Prune & Organize Your Home Library


 There may be no such thing as too many books, but do you find that:

  • Your books and bookshelves are taking up too much of your space?
  • You have stacks of books in corners, on tables or in boxes because you have run out of shelf space?
  • You can’t find particular books when you are looking for them?
  • You have duplicates of books because you don’t remember that you have them and you buy another copy?


The following tips are meant to help you gently prune your personal library to restore order and to free up some space for new acquisitions.

Start by thinking about why you have the books that are in your collection.  Which of these books  matter to you right now in your life?  Think about how you spend your time and how likely you are to read or utilize the books you have.  If you aren’t reading or using them now, how likely is it that you will do so in the future?  This thought process will guide you to some of the easiest books to donate or sell while keeping those that still have meaning.

Next, think about the books you definitely want to keep and how you’d like to display or store them.  This involves thinking about how much shelf space you have and the relative size of the book collections you want to keep.  You want the library you create to work for you, so think about where you read/enjoy the books you have and try to design your space to accommodate that. 

Group books by categories. . . for example, you may have a group of books “to be read” that you haven’t gotten around to yet.  You may have favorites that you read and refer to often.  You may group them by type, such as biographies, travel books, fiction.  The goal is to group the books in a way that makes sense to you so you can re-shelve them where you are most likely to use them.

After you have decided what your categories are, it’s time to do the real work of sorting and placement.  Ideally, this would be done at one time, but depending on the size of your collection, it may be completely out of the question.  The following steps are for someone who can reasonably do the sorting and restocking in one or two sessions. 

Take everything off of the shelves for sorting.  Remove personal belongings (non-books) until the book sorting project is finished.  Sort all of your books into bankers’ boxes according to the categories you determined.  (Use post it notes on bankers boxes for categories.)  

Remember, during this phase you should also make boxes for books that you want to give away, sell or donate.  Weed out anything that you no longer find useful and you don’t intend to read.  This may include old encyclopedias, college textbooks, computer-related books that are no longer current, gifts from friends/family that you don’t intend to read or books on subjects you are no longer interested in. Complete the sorting phase as quickly as possible.  Try not to get distracted by individual books, just put them in the correct box (category) and move on through.

When every book is sorted, re-evaluate your new library plan.  If you planned to put all biographies on one shelf but you now have 4 boxes of them, you will need to rethink the space planning and adjust accordingly. 

At this time, go through the books within the categories to determine if you can part with any.  Ask yourself:

  • If I’ve already read this, will I ever read it again?
  • If I haven’t read it, will I ever read it?
  • How easy would it be to get another copy in a bookstore or on a used book site if I decide I want to read it?
  • If the book is related to a particular subject or profession, is the information still relevant and useful?  If not, do I need to keep the book?


Now it’s time to put the books back on the shelves.  Think about the shelves you have and where they are located.  Now is the time to move them around if they are not in the right place.  Take into account the size of your collections by category so you can gauge what bookshelves you need for them.  Add shelves or change the height of shelves if necessary.

Put your favorite books and those you refer to often in the most accessible shelves.  Within the categories, arrange the books in the way that makes the most sense to you. . .by title, by author or any other way that you will be able to easily find what you are looking for.  Make sure you have put the shelves in the right place and that the collections will fit the space you’ve decided upon for each.  Make sure the books you use most frequently are easily accessible and at eye level.  Be sure the “To Be Read” shelf is in a prominent location so you can easily find new books when you are ready to read them.  Also, leave space within each section for new acquisitions.

Immediately after re-shelving the books you are keeping, dispose of the ones you aren’t keeping by trashing them, donating them to the library or a charity, selling them on Amazon or another site or giving them to friends or family members.

After you’ve “lived” with your new library for a few weeks, make adjustments as needed. 

Finally, keep control over your book collection.  Always keep a donation box handy to pass along books you no longer want or need.  As your interests change, consider donating or selling books that no longer have meaning for you.  When you buy new books, consider giving away one of the books you have so your collection will be somewhat contained.


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