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How to Organize Your Books in 5 Simple Steps

Organize Your Book Collection

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How to Organize Your Books in 5 Simple Steps

A pile of hardcovers.

Photo from Flickr user dcolson5201.
Organizing your books is a big organizational task. Your book collection is very personal, filled with favorites you cherish, childhood classics, cookbooks and how-to's you use for reference repeatedly. Then there's the rest: the books you purchased at the airport while staring down a four-hour flight with nothing to read, the one your book club briefly mentioned at last month's meeting in between eating, drinking and gossiping, and the one your friend lent you on the beach last summer.

Here's a plan to clear the clutter of the latter category--the ones hanging around taking up space. Since clutter is the enemy of organization, these have got to go.

Step 1: Edit Your Collection

There are two main types of books to purge from your collection:

  • The beach-and-airline reads mentioned above.
  • Books you've purchased to look good to house guests but never actually read or use. I call this phenomenon "aspirational collecting." We've all bought a book about a hobby we'd like to be passionate about, something that we think will make us look better to others, but we were really just interested in buying the book. Limit yourself to 2-3 "aspirational" books for the coffee table and donate the rest to a neighbor so it can collect dust on their bookshelf.

Now, take action:

  • Separate your books into two piles: keep and toss.
  • Decide whether to sell or donate your toss pile.

As always, be realistic. Are you going to take the time to post these books for sale online, wrap them up and mail them? If not, then don't hesitate to donate.

Step 2: Donate
There are several outlets that will accept used books:

  • Libraries
  • Charitable organizations
  • Senior centers
  • Local book drives

Clean and dust your books and box them up by category (children's, how-to, general fiction, etc.).

Step 3: Sell
If you decide to sell your books, surf over to Amazon.com and set up a seller account.
  • You can list your books by searching by title or keyword, but I recommend using the ISBN, UPC, or ASIN. This way you know you've got the correct edition for sale.
  • Make sure you have packing tape and brown paper on hand to wrap books in for shipping.
  • Once a sale is made, ship the book immediately and amazon.com will deposit money from the buyer into your seller account.

Other options are Ebay and Half.com.

Step 4: Swap
Swapping is a hassle-free way to reuse and recycle books. Here are some options:

  • PaperBackSwap.com, similar to Amazon.com, lists your books online but instead of receiving money for them when sold, you build up credits to request other people's books. Users request a book from you, you then print postage directly on the site, wrap the book and drop it in the mailbox.
  • Swap books with a friend or family member. My childhood friend Suzi and college friend Michelle live in different states than I do, but I share books with both. This provides me with a constant stream of new reading material, and allows me to recycle my own collection.

I know my books are getting a nice new home when I give them to a friend.

Step 5: Store
Once you've decided to keep a book, you need to store and display them properly.

Cookbooks
Store these in the kitchen. Keep the ones you use regularly very close at hand. A shelf especially for cookbooks and food storage reference guides is ideal, and it's worth it to splurge on the hardcover, sturdier versions of the books you use often. You're going to want these to be as heavy as possible so they stay open to the recipe you're working on while your hands are covered in flour, butter and olive oil.

Classics and Favorites
Serious readers tend to leave their books everywhere -- on coffee tables, bedside tables and in handbags, but having a "home base" is essential. Once again, splurge on hardcover for classics and the personal favorites that you re-read over and over. They look better, are easier to store, and are chic enough to use in a décor scheme.

Some ideas on how to store your books:

  • Traditional bookcase.
  • Arranged creatively stacked on your mantel.
  • Next to your favorite reading chair or on a coffee table.
  • If you have the budget, consider having custom bookshelves built into your walls.

We currently have our favorites stacked up in a decorative, non-working fireplace.

Reference
Bring these into your office so they will be at-the-ready when you really need them. I recommend the following basic reference books for your office:

  • Webster's dictionary.
  • A "For Dummies" book on whichever computer program you use regularly at work.
  • A pocket guide on grammar. It's not always a good idea to rely on your word processing program to fix your grammatical errors, so if you have a tendency to get stuck on whether to use your, you're or you are, it's handy to have a pocket guide at your desk.
  • Zagat Guides are useful when entertaining clients or out-of-town colleagues.
  • If your job requires a good deal of writing, a hard copy style guide is a must.
Related Video
How to Clean and Organize Bookshelves

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