In Which I Think About Every Possible Way to Organize My Bookshelves

Posted February 19, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 21 Comments

I have a bookish problem–I own a lot of books, and I CANNOT figure out how I want to organize them on my bookshelves. Now that all my books live in the same place since I’m currently living at home, I’m having to face for the first time just how many books I really own.

After I unpacked my boxes of books, I started to put them on my bookshelf, but I ran into a problem: I didn’t know how I wanted to shelve my books. I’ve thought about the pros and cons of shelving books in so many different ways. I’ve thought about all the ways I use to shelve books too, and didn’t like any of them. There’s just SO many choices. For example, I can shelve books by. . .

Possibility #1: Alphabetical by Author

Pros: It’s tidy, and so many systems already sort things alphabetically, so I’m use to it. I don’t have to decide to keep an author’s books together or not(because in some other systems, the author’s books wouldn’t stay together). It’s not difficult to add books into.

Cons: It’s. . . boring? Personally, I don’t like sorting things alphabetically anyway. It seems like there are so many ways that can be more useful. Plus, what if I’m looking for a book but forget the author’s name?

Possibility #2: Alphabetical by Book Title

I considered this system for about half a second before FIRMLY rejecting it. I’m sure there are pros to this system, but I personally can’t think of any.

Possibility #3: By Color

Pros: It’s aesthetically pleasing! I once had a small shelf sorted by color and I also found it very easy to add new books to the shelves.

Cons: It sometimes splits apart series, it can be difficult to find the book I’m looking for.

Possibility #4: By Release Year

Pros: I own a lot of classics, so this system is helpful for that.

Cons: It splits up series & it’s difficult to maintain.

Possibility #5: Randomly

also known as the “Oh, you got a new book? Just stick it anywhere it fits on the shelf” method.

Pros: It takes zero effort.

Cons: Have fun with that book scavenger hunt to find what you’re looking for, self.

Possibility #6: By Genre

This is the one I find myself going back to the most, but there’s difficulties in it too.

Pros: As a mood reader, it makes it easier to find what kind of book I’m looking for. Feeling like science fiction? Go to the sci-fi area. Contemporary? Right there at your fingertips. It may not always keep an author’s work together, but it does keep series together.

Cons: Sometimes I’m unsure of what genre a book fits best into OR I don’t really know the genre before reading because the synopsis doesn’t give enough information.

Possibility #7: By Format

By which I mean keeping trade paperbacks on one shelf, hardbacks on another, then paperbacks, etc.

Pros: It’s also tends to be more aesthetically pleasing, it’s easy to add new books to the shelves.

Cons: This might not be a con for everyone, but personally I own some series in mixed formats, so I’d be splitting series up.

Possibility #8: Appointed Labels

This one takes some explanation, and it’s the system I used in my last apartment(though I only had about 50% of my books with me and it was a much smaller shelf than what I have at my parent’s house). I had a shelf for favorites, then a shelf for trade paperbacks, a shelf for books I haven’t read yet, a shelf for ARCs, etc.

Pros: It keeps the TBR separate so it’s easy to find books I haven’t read yet, & I get a sense of satisfaction from having a “favorites” shelf, though I couldn’t tell you why.

Cons: Sometimes the labels get murky, it does tend to split up an author’s work.

LET’S CHAT: How do you organize your physical books? Right now I’m leaning towards either organizing mine by genre or by my strange designated labels(I do really love having a favorites shelf), but I’m not throwing out the possibility of finding a better way, either.

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21 responses to “In Which I Think About Every Possible Way to Organize My Bookshelves

  1. I’m a week behind on my commenting (obviously) so how did you organize them? I’ve always wanted to do the color thing (for a while) just to see what it would look like, but two of my shelves are in my bedroom, one in my living room, and there are more boxes in the closet, so I don’t think my set up would even make it work.

    If I’m guessing … I’d guess you’ll go by genre. Wait now I wonder if I already saw you answer this on Twitter and that’s cheating. Or for the loveathon? DID I JUST CHEAT.

    • Stormy

      haha yeah, I shared those pictures of my shelf during the love-a-thon & it’s *mostly* by genre. I do have a shelf for signed books or foreign editions, but other than that it’s mostly by genre.

  2. Maraia

    Wow, you sure have thought about this a lot. It really seems that alphabetizing by author’s last name would be the most straightforward, because you can always use Goodreads if you forget the name. I think separating the read books from the unread would be helpful, though.

    My books in my old bedroom at my parents’ house are organized by how much I love(d) them. Harry Potter takes up an entire shelf! Below that, my Tamora Pierce books take up most of a shelf, along with the Gemma Doyle series. There’s another shelf and a half with mostly favorites and some non-favorites. I also have a partial shelf with books I (still) haven’t read yet, a taller shelf with children’s books, and an entire shelf of my old Thoroughbred and Pony Pals books, haha. Obviously I don’t have anywhere near the volume of books you’ve amassed, so it was never a problem finding anything.

    • Stormy

      Haha, yeah, I may have a *slight* tendency to get really into my bookish organizing.
      I love that your HP books take up an entire shelf. Mine are getting to that point!

  3. What an interesting discussion! Love seeing how everyone organizes their shelves! I’m pretty boring, as I have mine alphabetical by author. After 8+ years as a bookseller, I just can’t do it any other way. I do have separate bookshelves for hardcover, mass market paperbacks, and ARCs. I also have a couple of bookcases for my TBR books, but please don’t tell my husband that I have that many unread books! lol

    • Stormy

      It’s funny, because when I was writing this post I remember thinking “Oh, I probably don’t even need to ask what system any reader who is a bookseller or librarian uses, because I’m pretty sure it’ll be alphabetical”. It is very sensible. . . I’m just not always that sensible of a person.

  4. I always, always, always organize my bookshelves alphabetically by author’s name. I’m a librarian – any other way hurts me eyes! I usually don’t have an issue remembering the author, but even if I did, I don’t have THAT many books that I couldn’t quickly skim my shelves and also, I could just look it up online. That’s just me, though.

    Seriously, although it looks so pretty to have books organized by cover color, that just drives me crazy. That is when I would have a hard time finding the book!

    I know a lot of people organize by genre, but I don’t love that. Even though I’m a mood reader, what I’m craving usually isn’t genre but tone.

    But I’m sure whatever you decide will work for you. Everyone has their own needs.

    • Stormy

      I tried organizing by color once, and it was not for me. I mean it wasn’t bad at the time because I was in college and only had probably 30% of my books with me, if that, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I do like genres for mood reading, but a few people in the comments mentioned they organized by genre, then alphabetically within that, and I think I might start doing that.

  5. I have my organized by genre and then by author name within that. But it’s hard to stay on top of it! With all the new books I’m always collecting and the fact that I’ve already run out of space on my shelves (again!), I have an ever growing pile of books in the corner of my living room. I really like the idea of sorting books my color. That would be so fun!

    • Stormy

      Someone else mentioned sorting by genre & THEN by alphabetically by author’s name within those labels as well, and I REALLY like that idea. It seems easy for my mood-reading needs, but also keeps things more organized.

  6. I do mine basically by genre. I have a bookcase that’s just for “academic”-type books… which will have to be redone because I’m only 1 semester into my second degree and it’s already full. (But I think I have a plan.) Then I’ve got my fiction bookcase, where the top shelf is reserved for my favorites and “classics”, then I keep all my graphic novels together… then the bottom shelf is all other fiction. Then there’s a small stack of books on the floor next to it I’m just sort of meh about but have no home for the moment. Then the third bookcase is more for decor than book (since it’s not in my study nook area) and it has a stack of coffee table type books, my Harry Potter books, and any of my anthology books (basically anything you’d use for English/writing classes). So far it’s working.

    • Stormy

      I’m slightly jealous of your system–it sounds like you have it pretty well figured out! I’m debating getting a tiny bookcase for my non-fiction. It only takes one shelf as it is(but it’s a double stacked shelf), but for some reason I just really don’t like having fiction & non-fiction together. I also have a set of encyclopedias that I can’t bear to get rid of so they take up a lot of shelf room.

