Most of us have a collection of books at home that we have accumulated over the years. Books are interesting because they are deeply personal. They reflect a lot about who we are and our particular interests and passions. We also may have books that belonged to a loved one or go back to our childhood or a particular meaningful period of our lives. We hold onto them not for their content as much as for their link back to a person or a time.  Books make a home feel lived in and personal.

Some degree of decluttering is required in most of my projects. When it comes to books, this can be very hard for some clients because of the emotional attachment to many of them. However, when you have enough shelving space, you can continue to enjoy them all and leave the downsizing to one day in the future. This was the case recently when I was approached by a client to organise her personal collection of books. What was fun about this project was that she and her husband had made space in their brand new home for large study-cum-library complete with floor to ceiling shelves and a spiral staircase going to the upper level. As an ardent reader this new library space meant that all of her books could be shelved together in a more logical manner. This would make books easier to find, but also allow them to be displayed.

Here is the approach that I followed with my client (and which can be applied to any home book organising project):

1. Sort: Go through all of your books and group them first into fiction and non-fiction. Then sort all of the non-fiction into subject themes. Decide on themes that are meaningful to you and relevant for the genres of books you have. Use a big table or other flat surface to do the sorting, to save your back from bending. Dust and wipe your books as you go.

Sorting books into themes

2. Alphabetise: If you have a considerable amount of fiction and want to be able to find books quickly, sorting alphabetically is the way to go (being aware that it will take some time for this task). Be warned – if you buy a lot of books, adding them to your library will mean re-sorting your shelves from time to time to fit them. You will also need to make enough space available for the growth of your collection. Or you will need to get rid of books as you add new ones.

Personally, I go for a simpler system. I group similar types of fiction together and don’t go as far as alphabetising. In this recent project, my client requested alphabetical order for non-fiction. However, this meant that I had to remove some novels for donation when three additional boxes of books appeared late in the project to fit into the available space.

Sorting fiction in alphabetical order

3. Measure: Before you shelve your books, plan how you are going to arrange them. Firstly measure the linear length of your shelves to see how much shelf space you have available. Then measure the length of your books when stacked together. In the case of my client, there were 18 metres of non-fiction, which then determined which shelving I used to accommodate the collection together. If at this stage you have more books than shelving space, some letting go will be necessary.

4. Shelve: The final step is to shelve your books. There are various ways that you can shelve your books so that they look aesthetically attractive as well as being organised. I will cover some of these aesthetic options in a future post. In my client’s case, I kept similar categories near each other (such as gardening, plants and African wildlife). I shelved the books both vertically and horizontally depending on their size and weight. In this part of the process you can put your creativity to work, including leaving space for ornaments and photographs for a more personal touch.

Fiction shelved
Non-fiction shelved

5. Admire: After all your hard work, it is now time to relax with a cup of coffee and admire your beautifully organised personal library!

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