How to Organize, Move, and Even Save Money on Books, According to People Who Own Hundreds of Them

updated Mar 3, 2021
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When you were a kid watching “Beauty and the Beast,” were you more interested in the Beast’s enormous library and Belle’s favorite bookstore than the love story itself? Are your bookshelves a point of pride in your space? Do you find yourself unable to walk by a bookstore or shop online without adding a few new tomes to your cart? Join the club, dear reader.

Living with lots of books is fun, but can also be frustrating, especially if you find yourself overwhelmed with stacks you haven’t had the chance to read yet, or towering piles in every room — piles that you need to dust! While e-readers like Kindles are great, some people just prefer the experience of a physical book. I should know: My shelves are heavier for the habit. 

From keeping things in order to knowing when to say goodbye to those books you’re never going to read, here’s how big readers and book collectors satisfy their need to read while keeping their home libraries manageable.

Credit: Samara Vise

Keep them organized in a way that makes sense to you.

Arranging your books by color may be aesthetically pleasing, but if it doesn’t gel with your instincts around organizing and, as a result, you’re constantly searching for that one book, don’t cave to the pressure of Instagrammable shelves! Organize your book collection in a way that works for you and your reading habits, whether that’s by author, genre, or yes, by color. I have hundreds of books and prefer to organize mine by genre so I can easily find what I need when the short story or poetry mood strikes. 

Some serious readers, like Sara Ruetschlin of Indiana, take their organization one step further. “I use an app, Book Catalogue, to keep track of my books. I have thousands,” she says. “I organize by genre, then alphabetically by author’s last name, then by title. I keep series together by publication date …  I seriously overload my bookshelves.”

Kayla Ramoutar of Toronto also goes digital when it comes to keeping her immense collection in order. “I have about 800 books,” she explains. “I store them alphabetically by author’s last name and I have an Excel spreadsheet of all of them.” 

Credit: Emma Fiala

Find budget-friendly ways to add to your library.

I’m all about supporting your favorite local bookstores, especially during a pandemic, but buying books can add up really fast! If not shopping for books is just not an option for you (um, same), there are plenty of wallet-friendly ways to keep collecting without going broke.

Brinton Botkin of California finds secondhand treasures at library and garage sales and is looking forward to once again hosting book swaps with friends to snag discounted or free finds. Why not try a pandemic-friendly virtual swap and leave books on your friends’ doorsteps until such activities can take place IRL again? 

The thrift store can also be a treasure trove when it comes to book shopping — you truly never know what you’re going to find on those ever-changing shelves, so go in with an open mind. Your local used bookstore or Half Price Books may offer cash or credit for trades, so once you’ve edited your shelves (more on that below), take a batch along and leave with a fresh new stack. And if you’re walking the dog and notice a Little Free Library in your neighborhood, definitely peek inside — I’ve found some serious treasures while perusing my neighbors’ cast-off books. Just don’t forget to add a few books next time to keep the good exchange going!

You can also think more critically about your purchase before hauling those new books up to the register or clicking the check out button. “I made a rule for myself that I would only buy books if I like the look of it on a shelf, really thought I’d read it again, or knew I would lend it to someone,” says Kristen Annuziato of Massachusetts. The rule has helped her “cut back on buying” — now, she goes to the library instead.

Anna Cartella, also of Massachusetts, similarly hits up the library for new reads before shopping, but if she finds a book that really resonates with her, she doesn’t hesitate to purchase it. “I’ve been trying to read new books from the library first. If I like them enough that I want to re-read them or lend them to others, then I’ll buy a copy for myself,” she explains.

Know when to say goodbye.

Regularly cleaning and editing books from your collection is key to not getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume. Go through your library on a semi-regular basis — two or three times a year is a good place to start — and decide which books are ready to be rehomed. I promise their feelings won’t be hurt.

Of course, saying farewell to books isn’t always easy, so give yourself some parameters to work with. “I culled a bunch from one bookshelf recently and decided which ones to give up by asking myself, ‘Will I reread this? Will I ever read this? Do I have a sentimental attachment to this book?’ Those questions helped me decide which ones to get rid of,” says longtime book lover Sarah Bouse. 

“Once I don’t have room left to add a finished book to my ‘read’ shelf, it’s typically time to trim the fat,” says Botkin. “I fill Little Free Libraries near me if the books are appropriate for younger readers, give friends and fam the pick of the adult books and donate the rest to the charity bookstore in my town … and typically walk out with a few new reads for myself.”

When rehoming your books, think about where they may be appreciated most. One great option is the Prison Book Program, which provides free books to people who are incarcerated. You could also check with local schools to see what their needs are; you may have exactly what they’re looking for in your cast-off pile.

Pack like a pro.

Moving with books is the opposite of fun. It’s heavy, it’s bulky and those boxes take up a ton of space. In the past, I’ve packed my library in Ikea bags, which are practically tear-proof and easy to heft over your shoulder, but movers actually prefer wine boxes as they’re small and easy to load on a dolly.

Cartella made her books the foundation of her move — literally: “We used boxes of books as the entire bottom layer [of our U-Haul.] They stood up well to the weight of everything above them.” She also kept organization in mind when packing so setting up the library in the new space was easy. “We packed fiction and nonfiction according to the author’s last name. More specific genres (cookbooks, children’s books, comic books, journals, books used for work) got their own boxes.”

As for Botkin, she packed her books by color. “When we moved into our house this summer, we had 18 banker boxes labeled [by color,] which makes the unpacking and organizing process a breeze,” she says.

You can also get creative and make your possessions do double duty when moving. “Last time I moved, I actually put my books in large, wheeled suitcases (think largest possible checked bag) and moved them that way,” says Annunziato. 

When all else fails, head to the post office. “I’ve moved a lot and one trick I have is to mail your books to yourself via media mail, especially if you are moving far,” says Katie Tastrom of Syracuse, New York. “Media mail is amazing and makes sending books so much cheaper!”