  7. Such a tough question! Personally I’m not a fan of alphabetical order. I know it’s supposed to make it easier to find but it’s just a system that has never worked for me! I feel like I have to think too much about it. But I’m not a very organized person in general and I’ve always opted for a more “organized chaos” kind of system.

    So I have two different shelves and I organize them both differently. My YA shelf is organized by genre. I think this for the reasons you mention, it keeps it easy to find if I am looking for and keeps the series together. I have mostly YA series so it works but it’s sort of problematic because I have series in different formats so sometimes it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing.

    My second and larger shelf is adult books and those I have organized by size or format. All the mass market paperbacks are together and on the top shelf, down to hardcovers. I definitely like the way it looks but I’m similar in that I don’t have series in the same format so sometimes they aren’t near one another at all. That never really bothered me until recently however. I’m considering reorganizing that shelf by genre as well but we’ll see.

    • Stormy

      Yes, I feel the same way about alphabetical order! It’s a lot to maintain for me. Right now I’m leaning towards organizing by genre & I think I’m going to keep it mostly that way(with maybe a favorites shelf).

  8. The age old question! I struggle with this constantly, especially since the bulk of my books are on 3 huge shelves in the basement, some are in a dresser because there isn’t enough room and then I have a shelf upstairs and then there are two more shelves in Munchkins room!

    I have never seemed to find the way I like to shelve my books and find myself re-arranging them about once a year. The system I am currently using is a combination of your methods 6, 1 & 8. I have my books split into genres for the most part and within those genres alphabetical by author. There are a few exceptions though, I have a shelf dedicated to books that have been signed (usually favorites anyway) and also a shelf dedicated to one author (Robin Cook, because I nearly have all of his books) and then a shelf (& dresser) of my TBR books. The bookshelf upstairs is also TBR and consists of the books I plan to read this year.

    The shelves in Munchkins room are pretty much by your method 7 because there is no way a toddler is going to be able to keep over a 100 books organized!

    I hope that helps you, but now that I am thinking about it and talking about it I am itching to go re-arrange my selves again!

    • Stormy

      Oh, I really like the idea of sorting into genres but then alphabetical from there. I think part of the reason alphabetical doesn’t normally appeal to me is because some of my shelves have to be double-stacked, and then I can never figure out how to do that. But if they’re already by genres, then it might be more manageable.

  9. I don’t have the joy of doing this yet as my bookshelves aren’t made (my dad is meant to be building them from scratch but it’s been over a year, and I’m so close to just giving Ikea all of my money), but when I do, I imagine I’ll use a mixed system. In my head at the minute, I’ll be going for keeping series together, and probably arranging by genre. I have a slight touch of OCD and like things to be uniform, but I think “intentionally messy” bookcases look better – different heights of books etc. staggered throughout. I’m hoping when it comes to it I still feel that way, because some of my series are mis-matched and I’ll not be able to cope if I can’t stand it. I think I’d also have a favourites shelf though, eye level, to show off what I love and to find them easily! R x

    • Stormy

      Your bookshelf story made me laugh a bit in sympathy because my dad made my shelves and it took 3 years from when we came up to the idea to them actually becoming, well, bookshelves. I had a really cheap, falling apart bookshelf I used in the meantime and I could not get rid of that thing fast enough.

      I’m a big fan of the favorite shelf! It ends up being mostly favorite series + my signed books, and I really like having my favorites on display.

  10. Great list! 90% of my books are ebooks. So with the print books I do have, I just stick them anywhere I want. If I had tons of books though, I would probably do the organize by author thing. I know it’s boring, but it’s the most sensible thing in my opinion. 🙂

    • Stormy

      See, things like that make me want to go mostly e-books, but I just have so much trouble with that because I’m a bargain book shopper, so I’d say 80% of the books I buy I buy used for very, very cheap. I wait until the bookstores have sales and such, so it becomes more cost-effective than buying only ebooks.

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