Me Versus Bookshelf Chaos


Photo credit: Ian Sane via Flickr

The disorganization of my bookshelves had been bothering me increasingly for years now. I hadn’t rethought my book organization since I dumped everything onto shelves when I moved in eight years ago, other than to designate two TBR shelves a few years ago. There was no order at all, and most of the shelves were double-stacked, hiding the row in the back.  It took ages to find a particular book, and was virtually impossible to determine if I definitely did not own a book.  So I made a vow. I would…

take charge and fight the chaos.

(I actually did this over the holiday break, right around New Year’s, but am only now getting around to writing it up.  Maybe this post should be called, “Me Versus My Blog Post Schedule.”)

It took a few days but wow, it was worth it.


The first thing I did was get rid of four shelves’ worth of old academic books.  Well, “got rid of” is a bit premature: they’re still in seven boxes in my living room waiting to be donated, but the important thing is that they’re off my shelves.  As I sorted through all the rest of my books, several were added to the “to go” boxes, mostly duplicates (oops!).

I decided against doing the full-on Konmari style purging of books, just to speed up the process by not having to decide on each book. Saying goodbye to those academic books was all the emotional work I could deal with. I’ll do another round of purging sometime in the future.


The next thing I did was research personal library cataloging apps.  I decided to try Libib, which is a great free app that lets you scan books into your database with your phone (more details on that later). I got that set up on my phone and computer.

I went through shelf by shelf, taking the books down one at a time, scanning them into Libib, and putting aside those that wouldn’t scan. Then I went to the computer and entered the non-scannable books, cleaned off the shelf (oh my, even I was surprised by how much dust was back there!), and put the books back for now.


There seem to be as many ways to sort your books as there are book vloggers out there, so figure out what works for you. Frankly I think sorting by color totally misses the point, which for me is being able to FIND the book later.  I found some natural categories and some that had to be squeezed in, but so far it seems to work.  Everyone’s categories will differ, but here are mine:

  • TBR
  • Fairy tales, mythology, and children’s books
  • Classic literature
  • All other fiction, sorted alphabetically by author name
  • Writing craft
  • History and other nonfiction books I use as resources for my writing and world building
  • Art and poetry
  • Philosophy, science, and debunking
  • Research methods and statistics
  • Other nonfiction
  • Cookbooks, not entered yet, and sorted by arcane methods only I understand
  • RPG books, also not entered yet

With the exception of fiction and cookbooks, each category takes only one or two shelves, so I don’t both sorting them within group.  The TBR shelves are also not organized, because they are still double-stacked and it’s a mess.  My plan is to READ them and then organize them into the other shelves.


I got most of this done over the course of one weekend, with little bits added in later.  Was it worth it?  Oh yes!  I love it!  It’s so great to be able to tell what books I have and immediately be able to locate them. There were so many books I’d forgotten I owned, and also quite a few I was sure I owned but don’t!  I also liked being able to identify which series I had started once upon a time but never finished, so that I can prioritize getting the later books and reading the whole series now.

A side benefit I hadn’t expected was that I gained greater appreciation of my books. Even though I didn’t do the Konmari thing (in fact, I hadn’t even heard of Marie Kondo at the time, and I have yet to see or read anything by her), just looking at each book and remembering that I owned it had a cumulative effect of sparking joy. For the last few years I’ve been buying books like crazy: seems like every time I see a new one, I just nab it, yay!  But in sorting through my books, I was reminded of what amazing options I have waiting for me in the TBR pile, and also about all the wonderful books I’m holding onto and would love to read again. I’m so in love with what I have now, and so excited to read them, that I’m not as tempted to buy more.

This post is getting long, so I’ll write another post about my experience with Libib, but the short version is that it worked really well.

I would definitely recommend this process to anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed or lost in their piles of books!

Bookshelf chaos, take that!


Related posts: Me Versus My To-Read Shelf; Me Versus Reading Priorities



27 thoughts on “Me Versus Bookshelf Chaos

  1. Congrats on getting this done and making time to share about it

    A long time ago my spouse rearransged books and “organized” this huge wall unit bookshelf – and it looked good but it was horrible because (like you said here) I could not easily find what I needed -ugh – and I like how you said categories will vary and so I feel that I do not care how the shelves look with colors or sizes – I have to have categories and sections I can turn to.
    And another thing that stood out to me is how you noted the emotional energy connected with cleaning – keeping – and purging – and the

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Part 2 (sorry it cut off)
    The konmari process is not always needed. When we recently bagged up 21 bags of books I was “done” I told my spouse to just take them away- thankfully he reminded me theee were a few gems in there – and he saw a picture of our kids in one – – so I did go thru them and did it quickly – but there are times when we need to not do that –
    Enjoyed your post and may we all find what we need for our precious books

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with book organizing! Yes, it’s clear that people have different goals or values for how to place their books. Maybe the people who arrange them in aesthetic ways, e.g., by color, are just a LOT better at remembering what color every book is. My memory is not nearly that good, and since the primary goal is to be able to find the books later — alphabetical, it is. Having said that, I do have a couple shelves in my living room where I’ve deliberately put my “better looking” books, mostly long series of hardcovers or of matching graphic novels. One whole shelf is taken up by my Wheel of Time hardcovers, for instance. But since those are all of a type, it’s easy for me to remember where they are.

      I don’t actually know much about the Konmari method, just what I’ve heard online, that you should think about whether you value each item (if it sparks joy) and if not, let it go. I tend not to follow any sort of self-help method very rigidly (or at all, really) but that general idea is something I’ve been working out for myself for a while anyway, so it resonates. For me, it’s more about “Use your Stuff.” If I have “stuff” that I’m not using, then it’s both taking up space here, and I am *keeping it* from someone else who could actually be using it (instead of buying a new one, and using up unneeded earth resources to do so). And yes, that gets into the emotional thing too, about going through my stuff and making sure I keep those things that are honestly sentimental to me. I’m glad your spouse pointed out those books for you and you kept the ones that were important!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Joy – thanks for the reply and as I read about your “better looking” books I was reminded of the beauty of a book. I have that with Shakespeare volumes – but you know, I even recall a time we had children’s books neatly on display. For example, Sandra Boynton hardcovers were in a stack for our toddler (had to take out the not-child-friendly Lane coffee table for a few years) but we did have different stacks books for children around for access –
        and your matching novels remind me of that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ooh, now I want beautiful Shakespeare volumes! I’m not sure the books I have in the living room are really that good looking by themselves, but it’s the fact that they all match, that makes it look more decorative (or so I have been socialized to believe, lol). But you’re right, kids books can be decorative too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Goodness, comment chatting to you reminded me of another thing that happened as we packed up the books to pass on.
        We kept the Shakespeare volumes for a few reasons – and one of them was because my step-daughter bought one of them (this thick leather-bound hardcover) for son1 when he was 14. It was not ours to give away so hubs grabbed it and put it in son’s bag (and then it made it back to the keep shelf).
        and here is the part I wanted to share.
        My hubs opened the books and commented on the small print (it was super tiny). Then he noted that Shakespeare wrote a lot.
        and it resonated – yep, writers gotta write.
        and many writers “write a lot” because it is their craft and it is like eating and sleeping to them – they have flow and just do what they do.
        ahhhhh – books can inspire us even in the sorting of them

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, exactly! It’s reassuring and inspiring to know that the “masters” wrote (or painted, sculpted, etc.) their masterpieces by making lots and lots of mediocre or not-quite-right pieces until they hit the jackpot a few times.


    • Thanks, DeAnna! I hope it does inspire you. I thought about doing this for SO long, and when I finally buckled down and did it, it wasn’t nearly as difficult or time-consuming as I was worried it would be, and the results are so great! I would definitely recommend it.


    • It really does feel great to have everything relatively orderly and easy to find. This is only a short-term fix, though, because I barely have enough room on these shelves for the books I currently have on them, and the TBR shelves are extra packed, with books on top of other books and a front row of books hiding a whole back row. As I read more and more of those, there just isn’t enough space on my “regular” shelves for them to all go. I’ll have to rethink some of the other “stuff” that I have on remaining shelves, see if I can get rid of it or move it somewhere else.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was reaching that stage when I deided fo go for the kindle. Much as I love the feel, the smell, the everything of a real paper book, I can’t afford to buy a new place just to house them.
        Good luck with yours. Have you thought of hiring a lock-up, self-storage set-up? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Storage is obviously another big benefit of ebooks, and I can see why so many people use them, but I’m just not ready for that yet. In the meantime, putting books (or anything else) into storage would really defeat the purpose for me. My whole philosophy* is to use the stuff I own and only buy / hold onto the stuff I use, and once I put stuff into storage, I would probably never use it again. Might as well give it away now. I could see putting, say, skiing equipment into storage, because I’d know where to go get it at those unusual times when I needed it. But I don’t engage in any seasonal sports or activities like that.

        *Caveat — this is the philosophy I am *trying* to live by. The many boxes of stuff that have been sitting in my closet or hidden around the apartment and not used since I moved in eight years ago are evidence that I still have some room to improve. My plan is to excavate those boxes next and do another round of purging, which will make room for more efficient storage of the stuff that I do keep — including more books!


  3. What a great way to organize your books. I’m going to take a look at that app, not that I have any need for it right now…
    I hear you on storage. I do have books. Many books. And once upon a time they were living on my bookshelves, sorted according to genre and authors/series. But I never had that many books, we were poor, as a student I was even poorer and so it was mostly library books. When I could afford them, I bought a lot, then we moved to Canada where it was back to the library mostly (can’t buy so many books when you’re moving all the time). When we got back, I happily unpacked them all… but then the family trouble and moving here and there mess began and these days most books reside in boxes, hoping to be taken out before I get too old to hold them.
    Ebooks keep my sanity since the 2000s. PDF files on my palm organizer… and I could read everywhere, in the dark car, when we were travelling to and fro every weekend, then ipad and smartphone, amazon, apple books: heaven…
    The trouble is though, I don’t have them all on the same computer and they are too many to have on the smarphone or ipad. I need to get organized. You’re my hero. And about that Konmari method… what I read about that I didn’t like. It was mostly helping the wife to organize work and household and be perfect… maybe our media didn’t portray it right, but I didn’t like it. I can’t throw stuff away anyway. Especially books. Never books… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment, Gabi – I love hearing about my friends’ experiences and approaches. Books in boxes sounds so sad to me. 😦 But then, think of what a happy reunion it will be when you can unpack the boxes and rediscover your old friends! And when you do unpack them and put them on their rightful places on your shelves, I would definitely recommend sorting and cataloging them. I have another post going up later this week where I go into detail on how the Libib program works, and it’s pretty cool. As for ebooks, I hadn’t thought of the problem of keeping *those* organized, especially across so many devices.

