Different Ways to Organise your Bookshelves
  • Fiona
  • Organising Tips

Organising a bookshelf may seem like a straightforward task. You’re going to house your books within a given shelving unit. What more is there to it? However, there are quite a few factors that play into the organisation, such as the existing shelf space and the type of books. The following details just a few of the most popular ways to organise your bookshelves.

Start with the books

It may seem like an obvious notion, but your first priority in organising your bookshelves is the books. If you have existing shelving filled with books, take everything off the shelves. Sort the books in a way that makes the most sense for you, such as by subject, size, or color. This is a great time to weed out items that you no longer need. If there are books that you aren’t going to keep that are still in good condition, make a donation box. With the books sorted, now you’re ready to put them back in the shelves in an organised fashion.

Are you looking for a unique way to mix up the aesthetic of the books that won’t mess up your organisation system? One of the most common ways to draw the eye to a bookshelf is to alternate stacking books horizontally and vertically. Look for creative pieces, such as sturdy antique vases and colorful picture frames, to serve as bookends for smaller stacks, particularly paperbacks and other slimmer books that may have trouble standing up on their own.

organise bookshelf with backing

Photo source: M. Dabski

Create a backdrop

One simple yet effective way to add more depth to shelves is to paint the backs of them. Look for a shade that is darker than the shelves to make the biggest impact. Printed fabric and wallpaper are also easy, affordable ways to bring new life and add a personalised touch to the shelves. If you’ve been thinking about painting a backdrop or doing any other sort of painting or refinishing to the shelves, get it done while you have all of the books out of the shelves so that you won’t have to organise them a second time once the backdrop is finished.

Add the accessories and knick knacks

Do you keep other personal belongings on your shelves alongside your books? It is best practice to start with the largest items and then work through to the smaller items. Use a zigzag approach for adding items in varying sizes so that you have symmetry and balance on each shelf. Resist the urge to pack all of your favorite accessories onto a single shelf, instead distributing them evenly throughout the shelving. Make sure to consider layering objects from side to side as well as back to front. Do you have two bookshelves side by side? Use an opposite approach on the other shelf to mirror the symmetrical, balanced aesthetic that you created with the first shelf.

As you display your accessories and knick knacks, strive to balance light against dark, matte against shiny, and round against square. It’s also ideal to use a healthy mix of materials, textures, and shapes. If you’re not confident in your decorating abilities, simple is always better. Start slow, building in more pieces gradually so that you don’t overwhelm the eye. Don’t be afraid to keep experimenting until you are satisfied with what you see in front of you.

organised bookshelf


Once you have your shelving finished, take a step back and think about the following elements.

  • Does the color scheme match the rest of the room? There are lots of subtle ways to pull the room together, such as selecting accessories that match the paint color in the room. If there are pieces that distract from this aesthetic, you may want to move them to another room.
  • Is there a balance from top left to middle right to bottom center? This concept is known as the golden triangle of styling.
  • Are the shelves filled out nicely? Did you achieve your desired symmetry and balance? If one area looks too busy or too empty, rearrange items as needed.
  • Do certain knick knacks stick out too much, detracting from the overall aesthetic? Again, rearrange items as needed.

Even with the best of intentions and careful research, sometimes you have to live with book organisation for a few weeks or even a few months before you can determine whether or not it’s going to work. If the storage system isn’t working out the way that you’d imagined or your storage needs change, don’t be afraid to make tweaks to the arrangement.


Featured image by Lucy Orloski, 2011. CC BY.