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Is your living room filled with bookcases buckling under the weight of books that you no longer need, want or never will have the inclination to read or refer to? Perhaps it is time to go through your collection and decide to follow the wise words ofJudah Ibn Tibbon:

Let your bookcases and your shelves be your gardens and your pleasure-grounds. Pluck the fruit that grows therein; gather the roses, the spices, and the myrrh.”

Entering a room with various sized and coloured bookcases filled with dusty books hardly bring Judah Ibn Tibbon’s gardens and pleasure-grounds to mind. Wouldn’t you like to find a book when you need it and not spend hours searching just to remember that you might have lent it to someone?

Where to keep them? Keep books in appropriate rooms, cookbooks in the kitchen, reference books and dictionaries in the study, children’s books in their bedrooms. Keep picture books and readers easily accessible to encourage reading. Keep books that need extra care, on a higher shelf.

Keep your shelves clutter-free by asking yourself, “Does it really deserve a place on my bookshelf? “ and give yourself permission to let it go, if:

  • You have never read it, can’t manage to finish it, might read it, and should really still read it. (Don’t make yourself feel guilty – books should inspire you, give knowledge and pleasure.)
  • You keep it so that you know that you have read it. (Keep a list of books you have read)
  • They are paperbacks, trashy novels, easy reads, and thrillers
  • It’s a duplicate
  • It’s obsolete, old maps, reference books, school text books
  • It was a good reference … (Get with it! Up to date reference is now available on internet with visuals!)
  • It was a gift and what if they ask me about it?
  • It belongs to someone else. (Return it!)
  • It’s a Classic, Africana – (Do you keep it as status symbol, think it valuable? Find out on,,,  to see if anybody is willing to buy them.)
  • It’s part of a collection you’ve outgrown, despite beautiful leather covers
  • It’s damaged
  • The children have outgrown it
  • It’s glossy, stylish, gorgeous – (Do you refer to it?)

 The benefits of decluttering are, that it reduces the shelving space needed, it is easier to find a book and it enables new books to come on to your shelves and most of all, it gives someone else the chance to enjoy them.

Decide how to organise your books.

How do you look for a book? Do you look for it by title, type, author, and genre or perhaps even by height. Organise it in such a way that you can access it easily. New acquisitions that have not been read can be kept separate. Split fiction and non-fiction.

Should you have a large collection you could use the Dewey Decimal numbers or Library of Congress Subject Headings.  If you do, remember to label the spines. Consider using computer software to organize your collection. Google for free downloads that are available for the Dewey Decimal system.

Follow these steps to create a neat and tidy system for your books (To be done annually)

  • Take down the books from the shelves.
  • Remove any bookmarks or placeholders.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with the small attachment or a paint brush to get the dust off the books.
  • Sort the keepsakes into your specific categories and your give-always into boxes to sell, for charity, to recycle, to be fixed, etc.
  • Dust and wipe down the bookcase and shelves with a cleaning spray or furniture polish.
  • Before replacing the books guesstimate how much space you will need per category.
  • If a general book type is large, split it into subgroups, i.e. Cooking: Italian, French, Indonesian.
  • Transfer each category into the bookcase.
  • Keep large, heavy books at the bottom and if they are too tall, lay them horizontally. Spines facing outward.
  • Use decorative bookends at the end of a category or use shelf dividers.
  • Add some plants, ornaments or pictures of family to create interest.
  • Decide if you want to keep a log of the books through a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.

 What to do with the unwanted books?

  • Remove bookmarks and cut out pages  with personal inscriptions without damaging the book.
  • Box up your unwanted books. Label each box and put them in your car for distribution.
  • Donate to charity shops (Hospice, Salvation Army), local libraries, schools, hospitals.
  • Call local bookstores and find out if they buy books.
  • Sell your books to book buying websites or sell online. (See above.)
  • Sell them at a garage sale.
  • Hold a book/stuff swap. Invite friends and trade things you want to get rid of.
  • Recycle damaged books.

Keep a record
If books are loaned to others it is important to keep a record. Simply note the name of the person borrowing the book and the book title and date into a notebook. (I like doing it at the back of my diary). Remind them to return the book.

Now your pleasure ground has been restored with everything sorted and easily to find. Settle down for a good read. Grab hold of the book that you were most delighted to find in the stack, “plucking the fruit that grows therein; gather the roses, the spices, and the myrrh”, accompanied by a steaming cup of your favourite drink. Enjoy!

Heidi Meyer
Professional Organiser

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