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.

5 Tips for Choosing the Best Vacuum Cleaner For Your Space

iStock.com/97
iStock.com/97

For those who hate housecleaning, choosing the right vacuum is essential. Some models are better suited to certain tasks and surfaces than others, and picking the right one will save you the hassle of having to skim the same section of carpet five times. There’s a lot to consider, so we’ve detailed the advantages and limitations of the five main types of vacuum cleaners.

1. UPRIGHTS TACKLE THE BIG JOBS.

A man uses an upright vacuum
iStock.com/SolStock

Pet parents love their fur babies, but it would be nice not to have tufts of hair littered throughout the house. The upright model is perhaps the most familiar type of vacuum, and its powerful suction makes it one of the best options for picking up pet hair. If you have lots of carpets or rugs, an upright vacuum cleaner with a generously sized bag or filter is a safe bet. These models tend to be cheaper than canister vacuums, but they’re often heavier, making them harder to push around. If you do opt for an upright vacuum and have hard floors to tend to, be sure to get one with a brush roll feature that can be turned on and off at will (on for carpets, off for hard floors). The best-selling upright vacuum on Amazon—a bagless Eureka NEU182A PowerSpeed—is selling for about $60. Traditional bagged vacuums collect dirt in disposable bags, while bagless models use filters to whisk crud into an onboard receptacle. Both need to be manually emptied from time to time, and bagless models may need to have their filters replaced after long-term use.

2. CANISTERS ARE EASY TO MANEUVER, BUT HARD TO STORE.

Using a canister vacuum
iStock.com/greg801

This is the other type of vacuum that pet owners ought to consider. Unlike upright vacuums, these models are better at handling hardwood or tile floors. Some can even clean carpets as effectively as an upright—and they do so with less noise, too. The only real downside is that they tend to be bulkier and harder to store neatly in a closet because the hose is attached to a separate tank. On the other hand, attachments help you get in those hard-to-reach places, and they’re ideal for cleaning curtains, ceiling corners, upholstery, staircases, and the underside of furniture. Some models cost hundreds of dollars, but the best-selling bagless Bissell Zing sells on Amazon for about $50.

3. STICK VACUUMS HANDLE QUICK CLEAN-UPS.

A woman tries out a stick vacuum at a store
iStock.com/dusanpetkovic

Named for their slender shape, stick vacuums are good at getting into tight spaces like the crack between your refrigerator and wall. They’re lightweight and often battery-powered for convenient, cord-free use. However, they’re not great at cleaning carpets and tend to have the least powerful suction of all five types. There are situations where they come in handy, though. Consumer Reports recommends using stick vacuums for quick clean-ups, like spilled cereal. “They are mainly suited for picking up surface litter and aren't intended as a replacement for a conventional vacuum,” the product review site says. If you have kids or pets running around at home, you may want to buy a cheap one and keep it near the living room or kitchen, while storing a more heavy-duty vacuum elsewhere. One of Amazon’s best-sellers is the Eureka Blaze 3-in-1 vacuum, which costs about $30.

4. HANDHELDS FIT IN TIGHT SPACES.

A handheld vacuum
iStock.com/seb_ra

Like the stick vacuum, surface cleaning is the handheld vacuum’s specialty. In fact, aside from their size and shape, they’re similar to stick vacuums in terms of their suction power, weight, and function. So which one should you choose? Good Housekeeping recommends using a stick vacuum for floors and spots underneath furniture, while handheld vacuums are better at cleaning the furniture itself and windowsills. Many handheld models are also lightweight and cordless, making them great tools to have around when it comes time to deep-clean the interior of your car. One of Amazon’s best-selling hand vacs is a $55 cordless Black & Decker. But if you want the best of both worlds, opt for a stick/hand combo that comes with nifty attachments like a dusting brush.

5. ROBOTIC VACUUMS DO (SOME OF) THE WORK FOR YOU.

A cat on top of a robotic vacuum
iStock.com/GummyBone

While robotic vacuums promise to take care of business while you lounge on the couch, they may not be as low-maintenance as they sound. They’re able to squeeze into tough-to-reach spots like under the sofa, but they don’t have the power of an upright or canister vacuum—so if you do use a robotic vacuum, you’ll still probably need to use a broom or more traditional vacuum to finish the job. However, they’re great for touch-ups in between cleaning sessions, especially when you’re busy doing something else. Newer models can be programmed with smartphone apps and voice assistants, so they tend to run a little pricier than other vacuums. One of Amazon’s best-sellers is the iRobot Roomba 690, which connects to Wi-Fi and costs about $300.

