7 Expert Tips and Tricks for Organizing Your Home Library

iStock/urfinguss
iStock/urfinguss

If you look around your home and see more books than you know what to do with, you aren’t alone. Buying books that you may or may not ever get around to reading is a common phenomenon: The act of accumulating piles of books that you intend to read one day is called tsundoku in Japanese, and in the early 19th century, British aristocrats with a nearly pathological passion for books were said to suffer from bibliomania.

In the modern era, a minor book-hoarding habit usually isn’t considered serious enough for a mental health diagnosis—but it can certainly create a lot of household clutter if you don’t have a system for sorting your collection of literature. With that in mind, here are expert tips for organizing your own home library.

1. ASSESS YOUR ENTIRE COLLECTION.

Whether you’ve been collecting books your entire life or are just now building a home library, do an inventory of what’s currently in your collection. Before you start putting your books in order, you’ll want to decide what you want to keep and what to give away or donate. Damaged or moldy books should obviously be tossed, while duplicate copies and that boring novel you didn’t like can be given away. Keep thinking about editing your collection as you get deeper into organizing process.

Beyond that, it’s up to you to decide how extensive you want your library to be. “As an organizer, I'm authorized to say there's such a thing as too many suitcases, too many plastic food storage containers, or too many dolls with eyes that move,” Jamie Shaner, founder of Home Solutions of WNY in Williamsville, New York, says. “But never, ever, too many books.”

2. PUT BOOKS WHERE YOU NEED THEM MOST.

Many bibliophiles have books in every room of the house—and that’s OK. Shaner suggests keeping books where they are most useful. That means cookbooks go in the kitchen or pantry, favorite novels for bedtime reading go in the bedroom, craft and hobby books go wherever that activity takes place, and so on.

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VERTICAL SPACE.

Once you have an idea of where in your home you want to keep your books, invest in shelves and bookcases to display your collection. Shaner recommends embracing your home’s vertical space. “A tall bookcase that’s 36 inches wide will hold twice as many books as a short bookcase that’s 36 inches wide, without taking up any more floor space,” she tells Mental Floss. So install shelving to the ceiling, if possible, and look for tall bookcases that will maximize your storage potential. Some affordable bookcase models even have optional glass doors so you can display your collection while protecting it from dust.

4. GROUP SIMILAR BOOKS INTO SECTIONS AND SUB-SECTIONS.

Follow Shaner’s organizing mantra of “like with like” to simplify your process. “The first thing I recommend when organizing a book collection is to sort into general categories such as fiction and nonfiction,” she says. Fiction can be subdivided according to genre—romance, mystery, literary, and so on—and then alphabetized by author. Nonfiction can be broken down into categories such as history, travel, biographies, art, and more. Those sections can then be organized by theme: For example, art books could be grouped into Neo-Classicism, Impressionism, and Abstract Expressionism sub-sections. Shaner points out that grouping similar books together will give you a better idea of what books you have and help you make decisions on what to keep and what to cull as you go along.

5. TRY A CATALOGING APP.

If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of organizing your books, you could ask a librarian at your local library for tips—or use a website or app dedicated to the subject. Shaner recommends using LibraryThing, a free site where you can catalog your personal collection online to help you maintain your home library. Other popular book cataloging apps you can try include libib and My Home Library. GoodReads is a free and popular site where avid readers rate and recommend their favorite books—and that can offer ideas for new additions to your library.

6. STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN FASHION AND FUNCTION.

You may be tempted to organize your books by color, or to try something trendy like turning the spines inward. But be warned: It may look pretty, but you probably won’t be able to find the book you want when the time comes. “It actually sets my teeth on edge when I see photos in décor magazines with all the books covered in white paper, or the bookshelves arranged solely by color,” Shaner says.

You don’t have to sacrifice style entirely. You can still have a beautiful—and organized—library by incorporating discrete groupings of objects to create a gallery-like look. “I like making a small vignette of like-colored books to display with a favorite décor item, such as a piece of pottery, a sculpture, or a treasured memento,” Shaner says. The majority of your library, however, should be organized around making your books easy to access, rather than easy on the eyes.

7. ORGANIZE KIDS’ BOOKS TO INSTILL A LOVE OF READING.

You can encourage your kids to develop good reading habits by building a miniature home library them, too. “Children’s books are wonderful on a bookshelf in each child’s bedroom,” Shaner says, where they could be interspersed with beloved toys or the child’s framed artwork.

And research shows it will pay dividends later. A 20-year study published by sociologists at the University of Nevada in 2010 suggests that the presence of books in the home has as much of an impact on children's future educational attainment as factors like parental occupation and education levels. If you need suggestions to get your youngster’s library started, the Association for Library Service to Children has a few helpful recommendations for building high-quality children’s book collections from birth to age 14.

How British Spies Used a Cupcake Recipe to Stop Terrorists

iStock.com/400tmax
iStock.com/400tmax

In 2011, Arabian Peninsula-based Al-Qaeda members published a 67-page English-language magazine called Inspire in an attempt to recruit new terrorists. Instead, they might have inspired a new generation of bakers.