      The more I read about Konmari — from her, rather than from random detractors on the internet — the more it makes sense to me. I know what you mean about a lot of these organizing/decluttering methods being basically pressure for women to clean up their houses and look perfect, but I really don’t think that is Kondo’s style. She’s all about you deciding what makes you, personally, happy, and getting rid of the rest. It’s so easy to get drowned in “stuff” filling up your house and closets and shelves and storage units; stuff that you bought for the wrong reasons, stuff that never quite fit you or that no longer does, emotional stuff that you’re holding onto because of guilt or because you just can’t face sitting down and dealing with it. Kondo has all kinds of specific instructions, which of course I ignore on principle (wink wink). But the general idea rings true to me: take the time now to sit down and assess what stuff is really working for you, and give yourself permission to get rid of what isn’t, so you can make space in your life to appreciate what brings you joy. As a side effect, you clear out more physical space, and you can fill that with whatever you want, whether that means a minimalist look or finally covering every wall with shelves housing your collection of vintage Barbie dolls or RPG figurines. Or, of course, tons and tons of books. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahah, yes indeed. I suspect the media focussed on what they wanted to focus when they wrote about Kondo, happens all too often.
        I will have to get rid of a lot of stuff. We’re getting older, no kids, no immediate family. I have all these keepsakes, mostly of emotional value. Doilies my grandmother crocheted, hand-stitched stuff that rescued and brought all the way from Croatia after WWII, loads of gravel and stones I collected over the years on my travels (I love stones, don’t ask…) and so on. I’ll have to think who of my friends would like some of the stuff, sell most of the rest, throw out some, and keep what I can’t let go for who-knows to throw out eventually. We’ve done that for two households. Porcellain horses and hand-made wagons the SO’s father, a cabinet-maker, crafted. You know? LOL…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am definitely a “sentimental keeper” myself. If I’d had kids, I would probably still have every single drawing and poem and card, LOL! But most of what I keep really does bring me joy. I look around my apartment and see my grandmother’s dining room table, and my grandfather’s steam trunk, and all the pieces of art and decorations that specific relatives or friends have made for me or chosen for me, and it warms my heart. Plus all the stuff I’ve collected over the years that just says “Me”. But… what about those boxes in the closet filled with old notebooks and mementos of forgotten trips and boxes of photos of people I barely remember? Ugh, that’s going to take some emotion work, not to mention time. Put that on the list for LATER.

        The things you describe seem worth keeping to me. I love the idea of porcelain horses and hand-made wagons and doilies (okay, I’m not much of a doilies person, but I sill love the idea). Still, if you’re feeling crowded, maybe giving away a bit at a time now will be easier than sifting through the whole lot of it all at once at the next moving time.

        It could be worse: I’m sure you don’t have nearly the accumulated stuff that my folks do. Their own stuff after living there for 50 years was bad enough, but then they adopted tons more stuff when their parents died. The place is stuffed! And I have no idea which books or other things are “important” and should be saved and which ones can be given away. I got my parents thinking about that (it took a LOT of hinting over many visits) but they are finally going through some of it. My mom is purging all the old photo albums from her parents, like parties they had when she was young, where my grandfather apparently took a lot of shots of people’s backs… (I actually wanted to see some of those, but she’d tossed them already.)


  4. Huzzah to you! Bo can’t stand for disorganized shelves, either. As I type this he’s finally getting his music organized by genre, artist, and release year.

    Me? The closest I get is genre. There’s a bookcase of mystery. A bookcase of fantasy. A bookcase of whatever’s left. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whatever organization system works for you! It gets more complicated when there are multiple people who have different organization styles, I hear you on that. I had a really hard time sorting mine by genre and mostly gave up, because so many books seem to me to overlap. Plus that’s one more thing to think about when finding the book — did I think this was mystery or fantasy? Fantasy or science fiction? Science fiction or classic? I managed to pull out some that I called “classics” but it’s not a very clear distinction, only what makes sense to me. Like, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens go into classics, but Frankenstein goes into fiction along with all my other SFF books. Books even much older than that go into the myth & fairy tale section, and several 20th C books that literary folks would call classics get mixed in with the rest of fiction too. Ah well, as long as *I* understand it, right? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Me Versus Book Cataloging (Libib Review) | Tales from Eneana

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