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Sorting my bookshelves: a labour of love or a sucker for punishment?

Good morning bookworms!

Well, we haven’t had a proper discussion post for a while, so I thought it was time for me to uhhh, waffle at you all for a bit. (I would say ‘You’re welcome’, but I’m not really sure if you should be happy about this or not?!!)

I don’t know about you guys, but I never feel like I have enough space on my bookshelves. So to try and combat this predicament, I tend to rearrange my shelves a fair bit. And due to this, my shelves have gone through a LOT of changes over time.

This (very bad photo) was taken about six years ago (circa 2013). I definitely had a lot less books then. But I was also only reading about 30 books per year. There are a lot of my old fantasy series on here: Garth Nix, Isobelle Carmody, David Eddings, Kate Forsyth, Sara Douglass, J. K. Rowling; and you’ll still see a lot of Terry Pratchett, Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Louise Bagshawe and Maggie Alderson.

But you can also see the start of my YA love – John Green (who I don’t love so much any more), Cassandra Clare, Lauren Kate and Stephanie Meyer. There’s also a lot of space for other items. Also, I don’t really know how I was sorting books at this stage. It does look kind of alphabetical, but it’s also a bit strange.

Bookshelf circa 2013
Bookshelf circa 2013

However, at my Melbourne house this was far more of an issue, as I was running out of shelf space. We were at the house for five years and this was when I really joined the book community: I went to book launches, started getting book boxes, joined bookstagram, and started my blog.

Bookshelf circa 2017
Bookshelf circa August 2017

The system was pretty simple, I split it by genre. I had one main bookshelf that pretty much housed all my fantasy books. It also had a section for crime, a section for paranormal, and one for contemporary fiction (look how little this was!). There was a Harry Potter/Game of Thrones section and a Discworld one too. In fact, because the bookcase comes naturally divided into sections, that’s how I used it. This was around the same time that I started using random shelves to house things like classics and childrens books I still had.

I have to be honest though. It wasn’t much later that things started getting out of control… Most of my books in this photo were double stacked on the main bookshelf I had, and the others were either jammed into some cheap mismatched shelves, or kind of collected about in piles everywhere you could think to pile books. It was a nightmare trying to find books sometimes, and honestly, it shames me to share these photos.

Bookshelf circa May 2018
Bookshelf circa May 2018

Yes, this was definitely out of control. It’s probably also the most books I have ever owned. It was at this point that I couldn’t deal with the mess anymore, and did a massive unhaul. I sent about 100 books off to the local Lifeline book fair centre, and we rearranged our entire study.

However, unhauling so many books gave me space to properly realign the shelves again, which was very pleasant. So, in June 2018, my books were re-sorted and redistributed, and the books were once again sorted by genre, properly, and all the fantasy was together again. There were mini categories within the system though.

Bookshelf circa June 2018
Bookshelf circa June 2018

My hardbacks that had come in book boxes (a lot of these are signed) were at the top, aligned left to right by author. Next came my big fantasy series – ones that I could stack high to take up less space. Then HP and my comics and graphic novels were housed in their little section. There is also a Stiefvater/Taylor section, a Pratchett/Gaiman section, an Evanovich/Harris section, and a Spooner/Kaufman/Kristoff one, plus the random mystery/crime section in the bottom left still. The rest is alphabetical A-Z. I also used the top of the bookshelf for other series and classics. Plus the Husband’s Matthew Reilly, Legend of Zelda and Dragonball Z books.

I still had a couple of other random shelves around. There were two contemporary by this stage, one classics and childrens, a couple of random piles of books (one peeking in the bottom left of the photo), and in October 2018 I actually started a random TBR shelf that had a mix of things on it that I couldn’t fit anywhere else.

Moving back home to Canberra in June this year has been a blessing for my books. Not only did we upgrade our house so that we have a study each (this is super luxurious, but I am old and we don’t have kids), it meant that I could buy proper new bookshelves that match. And I really couldn’t be happier with my shelves! (They’re just Billy bookshelves from IKEA, but they’re all the same! I did have to get a friend to come and drill extra holes though as you cannot get 8 equal shelves worth of books per bookshelf with the pre-drilled holes.)

The first time I put the books up, they just went up with no rhyme or reason. I just wanted the boxes unpacked and gone. However, when it came to sorting them, I decided to try something different. I sorted one wall of my books by colour. (The other wall had a lot of random books and leftover black and other spines that had lots of multi colours on them.)

A photo of some of my bookshelves.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is unbelievably aesthetically pleasing to look at. And I loved it, about 79% of the time. But that other 21% niggled at me because the series weren’t together, and I had some of my favourite authors mixed in that I normally keep separate. Also, there were annoying things like I usually knew what colour the cover of a book was, but not necessarily the spine. For instance, the cover of Heartstopper Vol 1 by Alice Oseman is primarily green, but the spine is pink. I know this because it took me almost two hours to find it one day, and I ended up messaging a friend to ask them what colour the spine was.

Needless to say, this lasted about three months. I mean, I was also running out of space and had to get my friend in to add extra shelves, but still.

As I mentioned above, I have two walls of shelves. As of about October this year, one wall is like a collectors edition-ish. It houses a specific shelf for each of the following:

  • graphic novels
  • classics
  • Jay Kristoff
  • childrens books
  • Maggie Stiefvater
  • Holly Black
  • stationery (I know, but I don’t have drawers or anything for my desk)
  • Harry Potter
  • the Discworld.