6 Easy Ways to Remove Gum from Your Clothes and Hair

iStock
iStock

You already know that water is useless when it comes to the torture of finding a wad of gum stuck to your hair or clothes. But why? Gum is a hydrophobic material, meaning it doesn't mix with or dissolve in water (for the same reason, your saliva won't break down gum when you chew it). Of course, this means that to remove it from your pants, your shoes, your couch, or your hair, you'll have to find a substance that it will respond to—specifically, other hydrophobic materials. Read on for six items to reach for when disaster strikes.

1. VINEGAR

Bottle of apple cider vinegar.
iStock

Apple cider vinegar is a popular all-purpose, inexpensive, antimicrobial house cleaner—and its miracle-working skills include gum removal. To save jeans, T-shirts, other items of clothing, or even carpets and upholstery, heat a quarter-cup of ACV in the microwave. Dip the section of clothing in the warm vinegar, or dab a bit onto the carpet or upholstery, and then, depending on the amount of gum that needs to be removed, pick your tools. For larger gobs, start by scraping with a small, blunt tool, like a butter knife or a cuticle spoon. Then grab an old toothbrush and start brushing. In less than a minute, the remainder of the gum will be off your fabrics and balled up in the bristles. (Note: This will ruin a toothbrush, so keep some spare used ones in the cleaning closet just in case.) Once the gum is gone and the brush is destroyed, send it off to be recycled.

2. PEANUT BUTTER

Close-up of peanut butter.
iStock

The idea of having peanut butter in your hair is only barely more appealing than gum, but the fats and oils in the spread are exactly what make it good for this task. Rub a couple of tablespoons of creamy (not crunchy!) peanut butter around the affected clumps of hair, and wait for eight to 10 minutes. On a molecular level, peanut butter is made up of mostly carbon and hydrogen, which makes it hydrophobic. Since gum is also hydrophobic, they basically cancel each other out (there's a saying in chemistry that "like dissolves like"). As they interact, you'll be able to slowly remove the wad from your hair, sans scissors. Once all of the gum has been pulled out, wash your hair as usual.

3. OLIVE OIL

Olive oil in a glass bowl.
iStock

For anyone with a nut allergy who would sooner chop off inches than smear peanut butter into their hair or skin, olive oil has the same solvent properties as PB, without all the goopiness. Olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil as well) is especially helpful for removing gum from eyebrows or eyelashes.

4. OIL-BASED CLEANSERS

Bottle of oil cleanser.
iStock

Oil-based cleansers, intended to remove certain types of makeup or lotions, work on gum the same way peanut butter does. Many moisturizers, creams, and ointments are made with liquid paraffin, a highly refined mineral oil made of saturated hydrocarbons. Using an oil-based facial cleanser works well on these oily products because they're both non-polar solvents—if you apply a heavy nighttime moisturizer, it's most effective to use a cleansing oil to wipe it off in the morning. So, if you're already a cleansing oil devotee, removing gum (also a non-polar solvent) from hair or skin with it might not seem too bad. Dermalogica even advertises their PreCleanse oil as being an effective chewing gum remover, and had a beauty blogger test out their claims (spoiler: it totally worked!).

5. PETROLEUM JELLY

Jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly.
iStock

A more common medicine cabinet find that also works is petroleum jelly (like Vaseline), which is a safe, non-abrasive lubricant that is also often recommended for removing much harsher substances than gum—like tar. It's a cheap, gentle solution to use, especially if a large bubble pops all over your face, or you wake up from a nap with an accidental web of stringy gum stuck to your hair, face, or arms.

6. RUBBING ALCOHOL

Bottle of rubbing alcohol with cotton ball.
iStock

For gum stuck to more delicate fabrics, try dabbing some rubbing alcohol on the area with a cotton ball, sponge, or Q-Tip. Rubbing alcohol is an isopropyl alcohol, which is commonly used to dissolve non-polar compounds and oils (which is why it's great as an antiseptic and disinfectant), and it works by breaking down the polymers in the gum. It also won't damage or stain more sensitive materials, which is why it's good to use on satin pillowcases, silk or polyester shirts, or anything that needs dry cleaning. Let the alcohol dry, and then gently scrape the gum off with a butter knife or cuticle tool. Then wash or send off to the cleaners as usual!

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER