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 to Turn an Old Wicker Basket Into a DIY Cat Bed

iStock.com/Kurgu128
iStock.com/Kurgu128

From cat trees to stackable boxes, there are plenty of products out there for cat parents looking to spoil their pets. But you don't need to buy brand-name accessories to make your kitty feel comfortable in your home. If you have an old wicker basket, you can make a DIY cat bed that doubles as an accent piece.

For this craft project from Martha Stewart, get together a drill, two .25-inch screws, two fender washers, and a round basket. Align your basket where you want it displayed, with the flat bottom against the wall, and mount it by drilling the screws in their washers through the wicker. Add a soft blanket to make the nook an inviting spot for your pet.

Cats like to climb things: Being up high is a way for them to feel safe and expand their territory indoors. If you're not thrilled by the idea of your cat scaling the human furniture in your home, building an elevated cat bed just for them is a way to keep everyone happy.

This project isn't just for cat owners: The mounted basket can be used as a place to store throw blankets, towels, and even stuffed animals. And if you ever do decide to bring a cat into your home, there will be a spot waiting for them.

[h/t Martha Stewart]

10 Essential Items Every Bar Cart Needs

Antonis Achilleos
Antonis Achilleos

The 1950s style was all about fun—and some of that whimsy is reemerging in 21st-century homes. Witness the glorious resurgence of a '50s home staple: the bar cart. This retro piece of furniture pulls double-duty: If styled well, it not only serves as the focal point of a room, but come party time it takes center stage again as a functional, fashionable platform for crafting your guests' favorite cocktails.

There are countless styles of bar carts, as well as products to put on them. But what exactly do you need to get your cart up and running? A bottle opener and some booze are de rigueur. But beyond that? We turned to two experts: Vanessa Dina, author of The Art of the Bar Cart: Styling & Recipes (Chronicle Books); and Brooklyn-based bartender extraordinaire Ivy Mix, who routinely shows up on lists of the country’s top mixologists. Here are their suggestions for can’t-miss bar cart items.

1. Five Basic Spirits

The Art of the Bar Cart cover
Chronicle Books

This may sound obvious, but Mix—who designed and built her own modular red and orange bar cart so she could have a place for all of her tools—notes that there are five types of liquor that should always be on your cart: a vodka, a gin, a bourbon or rye whiskey, a rum, and a tequila. “They’re the standards,” Mix says.

2. Mixers

Negroni cocktail with an orange twist
iStock/bhofack2

Once you have your array of five essential spirits, you’ll need modifiers or mixers to create the drinks. “The ones that go the quickest in my house are my sweet vermouth, my Campari, and my Cointreau," Mix says. "I make martinis, margaritas, and Manhattans, so they’re really important. Having them right there makes it easy: A little bit of this, a little bit of Campari, and voilà—you have a Negroni. In fact, Campari is the most useful thing to make a tasty drink when other stuff is not around.”

3. Bitters

These flavorful, alcoholic extracts have taken the cocktail world by storm in recent years: Foodies craft them at home, bars highlight them on the menu, and multiple new brands and flavors are popping up everywhere. They’re also perfect for your home bar cart, Dina tells Mental Floss: “It’s an easy way to create a lot of variation in your drinks. They add spices, herbs, and other flavorful notes to a drink. But best of all, unlike liquor, bitters take up minimal space on a cart. I suggest a cubby to keep your collection organized.”

You can start with the classics—like Angostura and Peychaud's—or dive into flavors like smoked chili, cardamom, or chocolate.

4. Mason Jars

The internet abounds with recipes and ideas for adding a fun touch to your next shindig by serving cocktails in individual mason jars. But Mix sees the jars as an essential and versatile tool that can do the work of either a shaker or a mixing glass. “You can really do anything in a mason jar,” Mix says. “You can stir a drink in a mason jar and know that it’s going to be OK.”

5. Small Hand Juicer

“A lot of people don’t think this is important, but one thing I recommend to everyone is fresh juice,” Mix says. She notes that people frequently use a lime juice blend from the grocery store when making margaritas. “Most of the time it’s not actually lime juice, but this gross God-knows-what. Even if it is lime juice, [the manufacturer] had to pasteurize it or cook it in some way; it’s not right. But if you get one of those little hand juicers, you can squeeze a cup of lime juice in a couple of minutes. It’s a complete game changer.”

6. Citrus Peeler

When guests leave your next party, you want them to remember that the cocktails tasted fantastic—and looked even better. “That’s where garnishes come in,” Dina says. “Something as simple as an orange twist provides visual appeal as well as aromatics.” Lemon, lime, and grapefruit rinds created with a citrus peeler can also transform a simple drink into a professional-style cocktail.

7. Shaker With a Built-In Strainer

Cocktail newbies may not realize there are multiple varieties of strainers. A Hawthorne strainer is best for shaken cocktails; its flat profile and coil of wire that hugs the inside rim of the mixing glass keep chunks of ice, fruit, and herbs from slipping into the serving glass. Cobbler shakers come with a mixing vessel, strainer, and fitted top all built in; using one means that you won’t need to worry about misplacing your strainer. “They have a classic look that many people want,” Dina says. “In addition, it helps you pour and makes everything a little easier.”

8. Ice Container and Tongs

“Ice is an essential, and sometimes overlooked, player in cocktails,” Dina says. “Drinks would not be as tasty or inviting without the chill that ice provides, whether it’s large, small, hand cut, crystal clear, cubed, or crushed.” Ice buckets or containers not only keep your ice cool, but usually serve as a decorative accent as well. “If you have a theme for your bar cart, you can get an ice bucket to match,” Dina says. “I’ve seen a lot of them in rose gold recently.” Dina shares a tip: Buy some extra ice tongs so your guests can freshen up their own drinks.

9. Versatile, Attractive Glassware

From cordials to highballs to beer and wine, most drinks are supposed to be served in their very own style of glass. But not everyone has enough room on their home bar for multiple styles, so they have to pick and choose. “Short glasses are the most versatile,” says Dina. “You can serve everything from wine to a mixed drink in them and they take up less space. Also, it’s easier to find cute designs and styles at flea markets and home stores in the shorter versions.” Dina has cordial glasses displayed on her two-level home bar cart. Mix collects antique cocktail glasses; in addition, her father is a glassblower. “He uses his own colors so he can make beautiful, colorful glasses,” Mix says. “Having a really nice glass brings it the extra mile.”

10. Your Own Personality

Keep in mind that your friends are in your home—and not a bar—so parties are a chance to share a bit of yourself. Dina suggests that small frames with pictures of family, a piece of artwork that you picked up on a trip, or even foraged items like attractive branches can personalize your bar cart. She also recommends plants; her favorite are air plants. “A touch of nature freshens things up,” she says. “They are visually pleasing and make the whole area seem homier.”

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