15 Ways To Organize Your Bookshelves, For Every Personality Type

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As I sit here writing this, just hours away from moving half-way across the country, my own bookshelves look remarkably similar to cardboard boxes. (Because they are.) But prior to The Great Book Boxing Up Of 2019, I had some time to consider how to organize my books. As most book-lovers know, any major transition in life, from moves to marriages, is an opportunity for assessment — to look at your books and your system of organizing those books, and to ask yourself: is this really working for me? Do I regularly get lost in my own shelves, or can I pinpoint the exact location of any title at a moment’s notice? (This makes a great party game, BTW.)

Ask any book-lover, and I’m pretty sure they’ll tell you that one of the central preoccupations in a bibliophile’s life is how to shelve their books. And while there are about as many different types of book lovers as there are ways to arrange a library, what everyone can agree on is that you have to shelve your books in a way that works for you. Cluttered or minimalist, orderly or eccentric, when it comes to organizing your books, only you know your readerly self best.

Here are 15 different ways to organize your books — perfect for every book lover’s personality type, that’ll pretty much guarantee you’ll always know where everything is. (I mean, maybe. Hopefully.)

1. Alphabetically, By Title

Perfect for the reader looking for a streamlined, uncomplicated way of organizing their books, alphabetizing ensures you’ll know exactly where the exact book you’re looking for is shelved at all times (assuming you know the exact title of the book, that is.) The downside? This makes browsing your books a whole lot less fun, because they’re not categorized by, say, genre or how long ago you read them. The other dilemma is figuring out how you prefer to handle all the books that begin with “A” and “The."

2. Alphabetically, By Author

Alphabetizing by last name is the norm, sure. But this is YOUR library, and maybe you’re feeling quirky enough to shelve alphabetically by first name? Hey, no judgement here. As long as you’re an expert at remembering which authors wrote what books, you can’t go wrong. (Otherwise, you might spend an awful lot of time looking for Anna Karenina by Vladimir Nabokov or something.)

3. By Genre

This method is perfect for the reader who doesn’t always know which exact book they want to read next, but is pretty clear on what kind of book they’re looking for. Organizing by genre is also great for anyone who loves to make book recommendations or lend from their personal library, because similar titles will be shelved together.

4. Alphabetically, By Genre

This one is my personal favorite — and although I’ve definitely tried others over the years, shelving my books alphabetically (in this case, by author’s last name) by genre is what works best for me. Since I’m not always 100% sure what I want to read next, but require more organization than just sticking like titles with like, this method offers just the right amount of organizational clarity with plenty of opportunity for my own books to surprise me as well.

5. Chronologically, By Publication Date

If you’re a book-lover who reads through the ages, this might be a great system for you. In the mood for a little 18th century English Lit? There’s a shelf for that. Contemporary YA? That’s over by the graphic novels. Plus, your library will read like a journey back in time through the evolution of literature.

6. Chronologically, By The Date You Read Them (Or Plan To)

I think I saw this in a movie once… Shelving your books by the date you read them has a few personal benefits (but TBH, practically no organizational ones.) Not only does this make your shelving system totally personal (look at all that Madeleine L’Engle you read when you were going through that crummy breakup) but it’s also fun to see how your reading tastes have changed over the years. If you’re also a book-lover who has a massive collection of books you haven’t read, but plan to, this’ll help you keep those in TBR queue.

7. By Why You Read Them

As someone who has once shelved books with categories like: “For Backpacking Trips," “Holidays At Home," “When I’m Angry With My Partner," “Read Before Changing The World," and “Hungry," I know firsthand how successful this shelving system can be. The only problem arises when you reread a book and realize it belongs in an entirely different category than the one you first shelved it in — it can really make you rethink your own thinking.

8. By How Much You Like Them

This is another option that’s not for the fickle-hearted reader. Organizing your books by how much you like them will likely result in one of two things (or both): you’ll either always have your favorite books at your fingertips or you’ll be reorganizing your books constantly.

9. By Color

This is great for snapping the perfect bookstagram shelfie. And for literally nothing else. But hey, it’s worth trying at least once.

10. By Size

While there’s a case to be made that books of similar genres tend to run similarly sized (coffee table books, graphic novels, textbooks, poetry collects) there is far too much variation for a real case to be made for shelving your books by size. Unless, I suppose, you have an oddly-shaped bookshelf that requires you to do so.

11. By Setting (Of The Book)

This is an organizational system I’m dying to try — but it isn’t for the faint hearted, since shelving by setting means many of your categories are only going to contain one or two books. The benefit? Organizing your books by the where they’re set is an ideal system for the diehard armchair traveler. Feel like going to Bhutan today? There’s a book for that. Hiking the Appalachian trail? That stack over there next to the coffee table. A trip to outer space without NASA’s go ahead? Second shelf on the left.

12. By Location (In Your Home)

Perfect for answer seekers and lovers of reference materials — this keeps the cookbooks in the kitchen, the Kama Sutra in the bedroom, the coffee table books in the living room, Encyclopedia Britannica in the office, and Everybody Poops in the bathroom.

13. In Stacks

I don’t understand this system and I never will, but some folks seem to like it. Not ideal for the clumsy reader.

14. By How The Books Themselves Want To Be Organized

I was first introduced to the concept of books being sentient things by Marie Kondo, who gently taps books to wake them up before organizing and/or discarding them. So I figure, if books need to be awoken after being shelved for too long, maybe they have some sort of opinion on how they’d like to be shelved in the first place. Maybe your books will just seem happier if shelved one way and not the other. If you try this one out definitely let me know.

15. By A System That Only You Understand (And TBH, Sometimes Even You Don’t Totally Get It)

Some combination of alphabetized-by-genre with an eye for how much you liked a book and when you read it, plus a sprinkle of these-books-belong-in-this-room, and all of a sudden your system is a system no more — or, at least, it's a system that nobody but you can actually understand. And that’s okay too. In fact, sometimes that’s the best system of all.