Organizing Books

Organizing Books

Are the books in your home taking over? Reading is a wonderful thing, but if your books are interfering with other priorities, perhaps it’s time to rein them in. (The books that is.) The accumulation has been developing for years, so the idea of bringing it under control may seem overwhelming, but with the right plan, it is manageable. Here are 8 tips.

1. Clear the decks

You won’t be able to organize you books on the shelves, on the shelves. They have to come off and join the book conversation, that may be piling up on the floor. You will need way more room to process than you think, so start by opening up space before you touch a single book. Temporarily move liftable pieces of furniture to another room and box up loose items on tables and other useful surfaces. Be sure to label those boxes, for an easy return. Investing a few minutes to open up space will pay off with hours of time and tons of stress relief.

2. The right tools for the job

For the aforementioned boxes, I always recommend standard banker boxes (10” x 12” x 15”). They are a good size for sorting loose items and for filling with books. The lid means that you can stack these boxes vertically and open up floor space. Never write on the boxes, because you will reuse them multiple times. Write the box contents on Post-It notes and always remember to keep the label outward.

3. Organize in stages

As I mentioned, book accumulation happens over several years, so it is unrealistic to expect that you will organize all of them in one shot. Break up the process in manageable stages and, if necessary, break it up by rooms. Recognize that there has to be a separate process for sorting and reprioritizing and a separate process for reassigning books to shelves.

4. Don’t ask where? Ask why?

Sorting to get organized and setting up systems to stay organized must be two separate activities. So before you ask where a book should go, ask yourself exactly why you are keeping it. You are keeping your books for several different reasons. When you are clear on why you are keeping a book, it will take you to where it should go AND it will make it easier to let go of books, for which there are no good answers. This approach applies to everything and I discuss it in further detail in this post, using books as an example.

5. Books for looks

One of the reasons we keep books sometimes is just because we like the way they look. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s important to recognize that that is the reason. It helps in the balance of priorities, which is different for everyone. My wife and I use Google and Wikipedia to reference everything, but we like the way our Encyclopedia Britannica’s look on our bookshelf. Many of us keep large coffee table books on our coffee tables and may never look at them, but we like the way they look. A bookcase that is organized by color may appear very organized, but it is all about books for looks. It can’t possibly be organized by priority unless the appearance IS the priority.

6. Measure first

Banker boxes can also be great tools for measuring. You can line your books up in segments on the floor, before committing them to shelves. Each banker box represents a 15 inch segment that will translate to a 15 inch segment on the shelf. If you start running out of banker boxes, you can use two full boxes of books as bookends to support the loose books. This is a particularly good technique if you are organizing a growing category of books. Whether you choose to organize your categories by size or by alphabet, it is easier to work this out on the floor first. Once you have established the quantities of books you are keeping, it is significantly easier to assign the right shelf space to them.

7. Destination plan

Your book organizing won’t be very satisfying without some significant editing, so be sure you have a good plan for where your excess books are going. A book drive can be a great incentive, because it saves you the search. Otherwise, start with your local library and see what they will take. Another resource might be your local transfer station. The one in Stamford has a book exchange. Of course, if you have some books in good condition that you’d like to sell online, you can go with amazon.com. A less obvious resource is half.com. Local book dealers still exist too. If you are in Fairfield county, I recommend David Greif of Griffen Books in Stamford. David’s number is 203.353.9193.

8. Mini library

One great reason to keep books is to share with friends and family. The problem with this, is that it is all too easy to forget who you have lent books to, after a few weeks and over time, you may forget completely. If this is a problem, then face it. You are a mini library and even a mini library needs a system for book returns. A simple computer document, titled “library” should do it. You could have fun with it and create a personal label, to place on the inner cover, so that the lender remembers the source, but you, at least, should know. So keep a simple record of who’s got what.

These tips are useful, not only to open up space in your home, but to rethink your space if you are moving, especially if you are downsizing.

If you still feel like you will need help with making decisions on your books and with sorting and lifting them all, call me for an organizing session and we’ll book it!

Comments 1

  1. I have collected many books over the years and consider them my favorite entertainment! I especially appreciated #4–make sure you know why you are keeping a particular book. That helps you set reasonable limits. Great list.

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