Dear Book Dr,
I am simplifying my house by working through the Cozy Minimalist eCourse. While the author has some great ideas for display bookcases, she doesn’t have a lot of suggestions for attractively displaying books and organizing bookcases for practical purposes. I’ve determined my various bookcases are for storage, not for display. The shelves are crammed full of books of all sizes, colors and shapes. I would like the bookshelf to look more uniform and organized and simple. Perhaps this is not realistic. Can I have both beautiful and practical bookshelves at the same time? I know I have too many books, so I’m beginning the process of sorting out books to give away or sell. However, I’m stuck with how to display the books I currently want to keep, without looking like a cluttered mess.
Dear Hopeful Minimalist,
You are speaking my language. I know that book storage is a terrifying topic for many of us who are book junkies. I once counted how many books I owned that I hadn’t yet read and the number was so terrifying I don’t think I can share it. Perhaps that will be a future post.
However, I take your point- how to organize your bookshelves if you have enough books that remembering what color they are is a challenge. I think color sorting can hold up by category- just art books in one room, for example, but is tough for a serious library.
Here are my ideas:
- Try sorting by category first. Think about which rooms you tend to read which sorts of books in. For example, I keep my spiritual books in the bedroom since my meditation area is there and I am most likely to consult them in that room. Fiction is in our sitting room, writing reference in the office and so on. This is a good way to begin to break things down.
- It sounds like you have modular bookshelves, correct? The kind that are pieces of furniture? Sadly I can’t take my own advice on this one, but in a former house I was astonished at how much more shelf space I got from wall-mounted bookshelves. The container store makes great ones that you can customize- you just mount one strip of metal near the ceiling and the shelf supports hang from that so there is minimal wall damage. It felt like twice as much space. They tend to go on sale about twice a year. This should help with the space problem and does make everything look much more uniform. A fun thing to do also is paint the wall behind the shelf a bright color- I did hot pink– and the color peeks through from behind the books.
- Be ruthless about the books you keep. I know, I sound cold. But as long as you have a decent library system near you, books that don’t immediately spark joy when you go through them a la Marie Kondo should go. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t read most novels more than once and I get more joy out of passing them on to a friend than I do cramming them into my shelf. I may be alone here, but still- sometimes friends try to give borrowed books back and I try to run away without them.
- And if you’re really desperately swamped, try decorating with books. There are quite a few places to look for inspiration on this one. (Pinterest is definitely your friend here) Have a ton of books that you don’t need access too regularly? Stack them up and use them as the base for a coffee table or an end table. Make a cool headboard out of books. I almost always have stacks on my dresser in my bedroom- we have another on the blanket chest in there as well. And Christmas is coming eventually.
- Look for extra clever places to add shelf space– one apartment I lived in had a gap between the top of the kitchen cabinets and the ceiling- that’s a great bookshelf. Find a room that could handle a single strip of shelf along the ceiling about a foot or so down- instant increase in storage.
- If all else fails, start a book swap- invite friends who also have too many and bring your cast-offs and trade. You’ll at least save money on buying books. Everything that’s left over at the end of the swap can go to a donation point- the library or goodwill, which also takes books.
- Ok- one more idea- I have always dreamed of having a little free library, but my house is way down a long driveway away from the street. If you are close enough to the street to put one of these up, do it! And please send updates so I can live vicariously.
Ok, Hopefully. I hope this gives you some good ideas about how to organize your bookshelves, and even how to get beyond your bookshelves. Do let us know how your minimalism and book decoration progresses…
The book dr.