How do you organise your books?

The problem of organising your books is owning them. If you love books you own them – lots of them. You are given them, lent them, buy them and you read them, and then put them – where? On a shelf, on a table, in a pile? I you buy books you are confronted with the persistent problem of how to organise your collection of books. Even the most evangelical of kindlers surely has some books to organise. You would have to be completely ruthless to have no books. Kindles may be the answer to the problem in the future, but I am still not a convert to Kindle138 Oblique bookshelf

The rule

It’s the rule, in organising books. There is never enough shelf space, however many books or shelves you own.

If you have ever cohabited with another reader, the rule means you have had to take urgent action and someone must dispose of their copies of Women in Love, To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. It can be a fraught time as you argue over the emotional value of your GCSE copy of Julius Caesar, or don’t want to part with the precise copy in which you encountered Atticus Finch. And remember, some people can’t bear to part with books under any circumstances. That’s another topic – recycling books.

When you move house books get put in boxes, and often left in boxes for weeks, months, even years. A few years ago I came across several boxes of books in my cellar. I had put them there there when I moved in 30 years before. I figured that if I hadn’t missed those books in 30 years I could send them on their way now. Anyway, see the rule. Not all of them have been recycled of course. Some of them snuck onto the shelves (see method 2 below).

The problems

Volume (note sneaky pun) of books.

Finding a specific book again.

Library in Radstadt, book tower. Herzi Pinki via WikiCommons

Library in Radstadt, book tower. Herzi Pinki via WikiCommons

What to do with your tbr (to be read) pile: a stack? a dedicated shelf? a list?

Where to keep those embarrassing self help books, Lou asked me when I first posted about this topic. I think she suggested at the back of the wardrobe.

And Sue added her comments about her problem.

Books have been colonising my living space for the past ??? (well, over 60) years. In piles by the bed, under the bed, by any chair–in fact, anywhere there happens to be a clear surface. Three years ago I had a fantastic floor to ceiling bookcase built along my narrow hallway. But it’s now fully occupied, with a very eclectic selection.
Every few years I am determined to recycle my books to Oxfam or wherever I have the strength to carry them. Then I have a new interest, and it triggers something from a book I have read–I look on the shelves and in the piles–and realise it has been ‘de-cluttered’.
End result? Amazon have made a fortune out of my need to replace the ‘de-cluttered’ books.

The Methods

Here are some methods for organising your book collection. I’ve already given you a clue about mine. Which is yours?

  1. The Librarian. Categories of books are grouped together: gardening, cookery, reference, poetry, travel books, biography, gifts from Aunty Doreen, fiction. Within the groups they are organised alphabetically by author. But here there are problems: do you put short stories on the fiction shelves? And do you put books about Jane Austen alongside her novels? Help!
  2. Willynilly. Wherever they fit (but they wont – see the rule). You end up with some serendipitous and some bizarre juxtapositions: I notice on my shelf that Happiness by Tad Ben-Shahar is next to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem.
  3. Half and half. Some organisation for half of them, so that cookery books are in the kitchen, reference books by your computer and books by the same author pushed in together. Other half, as in Willynilly.
  4. Surprise. After some discussion about organising sheet music at choir I asked an alto how she organised her books. ‘They’re art books,’ she told me, ‘and I keep them in the cupboard.’ She explained that they needed to be kept in very good condition. Well there you are.
  5. Aesthetic. By colour. Very tasteful, but this method takes ages to arrange and books take even longer to be found. But that’s not the point (see method name). My nephew did actually arrange his collection by colour and it was enchanting (see photo for one I tried earlier; not exactly enchanting). But this method doesn’t solve the question – where would you put that gold covered copy of The Mirror Within by Anne Dickson? 205 book colour org
  6. By size. A serious drawback of this method is that you have to remember the size of a book in order to find it again. Another problem is that all those paperback books are the same size, so you probably need a sub-method to arrange the paperbacks.
  7. The Vita Sackville-West method – see the picture. This method suits people with sets with matching bindings: all Dickens, Samuel Pepys Diaries in four volumes, Great Works of American Novelists (male of course), Readers Digest World’s Greatest Novels (American of course).

    Vita Sackville-West's study

    Vita Sackville-West’s study

  8. Acceptance. This is what Sue said after summarising her book organising problems and attempts at resolution.

But I love my books and their contents. They are part of my well-lived life and precious friends, for whatever mood I am in. They are faithful and always there for me at whatever hour of day or night.
So I have learned to accept that books-and-me come as a package: Love me–love my books!

