bookstore or library. Over the past few years I’ve seen trends of organizing books by the color of the cover (or covering the book with colorful paper) or (incomprehensible to me), putting books on the shelf backwards so the spine is facing the back of the bookshelf and you end up with the white, ivory, and cream pages facing out.
Do people who decorate with their books in this way read these books? In any case, you can organize your books in a way that allows you to find them or to meet an aesthetic appeal.
Note – if you have no interest in reading a book again, consider why you feel compelled to hold onto the book. Maybe seeing the title prompts happy memories. Maybe it’s just a habit to hold onto it. Like any other item, you aren’t compelled to keep it. It’s okay to release books from past interests.
Create a Dedicated Library
Do you have a shelving unit where you keep your books? As you filled that space, did your books migrate to different locations in your home – a stack beside your bedside table or reading chair in the living room?
Decide to keep all your books in their home space. One exception is cookbooks. (Although, you will want to sort through them and keep only those you use all the time. If you are keeping a cookbook because of one or two recipes, copy them and donate the books.)
Another exception is coffee table books. However, be selective. Does the book really reflect an interest? To me, a coffee table book is flipped through by guests and serves as a conversation starter. You may have several coffee table books that you rotate through or stack as a decoration.
What Do You Want from Your Personal Library?
Why do you keep books in your home? Do the books reflect your current work and hobbies? Do the books suggest who you wish you were, the skills and knowledge you wish lived inside your head?
I love learning new things and deepening my knowledge of topics I’ve studied. At one point, I owned so many books, I was afraid the laden shelving unit was going to crash through the floor. Over the years, I’ve donated books, purchased new books, donated other books, and continue to work my way down to owning only books that I reread every couple of years and nature field guides.
What books and authors live on your shelves as permanent residents? Share in the comments below. (You’ll find mine listed there.)
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
At one point in my life, I had so many books that I asked my brother to build me bookshelves. When he saw the many many boxes of books, he built a structure so sturdy he could lay down on one of the shelves. I thought the piece was oversized, but, when I loaded up the shelves, I was piling books in front of other piles of books.
I was afraid the thing was going to go through the floor.
Whenever I moved, there were more boxes of books than of clothing. I learned that I could carry a banker’s box full of books (and, bonus, those boxes had handles).
I had a vision in my head of someday owning a room filled with shelves of books. A personal library that would speak to my interest in varied topics.
However, this interest didn’t always translate into knowledge. There were months when I bought more books than I read. I had scores of books I’d never opened. I didn’t really own those books. I owned the paper and glue and stitching they were made of, but I hadn’t appreciated the authors’ insights into human emotion through the trials of their fictional characters; I learned no new facts that could intertwine with my knowledge and experiences and expand my intellect.
The books sat on the shelves until I moved and couldn’t taken the behemoth bookshelves my brother had built to my new apartment. So, I stacked books on the floor when I ran out of space on my new Ikea bookshelves.
One year, I saw that my town library was having a book sale and was seeking donations. I filled boxes that filled my car’s trunk. I did the same the next year. After that, I got in the regular habit of culling my books once or twice a year.
When I upgraded to a smartphone, my favorite apps were Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle. I could buy eBooks that I’d always have with me! Squeeeee! And, they were a couple of dollars cheaper than paperbacks.
But, I didn’t have a tablet, I used a smartphone, so the digital reading experience wasn’t particularly appealing. And, then, I realized that if I wanted to pass along the book to a friend whom I thought would enjoy it, I couldn’t.
Also, I realized I disliked cluttering my digital library with books I wouldn’t have held onto if I had them in physical form. And, although I could hit ‘delete,’ somehow that felt like more of a waste than passing along an unwanted book.
And, so, I’ve decided that when I do buy a book (because books are my weakness and, yes, I’m working on that), I’ll buy it as a paperback or hardcover over an eBook because I can give them to someone else to read. However, I am giving myself rules:
Do you have a weakness for books? Have you curated – or started to curate – your collection? Have you given yourself rules about buying or keeping books? Add your story about books to the comments below.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.