A shelf with neatly filed books

How to Declutter Your Bookshelves: A Step-by-Step Guide

Bookshelves are more than just furniture; they are places to showcase our interests, passions, and even a bit of our personalities. Over time, however, these shelves can become overwhelmed with books, knick-knacks, and dust (or rocks, things your kids have made at school and Lego in my case!), making them feel more like cluttered chaos than a literary haven. If you’ve reached the point where your bookshelves need a makeover, hi! Welcome! In this comprehensive guide, I’ll take you through how to declutter your bookshelves step by step. Whether you’re a book lover, a book collector, or just looking to simplify your space, this process will help you transform your bookshelves into organized, visually appealing showcases.

How to Declutter Your Bookshelves

Before you dive into the decluttering process, it’s essential to prepare mentally and gather the necessary tools:

  • Set Goals: Define the purpose of your bookshelves. Are they primarily for books, or do you want to display other items like photographs or decor? Having a clear vision will guide your decisions. Using an app like Pinterest can help to give you inspiration for how you’d like the finished bookshelves to look – do you want a dark academia style, with lots of books, or a more minimalist lifestyle aesthetic with a few chosen books and more home decor pieces?
  • Allocate Time: Decluttering bookshelves can be a time-consuming process, so set aside dedicated time for this project. It could be a few hours or spread over a weekend.
  • Gather Supplies: You’ll need boxes or bins for sorting, cleaning supplies, a notepad and pen for notes, and a camera to document your progress. If you’re planning on buying extra baskets or boxes, measure the space before you buy to make sure things fit where you want them (is it just me that always forgets this step?!)
  • Mental Preparation: Be ready to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. It can be emotional, especially for book lovers, but remember that decluttering brings order and clarity.

Remove Everything from the Shelves

Start by clearing your bookshelves completely. This blank canvas will allow you to see the full scope of your collection and make decisions more effectively, as well as letting you see the full extent of the space you have to work with. As you remove items, categorize them into boxes or bins:

  • Books: It can be useful to sort your books into categories like fiction, non-fiction, reference, and genres. This step helps you evaluate the volume of each category.
  • Decor and Knick-Knacks: Separate decorative items, picture frames, or trinkets that you wish to display.
  • Unrelated Items: Identify any items that don’t belong on bookshelves, like old bills or paperwork, and set them aside for proper filing or disposal.
A pile of books in a patch of sunshine

Assess Your Book Collection

Now that your bookshelves are bare, it’s time to evaluate and declutter your book collection. Take a systematic approach:

  • Read vs. Unread: Separate your books into “Read” and “Unread” piles. If you’ve read a book and don’t plan to revisit it or lend it to someone, consider passing it along.
  • Favorites and Sentimental Value: Identify books that hold sentimental value or are your all-time favorites. These are keepers.
  • Duplicates: If you have multiple copies of the same book, decide which one to keep and consider gifting or donating the others. If you’re like me and like to buy pretty books, chances are you’ll have a fair few duplicates!
  • Reference and Educational Books: Assess whether you still need reference or educational books. Some of these may have become obsolete with the internet’s accessibility.
  • Donate or Sell: For books you no longer want, consider donating them to libraries, schools, or organizations, or sell them online or at a garage sale.

Categorize and Organize

With your book collection pared down, it’s time to organize them in a way that makes sense to you. Consider these methods:

  • Genre or Category: Group books by genre, category, or theme. This not only looks organized but also makes finding books easier.
  • Alphabetical Order: Arrange books alphabetically by author’s last name or by title. I like this way of organizing books because it appeals to my need for order.
  • Size and Aesthetics: Mix different-sized books for visual interest, and consider placing larger or more decorative books as bookends.
  • Color Coordination: If you want a visually stunning bookshelf, arrange books by color. Keep in mind that this may make it less functional for finding specific titles.
  • Vertical and Horizontal Stacking: Create visual variety by stacking some books vertically and others horizontally.

Display Decor and Personal Items

Incorporating personal items and decor into your bookshelves can add a touch of your personality to the display. Here’s how:

  • Bookends: Place decorative bookends or objects at the ends of rows of books to keep them upright.
  • Photos and Art: Display framed photos or small pieces of art on the shelves, either interspersed with books or as standalone pieces.
  • Plants: Adding indoor plants or succulents can bring life and freshness to your bookshelves.
  • Decorative Boxes: Store small items or keepsakes in decorative boxes or containers.
  • Candles and Figurines: Use candles, figurines, or other decorative items sparingly to add visual interest without clutter.

The Final Touches and Maintenance

Once you’ve arranged your books and personal items to your satisfaction, step back and admire your newly organized bookshelves! Now that you’ve spent the time to declutter your bookshelves it’s important to maintain their neatness:

  • Regular Cleaning: Dust your bookshelves regularly to keep them looking fresh and inviting.
  • Review Periodically: Schedule periodic reviews to assess if any items need to be added, removed, or rearranged.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: As new books and items accumulate, be mindful not to overcrowd your shelves. Remember that space can also be aesthetically pleasing.

Starting to declutter your bookshelves is not just about tidying up; it’s about creating an inviting, organized space that makes your home feel less cluttered and more calm. Remember, the process can take time, but the satisfaction of having a curated and beautifully organized bookshelf is well worth the effort. Your clutter-free bookshelves will make it easier to find things, be easier on the eye and you’ll be so glad you tackled this decluttering project!

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Comments (2)

  • Angela Fry

    12 October 2023 at 14:39

    These are great tips! I have so many books and need to decliner soon.

    1. simpleneathome.com

      12 October 2023 at 15:19

      It is a constant process in our house! My daughter and I are both avid readers and we often have way too many books. I can’t bring myself to get a Kindle though – I prefer a proper book. Thanks for stopping by!

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