How to Organize Your Books in a Way That Works for You

Whether you're an aesthete or a budding librarian, finding an organizing system suitable for your collection will make it easier to access your most cherished reads.

Despite the prevalence of electronic readers and audio books, many people still prefer the experience of thumbing through a physical book. If you're one of them, you know how easy it is for your collection to end up all over your house. You pulled a cookbook down for dinner, wanted to read an excerpt from your favorite novel in bed, or just picked up a few new tomes from your local bookstore and plopped them on a side table. If it feels like you don't have a good system for corralling your collection, don't fret. You just need to identify the organizing solution that works for you, be it sorting by color or genre.

Bookcase filled with books in green study

Edit Your Collection

We know how hard it can be to part with any of your books—the pages all hold their own special lessons, meanings, and memories. To make this step easier, start by sorting your books into categories that make sense to you. Then, review those groupings. "Often after reviewing in context, it is pretty easy to let go of a book called How to Use the Very First iPhone," says Ben Soreff, professional organizer at House to Home Organizing.

Any books still in usable condition can be donated. "Most public libraries will accept book donations to sell at their semi-annual book sales," says Soreff. "Goodwill accepts books, but many other charities do not." If you have any children's books your kids have outgrown, check to see if any nearby preschools and local aftercare programs will take them.

Organize by Color

Once you know which books you intend to keep, you can begin organizing. One sorting technique book owners sometimes choose is organizing by color. While it may seem like it's purely for aesthetics, this method is extremely helpful to visual learners. It also requires less maintenance than some other organizing systems. "Seeing color is immediate—analyzing details like genre may take more thought," says Meredith Goforth, the founder of House of Prim. "For any system, sustainability is a make-or-break factor."

To organize your books by color, simply arrange them in the order of the rainbow, starting with white and ending with black. "Pair metallics for an instant touch of sophistication," says Goforth. This method is a great way to infuse your home with some color and personality if you think your bookshelves look dull.

Stack Your Books

If all your books don't fit on your shelf vertically, stacking may be necessary. "If the books are taller than the shelf, stack large books horizontally, and then fill in with books standing vertically in the usual way," says Darla DeMorrow, certified professional organizer and owner of HeartWork Organizing. "In fact, heavier book stacks are great proxies for bookends." This is also a smart technique if your books are displayed on a table or used as décor in a place where they can't stand vertically on their own.

Home library corner with bookshelf and cozy chair with blanket and plant to the side
Andreas von Einsiedel / GETTY IMAGES

Sort by Height

Do you prioritize aesthetics when sorting your books? If so, organizing by height may be the way to go. The best part about this method is that it can be combined with other more practical organizing methods. "Put the larger books in a genre together, and the smaller ones can be stacked together," says DeMorrow. Or really lean into the design aspect by getting creative with the way you choose to organize by height. "If you create a cascade of tall to short and then tall again, you can create an interesting wave shape, which might appeal to you more than rainbow order does," says DeMorrow.

Organize by Genre

Organizing by genre is ideal for the reader who enjoys browsing their collection, but still appreciates a set system. Before going this route, though, it's important to first consider the breadth of genres you read. "If most of your collection is made up of one genre, then you may want to add on additional layers of organization," says Goforth.

Start by breaking your collection into categories—drama, romance, fantasy, non-fiction, and beyond. This is also a good time to implement some other tried-and-true sorting techniques, like stacking or organizing by height. If your cookbooks tip off the edge of your shelves when placed vertically, maybe that genre is laid horizontally while your romances stay standing.

Organize by Author

For bookworms with a large collection, opt for a system that allows you to immediately find what you're looking for. "Sorting and storing books by author can help you keep track of which books you own, and it's a lot easier to maintain than the Dewey decimal system," says DeMorrow. "Shelve books by the first letter of the author's last name, and you are done."

Note this system requires slightly more thoughtful upkeep and investment than some other methods. "That investment pays off if your biggest pain point is an inability to find precisely what you are looking for," says Goforth. On the other hand, if you are just looking for a way to tidy up an eyesore, organizing by author name won't be the most sustainable option.

Organize by Frequency of Use

Many people have a handful of books they return to time and time again—be it a family cookbook or a childhood favorite you can't let go of. Make it easier to grab those cherished reads by sorting based on frequency of use. "These books are not only a separate section of your library, but they might be their own library," says DeMorrow. "Keep them in the place where they will be used the most."

On the other hand, books you never touch can either be donated or stored elsewhere. "Keepsake books should be kept more remotely with other sentimental items—and not on the bookshelf," says Soreff.

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