Last year changed the way we do a lot of things—especially the way we live at home. Between mandatory shelter-in-place orders, canceled vacation plans, and working remotely, we’re all spending a lot more time inside our four walls than ever before. And with our houses now doing extra duty as offices, gyms, and even classrooms for the kids, there’s undoubtedly no shortage of clutter.
If you’re as sick of the piles as we are, then we bet you’re ready to take action. And there’s never a better time than a new year to rethink your space, declutter, and get organized.
That’s why we’re launching a new series with tips from the pros on how to bring order to every space in your home. First up: all those books you bought to read (and never did) during quarantine. Here’s what the experts say on how to comb through your bookshelves and organize those seemingly endless stacks.
How to declutter your collection
“Clutter is postponed decisions—and that’s true of book clutter as well,” says professional organizer Barbara Hemphill.
“The first step in decluttering books is to determine how much space you’re willing to allot to books,” she says. “To decide whether to keep a book, ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst thing that would happen if I got rid of this book, and then wanted it?’ If you can live with your answer, donate or toss it.”
Get rid of ugly or old books
While some books might be obvious keepers (like the ones you’ll reread or reference later on), you’ll likely end up with a good-sized pile of maybes. For those, Barbara Reich, founder of Life Organized, has this pro tip.
“I look at whether a book is in good condition, and if it’s something I’ll want to display,” she says. “For example, you may not want to display every self-help book you own.”
Donate your unwanted books
Once you’ve narrowed down your pile of keepers, it’s time to get rid of the rest. While you might try to sell any valuable or collectible editions, most other secondhand books won’t fetch a ton of cash—which is why donations can be a great way to get rid of your unwanted volumes.
However, Sherri Curley of The Practical Sort notes that the pandemic has made the usual outlets—libraries, used bookstores, nursing homes and hospitals, consignment stores, and even certain nonprofit organizations—reluctant to handle secondhand goods.
“I caution my clients and readers to save time, hassle, and gas by contacting the organization prior to heading out, to ensure that they are accepting donations and what their current protocol and hours are,” Curley says.
How to organize your remaining books
Arrange your books by color
With your permanent collection of books established, you’re ready to start organizing them. One great way to get started is to group your books by color.
“This works for the very visual client who enjoys their books as a collection, rather than searching for specific ones to read or reference,” says Lucy Milligan Wahl of LMW Edits.
Organize by author
If a colorful display isn’t your style, then you might just consider organizing by author instead.
“This style works best for those who love to read and are looking to be able to access specific books on a regular basis,” says Wahl. “This is also a more time-intensive method, since it should be adjusted and updated whenever you add a new book to your collection.”
Organize by genre
If neither a color- nor author-based organization system works for you, consider a simple genre-based one.
“Organizing by genre works well for most clients, especially when they’re storing books in multiple rooms,” says Wahl. “It helps to match the genre to the space: for example, cookbooks in the kitchen, business and self-help in the home office, fiction and travel in the bedroom, etc.”
This might also be extended to other rooms of the house, like putting your kids’ books in the playroom and sports books in a basement or workout room. Finally, be sure to put aside a few favorite display books to decorate coffee tables, guest rooms, and even bathrooms.
Use leftover books as decor
While decluttering and organizing might be adequate for most book collectors, some might just find themselves with a few leftovers that still need sorting. Here are some creative tips from the pros that can help.
“I love using large art books stacked under lamps or small art objects to personalize a space,” says Sarah Giller Nelson of Less Is More. “Using a few favorite books to decorate your entryway will make you happy every time you come home.”
Be creative with shelving
If you need more space than just a short stack, invisible wall-mounted bookshelves are another great option to display your favorites.
“Invisible bookshelves can be wonderful for adding an accent to a wall without needing to invest in art,” says Wahl. “A window seat can also be a great place for a row of books—perhaps your favorite novels for curling up on a cozy afternoon.”
Last but certainly not least, if it’s more shelving you need, consider this minimalist design—which is great for showing off your book collection, clutter-free.