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.

6 Books You Didn’t Know Were Originally Self-Published

jtyler/iStock via Getty Images
jtyler/iStock via Getty Images

Though the wild success of a few self-published books—like E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey—has created a wave of DIY authors, it’s not a novel idea. Long ago, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, and Walt Whitman decided to go their own way for some of their most famous works. Here are six well-known books that were originally self-published.

1. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets //  Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane is perhaps best known for traumatizing generations of elementary schoolchildren with grisly, gory depictions of the Civil War in his novel The Red Badge of Courage. Before that, he financed the publication of his first work, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, an equally bleak examination of poverty, prostitution, and alcoholism in 19th-century New York. Just 21 years old at the time, Crane released the novella in 1893 under the pseudonym Johnston Smith and even devised a clever strategy to publicize it: He paid four men to read it on a New York elevated train. “It fell flat,” he said later, according to The New Yorker. But Maggie did pique the interest of fellow writers William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, which helped Crane gain confidence and momentum for his next works.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit // Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Peter Rabbit original edition
Carl Court/Getty Images

While Stephen Crane’s Maggie was hitting shelves in 1893, British author Beatrix Potter was beginning to write what would become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The six publishers who received her manuscript insisted on publishing it as a large book so they could inflate the price, but Potter refused—she wanted it to be small enough that a child could easily hold it. So in December 1901, Potter dipped into her savings to print 250 copies herself. Its overwhelming early success convinced one of the original prospective publishers, Frederick Warne and Co., to change its tune. In October 1902, they released an edition with Potter’s specifications that sold more than 20,000 copies by that Christmas.

3. No Thanks // E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings had already published several poetry collections to widespread critical acclaim when he submitted what would eventually be titled No Thanks to New York publishers in 1934. All 14 of them declined the collection. One reason was that the Great Depression had made it difficult to sell already-successful books, and publishers were rarely acquiring any new ones. Another reason was that Cummings had ruffled feathers with EIMI, an experimental travelogue of his trip to Russia. Many writers thought it disrespected socialism, which was then en vogue. Eventually Cummings’s mother lent him the money to print the new collection himself. He named it No Thanks, and his dedication page read “No thanks to” followed by a list of all 14 publishers who had rejected it. The list was shaped like a funeral urn.

4. The Jungle // Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
Byeznhpyxeuztibuo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In February 1905, the public encountered Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as a serialized work in the socialist newspaper The Appeal to Reason, and again later that year in a quarterly journal called One-Hoss Philosophy. But when it came to publishing it as a book, Sinclair ran into serious issues. His contract with Macmillan fell apart after he refused to cut some of the more repulsive meat-packing details. Five other publishing houses also rejected the novel. Just as Sinclair was printing it himself using donations from readers, Doubleday, Page finally approached him with an offer. Always the portrait of integrity, Sinclair asked that they allow him to self-publish his edition so he could fulfill the existing pre-orders. Doubleday acquiesced, and Sinclair released 5000 copies of the so-called “Sustainer’s Edition” under The Jungle Publishing Company in February 1906, the same month that Doubleday released its almost identical version.

5. The Elements of Style // William Strunk, Jr.

The Elements of Style 1920 edition
Jimregan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before The Elements of Style was Strunk and White’s, it was just Strunk’s. Professor William Strunk, Jr. privately published the self-proclaimed “little book” in 1918 for his Cornell students, and in 1920, Harcourt, Brace re-released it. But it wasn’t until E.B. White, one of Strunk’s former students, wrote about it in a 1957 issue of The New Yorker, 11 years after Strunk’s death, that it really gained momentum. The original 43-page publication, according to White, “consists of a short introduction, eight rules of usage, 10 principles of composition, a few matters of form, a list of words and expressions commonly misused, a list of words commonly misspelled. That’s all there is.” The rediscovery of the guidebook so invigorated White that he revised and added to it, and Macmillan republished the expanded edition in 1959. One hundred years and millions of copies after its initial release, The Elements of Style—or just “Strunk and White,” as it’s called colloquially—is one of the most acclaimed how-to books ever written.

6. The Celestine Prophecy // James Redfield

James Redfield’s novel/spiritual guide began with a 3000-copy print run that set him back about $7000. Redfield and his wife packed up their van and spent a month at a time traveling to independent bookstores across the nation to give a copy to each manager and whatever customers were present, reprinting as needed. The strategy reinforced the old publishing adage that the best way to sell books is by word of mouth: After a few months on the road, Redfield said that everybody was talking about it, and he estimates that they had sold around 160,000 copies. It was enough to ignite an informal rights auction between Warner Books and another unnamed publishing house, which Warner won. When asked at the Southern California Writers’ Conference if Warner requested any revisions, Redfield said yes. “But we didn’t do any of them,” he added. Warner published the book anyway, which then spent an impressive three years on The New York Times best seller list.

Want to Repurpose Old or Damaged Books? Turn Them Into DIY Wall Art

Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images
Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images

Many bibliophiles see their books as more than just reading material. Whether they're color-coded, stored backwards, or stacked around the house in teetering piles, books can double as decorations that add coziness and character to a space. This interior design trend spotted by Today pushes this concept to new heights by transforming old books into pieces of sprawling wall art.

Erin Kern, the Oklahoma designer behind the blog Cotton Stem, first had the idea to make books into DIY art in 2015. Her concept works with any books you have at home that you can bear to part with. Just grab a staple gun, secure the book covers to the wall you wish to embellish, and then use staples, glue, or tape to arrange the pages of the book however you like them. You can keep the book open to your favorite page or use some clever craft work to make the pages look like they're frozen mid-flip. As you expand the piece, you can add single pages or pages without their covers to vary the design.

Kern and other designers who've created their own versions of the project often combine old books with other types of wall decor. You can nestle framed prints of literary quotes or tuck air plants among the pages. Ana Ochoa of the blog Fiddle Leaf Interiors used hanging books as a makeshift canvas for a larger-than-life painting.

If seeing books stapled to a wall makes you cringe, rest assured that no one is suggesting you buy brand-new books to use as your crafting materials. This project is a great way to repurpose old books you never plan to read again—especially books with tears and missing pages that are too damaged to donate.

Looking for more literary design inspiration? Check out these pieces of furniture made out of books.


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[h/t Today]

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