Below these are the large size hardcover and paperbacks, shelved by author A-Z, with no genre split. I actually thought I would hate this, but it turns out that I don’t. There is an Evanovich shelf mixed in on this side, but I’ve shoehorned all her books I have and stacked them in one shelf together.

Special shelves circa Nov 2019
Special shelves circa Nov 2019

The second wall is author A-Z again, with no genres. The only difference is that because I am bad at measuring, the top two shelves are slightly taller, so I can actually fit medium sized hardcovers there (thank goodness)! So those are A-Z, and then from the third shelf to the bottom is another author A-Z set.

A-Z shelves circa November 2019
A-Z shelves circa November 2019

When I was sorting these shelves though, I was talking to a friend about which way I should alphabetize it. When I figured out the spacing it became a lot easier to decide, but there were options!! It also meant that I then had to reshuffle the books again once I had discovered I could only fit medium sized hardcovers on the top two shelves…

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s a billion ways (probably not) that you could organise your books. But unless you want to spend a lot of time arranging and rearranging your books, you should probably figure out what you want ahead of time. Trust me, when you get to my numbers of books even buying a couple can mean 30 minutes of arduous shuffling around.

I keep trying different ways because I’m not sure what I want (surprise!). But, if I ever feel inclined to take all the books off the shelves and sort them again (it would be the fourth time since moving in June), I might actually go back to a colour sort. I acknowledge that it drove me crazy, but it was very pretty to look at. The other benefits were that it was easy to pull books out to take photos by colour for instagram!!

Do you ever reshuffle your shelves? How do you sort them?


  • Mere

    I currently do not have too many books; but I have them by color right now. I like having my series together, so I’ve seriously been thinking about rearranging mine! You’ve given me a whole lot to think about! (and made me want to rearrange my shelves.)

  • Rukky @ Eternity Books

    Oh wow, the shelves based on color were gorgeous ?? But I totally understand what you mean. I’d only do something like that if I didn’t plan on picking up a book from that shelf for the next few years lol (and if I had books to start with). I still like the end result as well and I’m glad that you finally found something that worked for you…even if it changes in a few months ❤

  • evelynreads1

    Ooh I loved reading this! And seeing your shelves changes!
    90% of my books are currently sitting in my room at my parents place (where I don’t live) and the shelves are way too small, so it is now just sorted it how it fits.. I mean fo rnow it works!
    But when I move back to the netherlands, I want an extra shelf, and will probably sort it per genre?! It makes the most sense to me!


  • Beware Of The Reader

    Well Meeghan …this is so complicated!!!!! LOL And I know it’s a choice between being “rationale” and “aesthetically pleasing”.

  • Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical

    I got the same shelves towards the beginning of fall, and I’m very happy with them – I didn’t even think of drilling new holes, I just made the shelves as even spaces as possible, haha. I have three of the same ones and a smaller one in the corner, and FIRST OF ALL, my dumb ass screwed up the measurements and they do not fit the way I expected them to, haha.

    As for the actual books – it took me like… two months to put them all up in the shelves. I originally wanted to organized them by color, but ultimately I realized that that isn’t the most practical. Not only because of the things you mentioned, but also because as I keep buying books, I’d constantly have to reorganize the shelves. Organizing the books based on genres has been far better – I tried to add some decoration to each shelf, or have one book facing outside with its cover so I can easily make more space when I buy new books. 🙂

    Great post, Meeghan, and your shelves look great!

    • Meeghan reads

      Thanks Veronika! I’ve always like the book facing out idea, but I think I have too many books for it to work. There is space on the special editions wall, but I’m also getting some signed Holly Black books so I need the space on her shelf!!

  • Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    I mean I am DROOLING over your setup, obviously! I have gone through this too, I have no idea how to make the shelves work the way I want! I tried the color coordinated and I just didn’t have enough colors- so many covers are either black or white, you know? Plus then if you add or remove one… ugh. I’d be like “welp can’t read the green book or the shelves will be off!” Right now I have shelves EVERYWHERE but no real rhyme or reason, which I am hoping to fix soon- but I will be dealing with your question of HOW. I usually do my Read shelves in ABC order, but then I like to mix it up a little with the TBR.

    • Meeghan reads

      Yes!! Colours are so hard, especially if you get new books too…
      I’ve never split my books between read and TBR, but it’s something that I have considered.
      I’m so glad you like my shelves!! ??

  • Beth

    Oh, I LOVE how your color-sorted one came out. Very clever to do that vertical waterfall effect! I re-sort my shelves a few times a year (any time my love feels chaotic, really, as it gives me a sense of control and reminds me of the amazing books I own and need to read). I’ve had mine sorted by date the story was set in (that took days to do and was really, really difficult to find things), alphabetical by author, alphabetical by title or series, segregated to series vs stand-alones, sorted by genre (which was perfect until I acquired more books than I had shelf space for), and most recently by spine color + publication date (creating a rainbow effect on two shelves, light vs dark on one shelf, and multicolor spines on the bottom two shelves) to add an element of chaos. Also, I am super envious of your double study in Canberra! How lovely. 🙂

    • Meeghan reads

      Thanks Beth!! Sorting by story date would be INTENSE!! I mean, a lot of the sci-fi would probably be at the end, with classics at the start. (That’s what mine would look like, anyway!)

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