How to organize a bookshelf: 11 expert-approved tips

An organized bookshelf is a beautiful one. Bring all the Belle vibes to your library, living room or home office with these clever ways to display books for style and function – whatever your genre.

bookshelf organization
(Image credit: Kate Guinness)

There’s something about a comfortably stuffed bookshelf that adds warmth and friendliness to a space – whether it’s a home office or a cozy living room. That said, a gorgeous bookshelf doesn’t just happen: it takes a serious amount of thought and careful bookshelf organization to ensure both function and visual interest.

If you’re hoping to organize a bookshelf in your own space, you’ll want to read on. We’ve rounded up a handful of expert-approved tips and tricks that will ensure your bookshelf looks great and functions properly to add a decorative element to a home library or any other space for that matter. From being strategic with oversized books to clever color and decor placement, here’s what to do:

Start by putting heavier items first

When organizing a bookshelf, you want to be sure you place any heavier objects– like art books or storage bins– on the bottom shelves, says Andre Kazimierski, CEO, Improovy. Any lighter objects, such as paperbacks or trinkets, should go towards the top. This will create a more well-rounded effect and will also make the shelves sturdier and safer.

Declutter your shelves

Before beginning to organize a shelf (or shelves) of books, it’s important to start by sorting through the books and purging or donating any that are no longer needed, says Stacey Agin Murray, Professional Organizer at Organized Artistry (opens in new tab), LLC. Eliminate the excess and start fresh with only the books you wish to own.

Consider adjustable shelving

'If you have oversized books in your collection, place them on a shelf that is adjustable,' suggests Murray. 'No adjustable shelves? Consider laying them down—spine facing outward and stacking a few one on top of another.'

Group your favorite books together

bookshelf organization

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If you tend to pick up the same books over and over, you’ll want to consider putting them all in one specific spot. 'Group ‘favorite’ books together on shelves. They’ll be easy to find when you want or need the comfort of a familiar or cherished book,' says Murray.

Don’t be afraid to stack

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'To break things up, and fit more books on the shelf, I like to stack books,' says Jessica Nickerson, home styling and DIY expert (opens in new tab). 'You can use the stacks as bookends or even style the top with a picture frame or Tchotchke.'

Consider vintage books

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Want to fill out your bookshelf so it looks more put together? Consider shopping for second-hand books to grow your library quickly. 'In the past I’ve used Facebook Marketplace to find old editions of National Geographic for my husband,' says Nickerson. 'You can also grow your book collection by searching for ‘antique’ or ‘vintage’ books.'

Mix your books with other decor items

bookshelf organization

(Image credit: Kate Guinness)

'We love to mix books with objects, lights, and even artwork,' says Kate Guinness, founder of Kate Guinness Design (opens in new tab). 'Using a mixture of larger art books lying down and novels standing up works well – it’s important to create balance rather than necessarily aiming for total symmetry.'

Don’t overstuff your bookcase

bookshelf organization

(Image credit: Kate Guinness)

'Books are such an important part of a home, we love using them in our projects,' says Guinness. 'Not only do they make a space feel lived in but are a great way to insert pops of color in a room.'

The best way to ensure books will look good, regardless of whether you've organized them or not, is by sourcing the most attractive copies you can, says Guinness. Creating a picture-perfect bookcase is certainly an art, arranging them by color looks good whilst ensuring you don’t pack too much in when combining them with other objects.

Embrace the rainbow

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If books aren't referenced regularly, forget alphabetizing and organize by color instead. 'I’m a big proponent of color-coordinated books,' says Pattie Kelly, president of Inspired Home Interiors. 'They are so pleasing to look at and we look at them every day, which far outweighs the 30-seconds longer it may take to find the one you want, which only happens on occasion. It's calming and pleasing to the eye (and makes a great Zoom background too).'

Empty space is okay

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'Every inch does not need to be filled with something,' says Kelly. 'Consider the empty space a breath before you start the next thing—we need to breathe and so do our bookcases.'

Keep decorative items looking forward

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(Image credit: Kate Guinness)

It might be tempting to angle your decorative items toward the center of the room—but it might be worth keeping everything straight instead. 'Fight the impulse to angle decorative items toward the center of the room,' says Kelly. 'It will look more sophisticated with items facing straight out from the shelf.

How do I organize a bookshelf with a lot of books?

'Create pockets of ‘negative’ space where you can,' suggests Murray. 'Store taller books to the left and shorter books to the right to create space above the shorter books. An overstuffed bookcase can seem more airy with a bit of negative space.'

Murray also suggests breaking up the visual lines of vertically stacked books with books stacked horizontally. Alternating the two groupings on shelves will create a pattern for the eye, making the bookshelf appear less stuffed.

How do I organize books like in a library?

Books in a library are often organized by the Dewey Decimal system in addition to being shelved in alphabetical and/or numerical order from left to right. 'Unless a person owns hundreds of books, it’s rare to see a numbering system in use in a home,' says Murray. 'To resemble a library, consider categorizing books on shelves by topic or alphabetically by author or title.'

Similar to most libraries, you can also place oversized books on the bottom shelf while also keeping your bookshelves to a height that makes it easy to reach a book and read the titles on the top shelf without using a step stool.

How should I style a bookshelf?

Go personal: 'Books are personal items—place other personal items on your bookshelves such as framed photographs, decorative objects, and real or artificial plants for it to look less like a book store and more like a space dedicated to the things that you love and appreciate,' suggests Murray.

Consider practicality: Although the latest trend is to style bookshelves according to the colors of the rainbow, it might be impractical if you do tend to reference your bookshelf often. Most people remember an author’s name or a book’s title as opposed to what color the cover and spine are. Style for beauty but also for functionality.

Think about oversized books: 'If you have oversized books in your collection, place them either on a lower shelf or on a shelf that is adjustable. Lay them horizontally and stack them in an odd-numbered grouping, centering one on top of another,' says Murray.

Consider bookends: Utilize decorative bookends to hold up groupings of books and to add some pizzazz to your bookshelves.


Kaitlyn is an experienced travel and lifestyle writer with a keen interest in interior decorating and home optimization. An avid traveler, she's currently splitting her time between her apartment in a century-old châteauesque building in Montreal and her cozy chalet in the woods (that she built with her own two hands... and many YouTube tutorials!). Her work has been published in Travel + Leisure, Tatler Asia, Forbes, Robb Report Singapore, and various other international publications.

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