In the United States and United Kingdom, intelligence agencies knew the magazine was being launched well in advance. The also knew the magazine would be digital-only and could be downloaded as a PDF by anybody with an internet connection. For months, the U.S. Cyber Command planned on attacking the publication's release, crippling it with a hail of computer viruses. "The packaging of this magazine may be slick," one counterterrorism official said, "but the contents are as vile as the authors."

Their plans, however, were blocked by the CIA, which asserted that targeting the magazine "would expose sources and methods and disrupt an important source of intelligence," according to The Telegraph. So as progress halted in the U.S., British agents cooked up their own plans.

It involved treats.

At the time of the magazine's launch, the UK Government Communications Headquarters and the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, successfully hacked the computers distributing the mag and tinkered with the text. They removed articles about Osama bin Laden and deleted a story called "What to expect in Jihad." Elsewhere, they destroyed the text by inserting garbled computer code.

One sabotaged story was an article by "The AQ Chef" called "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom," which explained how to make a pipe bomb with simple ingredients that included sugar. The new code, however, contained a sweet recipe of a different kind.

Instead of the bomb-making instructions, the article contained code leading to an article called "The Best Cupcakes in America," hosted by the Ellen DeGeneres Show website [PDF]. The page featured recipes for "sweet-toothed hipsters" and instructions for mojito-flavored cupcakes "made of white rum cake and draped in vanilla buttercream" (plus Rocky Road and Caramel Apple varieties!).

Two weeks later, the magazine's editors found the errors and fixed the edition—but, presumably, not until some bad guys discovered that "the little cupcake is big again."

6 Big Problems With Building Tiny Houses

iStock.com/TexasPixelPro
iStock.com/TexasPixelPro

Minimalism is in. A growing number of people are adopting a lifestyle that’s scaled down both physically and financially, taking on only the bare minimum of material possessions and living space in order to function. Mental Floss’s own Shaunacy Ferro reported on her experience in a tiny house plan, an elfin piece of real estate that’s often less than 500 square feet.

Tiny house advocates celebrate the ease of relocation, a smaller carbon footprint, and no looming mortgage to worry about. Unfortunately, there are also some hazards to tiny house plans that don’t get quite the same amount of attention. Take a look at a few perils of downsizing.

1. In a tiny house build, you’re going to be thinking a lot about poop.

With no fixed septic system in place for tiny or portable houses, less-is-more enthusiasts have to make some difficult decisions on how best to get rid of their waste. Some toilets divert solids to be used as compost, while other, “dry” toilets essentially act as a giant diaper, wrapping and storing your deposits for future disposal. Either way, tiny living quarters can sometimes have odor issues. To combat this, newer toilet models actually incinerate poop, reducing it to a pile of ash for removal. If setting your eliminations on fire seems extreme, then so might the entire idea of minimal habitation.

2. Zoning laws are no little problem for tiny houses.

It can feel exhilarating to build a tiny house and have the freedom to pull up stakes and go wherever you like. Except you really can’t. City and town zoning laws often dictate what minimally constitutes a house—like square footage or number of rooms—and it might not include the specs of your Keebler-sized tiny house build. Minnesota, for example, mandates that homes of any type have minimum ceiling clearances, ventilation, and heating standards [PDF]. Other areas insist that new single-family homes measure 1000 square feet or larger.

3. Tiny house builds are not cheap.

You may assume giving up your dreams of a finished basement and half-bath may result in substantial cost savings. Depending on what part of the country you live in, that may not be so. Nationwide, tiny homes can cost twice as much per square foot as houses built at a more common scale. One company, Tiny Home Builders, offers models at $61,000. Why so much? Downsizing can often mean premium features, like a tankless water heater.

You can find some ultra-modest options for $25,000, but a house with top-end amenities can creep into the six figures. That doesn’t include the price of buying or leasing land to put it on. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, the cost of materials can start at $10,000. Some homeowners opt to buy a “shell,” or prefab exterior, for a reduced price, but it can cost thousands to fill the empty interior.

4. Obtaining insurance for tiny houses can be difficult.

Insurance companies deal in precedents and manage their expectations accordingly. They know if you’re in a flood zone, if you’ve recently driven through your garage door, or if you have a waterbed. What they have more trouble accounting for is a house without a foundation, that may or may not be up to building codes, or the fact you’re towing it across the country. As a result, securing insurance for tiny homes can be problematic, and you may find yourself paying a premium for the coverage.

5. Tiny house occupants need storage space.

The dream of discarding worldly possessions is often easier said than done. Many people have mementos, belongings, collections, and other ephemera that they don’t have room for but don’t necessarily want to part with. That’s why some tiny house occupants end up renting storage units for things they no longer have the space for. While rarely a budget-busting consequence, it is an added expense that downsized dwellers should be aware of.

6. Someone might steal your tiny house.

Homeowners often worry about the potential for burglaries, but tiny house residents need to worry about something else entirely—having their entire abode stolen. In 2018, a woman in St. Louis discovered the wheel-mounted house she had left parked in a commercial lot turned up missing. It was recovered 30 miles away.

[h/t The Conversation]

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