How To

How to Organize Your Bookshelves to Fit Your Living Space

Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

I have spent a lot of time watching people talk about books. It’s so easy to pull up YouTube and watch people do book hauls and reviews. So easy to scroll through TikTok or Instagram to find scores of people making book recommendations. It seems that no matter where I look there are thousands of people talking about books, and they all seem to have one thing in common: they have immaculate bookshelves

It seems everywhere I turn, there are beautiful bookshelves that are organized by color or by genre. They always seem to put cute book-related trinkets and magical fairy lights. I wish I had that so badly, but I do not. Sadly, my shelves are lacking what anyone might call an “aesthetic”.

If I were to describe my bookshelf organization in a word, it would be “Chaos.” I try really hard to keep my bookshelves neat, but in a skinny Chicago apartment with bookcases bought on a budget I don’t have the beautiful wall of books I wish I did! Instead, I have bookshelves crammed wherever they will fit, with books haphazardly sorted and resorted as I acquire more books. It’s gotten even worse post-holiday season because people purchased books for me. Which, don’t get me wrong, I love! But now I have to reorganize everything to accommodate them.

So, I’ve come up with a five-step plan to come to terms with my disorganized space, make it feel just a little more put together, and help you organize your bookshelves.

Step One: Figure Out How to Sort the Books

This is very important! Think about how you want to organize your books. Will you organize by genre, by color, by author’s last name? What if you organized by size? There are tons of options, so don’t be afraid to be creative! For this step, just think about how it will be easiest to find your books and go from there.

Step Two: Organize By Volume of Book

This one might sound fake, but think about it. If you have limited shelf space and a surplus of books, it’s important to know how much space you actually have. If I have a shelf that’s only a foot long, I know that my historical fiction is much more likely to fit in that space than my graphic novels would be. When you are limited by space, organize by space first, then you can get into step three, my favorite step.

Step Three: Micro-Organize

Once you have a general idea about how you are going to organize, and where each section is going to live, you can move into the third part, which is the nitty-gritty. This is where you actually alphabetize, or sort by color, or do what you need to make your system work. This will probably take the most amount of time, and be the most labor-intensive. But with a little patience, and a lot of caffeine (or your treat of choice), you’ll get it done! Don’t get too discouraged if you have to back up to or rethink a previous step. This doesn’t have to be a strictly linear process. We don’t always realize how many books we have until we start reorganizing, it happens.

Step Four: Decorate, and Final Touches

Now that you have your books placed and organized, let’s make it pretty. You can go the aesthetic route, and place all your bookish art and memorabilia around your shelves. Or you can just put pieces of tape that label your sections. Or you can skip this step completely. This step is all about personalization, so do what you think feels right! 

Step Five: Live With it For a Week

Spend some time actually living with these shelves. Right now, I have my YA in my bedroom and my general fantasy and science fiction in the living room. However, after living with it for a while, I think I’m going to adjust it so it isn’t separated by age, and just separate it by general genre. Now that I know how I prefer my books I can adjust! 

I hope this helps you feel like you can have beautiful shelves, no matter your book storage limitations. And, don’t tell anyone, but I also think it’s totally okay to keep books in piles on the floor and in closets. I hope that you don’t feel like a bad book owner if you don’t have as pristine a library as other people do. We are all just trying to make it work, and, besides, the real joy comes from reading the books, so do what you have to do. Happy reading (and organizing)!