This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

Any true booklover will have at least one full bookshelf of books. Personally, my bookshelf is pretty much always overflowing, no matter how many books I try to re-home. When planning a fun weekend, you’ve never probably thought to yourself, “Hey, you know what would be fun? Organizing my books!” If you have, you’re definitely in the right place. There are a ton of fun different ways to do it, from the practical to the pretty. Read on to see how to organize your bookshelves. 

How to Organize Your Bookshelves - What bookworms think about when they're not reading | www.kelseysmythe.com

Take everything off and clean

This is my preferred method of organizing pretty much anything: bring everything to the middle of the room so you can get a good look at it. It always gets 100x worse before it gets better. But I feel totally justified by the fact that Marie Kondo suggests this too, only on a whole other level. But yes, take ALL your books off your shelves and pile them up on the floor or on a long table. If you have books spread across multiple rooms, you probably want to gather those up too.

Sort your books

Now’s your chance to evaluate whether or not you want to keep all these books and how you want to organize them if you do. Definitely consider giving your books new life by selling them or giving them to someone else who would enjoy reading. 

Decide What to Keep

Think through what to keep, what to sell, and what to donate. This is HARD. Some things to keep in mind as you do this is how much space you have right now, whether you have room (or even want to) buy a new bookshelf, and whether you want to be prepared for a change of situation. For example, if you currently live in a rental with tons of built in shelving, think about how long you expect to be there. If you’re going to be moving soon, will you want to buy 5 new bookshelves to store all your books (or whatever your magic number is)? There’s never as much time to move as we anticipate, so don’t assume you’ll organize them all then. You’ll most likely just shove them into boxes that become too heavy and then plop them on the new bookshelves 6 months later (or maybe that’s just something I would do).

Definitely keep the books that you love, have marked up with your thoughts, and have read more than once already. If you have any books that are family heirlooms and know that your children will cherish them, keep those too. The number of books we keep is such a personal thing, so think through what you value most and what might be some bad tendencies you need to work against. If you get rid of things too quickly and regret it, think twice before giving away those family heirlooms. If you keep everything that was ever given to you, think long and hard about how much it might help you and your loved ones if you give some books away.

Where you can sell your books

Selling used books is really difficult. In general, you don’t make a lot of money off of them unless you’re selling recent editions of textbooks or limited edition books. I’ve had good luck selling old textbooks on Amazon. Another great option is to take them to a book resale shop, like Halfprice Books. You certainly won’t get as much as they’re worth, but considering how much time is involved in selling used books, it’s usually worth it.

Where you can donate your books

There are a number of places where you can donate books. Here are some ideas to get you started. 

Do a quick google search to see what the needs are nearby. Don’t overthink it. Just find a place that needs books, pack them in your car, and drop them off. It’s as easy as that. 

Determine Your Shelving Strategy

Now that you’re finished sorting, take a look at what’s left and come up with your shelving strategy. There are three main ways to shelve your books.

How to Organize Your Bookshelves - What bookworms think about when they're not reading | www.kelseysmythe.com

Option #1: Genre

This is the more traditional method. Separate your books based on what genre they’re in. For example, you might sort them into: non-fiction–spiritual, self-help, reference, biography, and fiction. Depending on how many fictional books you have, you can sort those into historical fiction, Young Adult Literature, Classics, contemporary, etc. Once you’ve separated your books into genre, you can organize them in alphabetical order. If the aesthetics of your bookshelves matters to you, you can also organize based on height of the book for a neater appearance.

How to Organize Your Bookshelves - What bookworms think about when they're not reading | www.kelseysmythe.com

Option #2: Color

This is an incredibly popular way to organize bookshelves right now. I remember the first time I saw a bookshelf organized this way on Pinterest and I was amazed. It never would have occurred to me to do this. Lots of people say that since they’re so visual, it’s easy for them to find the books they’re looking for. I tried this shelving strategy myself for a while. For the most part, I was able to find everything I needed fairly easily, but not always. I don’t think I’m as visual as some people, so sometimes I was looking for a specific book I hadn’t read in years and I couldn’t remember what the color on the spine was. This definitely made it harder for me to find. Even so, I only had one bookshelf at the time, so it didn’t take all that long in the grand scheme of things. You could also use google to help jog your memory for what a particular book looks like. 

How to Organize Your Bookshelves - What bookworms think about when they're not reading | www.kelseysmythe.com
I wish I had this much room for books.

Option #3: Read – Not read

To be honest, I haven’t seen ANYONE else do this with their books, but it’s something that I just did because I’m crazy I wanted an easy way to get through the books that I already own. After the sorting process, I ended up with 2 shelves full of books that I haven’t read. Within these, I have them organized by genre, because this is often how I pick out what I’m going to read next. I really enjoy reading multiple genres at the same time because it helps me get a lot more reading in.

Lately I’ve been reading non-fiction faith-based books first thing in the morning, personal development books during lunch, personal finance books in the afternoon/early evening, and fiction at night. I don’t necessarily plan it this way, it’s just what type of reading mood I’m usually in at these times. (I feel like there’s probably some kind of lesson or analogy somewhere in here. Feel free to share if you find one!)

Fill in with knick-knacks

If you’ve ever turned on HGTV, you’ll know how often people fill in their bookshelves with creative and pretty things. If you have extra shelf space, this is a great way to fill in some of the gaps and make it pretty at the same time. Here are some (non-professional-designer) tips for doing this.

Remember that less is more

It’s easy to cross from ‘creative’ to ‘cluttered.’ If you want your shelves to look like a professional put them together, remember the Less is More rule. Chances are, you probably have more pretty things to fill your bookshelves than you actually have space for. If that’s the case, use the following two guidelines.

Make it meaningful

Put the things that bring you joy out on display. Maybe this will be your grandmother’s vase or your favorite childhood picture of you and your siblings. If you can decorate with something that you’ve inherited or that’s a sweet gift that fills you with nostalgia, that’s definitely the best option.

Make it functional

Of course, not every object in our life is going to hold deeper meaning. If you can’t make your knick-knacks meaningful, make them functional. Maybe it’s a clear vase filled with buttons or a pretty box that’s full of stationary. When my husband proposed to me, he borrowed a picnic basket from a friend who later gifted it to us. It’s sitting next to our bookshelf and I use it to hide all of our chargers.

In Conclusion

There’s no one right way to do it. Organizing bookshelves is a deeply personal thing, which is probably why you can learn a lot from a person by skimming their bookshelves. Do you have a bookshelf that you’re particularly proud of? If so, I’d love to see it! Send me an email with a pic or tag me on social media. It’s always fun to share these things with bookish friends 🙂

How to Organize Your Bookshelves - What bookworms think about when they're not reading | www.kelseysmythe.com

Kelsey Smythe is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.