7. Other wild ways. Order of purchase. Height. Alphabetically by title. Stacked on their sides. Order of publication. Order of reading. On the stairs.

And what do you do with your books?

Go on. What do you do with yours? How have you resolved the issues?


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8 Responses to How do you organise your books?

  1. Eileen

    Recycle! Saves the agony of the decision. Lovely post though. x

  2. *Lovely* post! Marvellous! My home is gradually being taken over by books, so much so that I need to cull but I often suffer from the problem you mention of then wanting the book I’ve culled. I guess my storage attempts to be the half and half method. I dream of having the right number of books for the right number of shelves but I doubt it will ever happen….

    • Caroline

      I have to say that the idea of the right number of books for the right number of shelves sounds impossible. A good argument against culling I think – Eileen should read this.

  3. Marion Reid

    Such a good post. I have been trying to downsize my books for the past ten years, first prior to a move from a big house to a small apartment (I was able to sell about 10 small boxes to a used book store, and gave away the rest that could not come with me). Nowadays I realize I will not likely get to read all of my books, so keep filling a box to donate to a charity book sale. But for every book I donate, I tend to buy 3 or 4 new ones. I also read your June 2013 blog about uncluttering your book. Excellent post.
    I shelve fiction alphabetically by author (and other bits here, there and everywhere that there is room to slide a book in) and my small non-fiction collection sits by itself. I use a Kindle at the gym — white-haired old lady riding the recumbent bike, reading a book, never raising a sweat — and when on holiday. The rest of the time it’s books in their traditional form.
    Yesterday I bought The Summer Book / Janssen, and The Hearing Trumpet/ Carrington, both suggestions from your earlier blogs about Older Women in Fiction. Also bought “Outline”/ Rachel Cusk, shortlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize. I have riches awaiting me.
    Thanks for your blog. I love reading it.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for your positive response to the blog. Your description of your book buying and disposing habits chimes with me. I once had a rule that I wold get rid of a book everytime I bought one. Never really worked.
      I hope you enjoy the Hearing Trumpet. It’s a little weird. I am sure you will like The Summer Book. And if you are a writer the novel by Rachel Cusk called Outline will resonate with you. It’s a novel that stays in my mind as I think about how we try to describe people. The title is good. I havent blogged about that one.
      I love your picture of reading on the exercise bike: Happy reading.Makes me think about a post called where do you read?

  4. Sarah hill

    I said to myself after moving home from Uni and filling nearly three vanloads with my life, that I would no longer buy fiction in a physical form (kindle only) but I would not deny myself any sexy technicolour textbooks that took my fancy.
    However, I do have a “Reference+ Textbooks” folder on kindle, Unread Fiction (singles), Unread Fiction (series), Read Singles, Read Singles and The Classics (as categorised by Free status on Kindle) [all alphabetical within these folders]

    My main problem is that my love of the UK Drama and UK Comedy DVDboxset often requires the exact same type of storage that books do so I have all my *cough* EIGHTEEN Victoria Wood DVDs, comedy standup + Box sets sectioned off, film section, and musicals& live music& documentary dvd together but next to Autobiography and True Life non-reference books.
    Then all spirituality, pain management, wicca, healing and magick books together as my ‘living’ section. Then pharmaceutical and medical texts sectioned off but with all other fiction a complete and utter state that extends into cupboards, stationary drawers and alongside old diaries and notebooks. Pretty disrespectful to fiction.

    But then I have autographed DVDs+books that could never belong alongside your riffraff standard books+DVDS, could they!?!
    Brenda Blethyn, John Barrowman, Nightwish, Bernie Nolan, Roberta Taylor, Celia Imrie, Josie Lawrence to mention but a few.

    The trip hazards from book piles are beyond counting, and this doesn’t even include my obsession with blank notebooks for new research projects, books of shadows, journals, fiction, dream recording, learning French again, making notes when attending lectures.

    I have one nearly full notebook that is just a bibliography of all the pain management books I have read, where the ticked items are ones I own a copy of.

    I need a flat to live in and a semi detached home to house my books. One trick I have learnt is to encourage my parents to ditch their books in bin or charity shop, then slip MY library into the study onto THEIR bookshelves. Mwahahaha

    • Caroline

      I think your parents should watch out that they arent completed usurped by your books and DVD collections. Or else move house!
      Thanks for this Sarah. You have a problem. But you knew that.

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