How This Middle School Teacher Organizes Her Books at Home

published Aug 9, 2022
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As a major book lover, I feel that there’s rarely a time to get rid of books. In fact, I have professional reasons to back up my claim that I need to keep as many books as possible in my home: I’m an English teacher.

When I taught in a public middle school, I often supplemented my classroom library with my own books, loaning them out to future book lovers. Now, I tutor out of my home and need a big personal library to supplement my curriculum. I’m also a mom to two growing early readers who still love picture books, are beginning to read on their own, and enjoy read-aloud books in the middle-grade genre. 

Plus, as an avid reader, I like to own and loan out a lot of books. People are frequently giving me books and I have some very nice old ones that belonged to my mom when she was young. These treasures deserve to be prominently displayed.

Just in time for National Book Lover’s Day (August 9), this is how I organize all the books I adore throughout my home.

Organize by categories

A rainbow-colored organization is chaos to a middle school teacher. Do you know how many book series have different color covers? If I split up the “Hunger Games” series by color, for instance, I’d have the first book in black, the second way over in red, and the third among the blues. Madness. I bunch my books by genre and then author and finally title like a proper library. My home collection’s main sections are nonfiction (with subcategories), adult novels (sorted by classics and contemporary), young adult, middle grade, graphic novels, early readers, picture books, poetry, mythology, photo albums, and plays. 

I also keep my “to be read” pile separate from books I’ve read and keep my daughter’s “to be read” pile on its own as well. That way I always have a section to shop for when we’re looking for something to read. 

I don’t fill up shelves entirely if I can help it because when something changes in my collection, such as adding a new book by an author or loaning out a series for a long time, I don’t want the balance of the bookshelves to be completely thrown off. Instead, I use library bookends, the kind that practically disappear once they’re in place, and fill bookshelves either one-third, one-half, or two-thirds full. On the other parts of the shelves, I put plants, framed photos, or keepsakes I want to display. Things do need to rotate from time to time as the collection changes and grows but that helps keep shelves visually interesting and helps remind me to dust. 

For borrowed library books of all genres, I store them separately when they’re not by someone’s bed so as not to lose them in the shuffle of the collection. I have a “school work and library book” shelf by the door.

Picture books

For picture books which are usually chosen on a whim and read in one sitting, I don’t organize them by title, genre, or author. My kids go through picture book phases where they want to read the same three or four picture books every night for months at a time (currently “The Book with No Pictures,” “The Day the Crayons Quit,” and “Grumpy Monkey”). When they move on or I need a break, I rotate the picture books around so they can see that we do, in fact, own a bunch of other books and maybe they will choose something else for a change. 

To make this process easier, I keep picture books in baskets with the covers facing out instead of lined up with spines showing. My youngest isn’t yet a reader so this makes it easier for him to find the book he wants and it makes clean-up easier because they can pop books into baskets and then carry the basket to a shelf instead of trying to make all the books stand up on it. 

Location, location, location

Every home is going to have different layouts and shelving situations but I am a fan of having books in every possible location. Books live all over my home to foster book lovers’ inspiration to pick up a book at any moment without having to travel far. 

Sleepy kids’ books live in their bedrooms. For my reading kid, graphic novels and easy chapter books live in a crate-style bookshelf next to her bed in an easy-to-organize bin. My son has one of those sling book displays that makes it easy for him to store and put away a bunch of books in a small space. 

Poetry and vintage books from my mom live in the same part of the home as the piano and the overstuffed chaise where we snuggle on cold nights. I keep another poetry book or a light book of essays by my bed to help me fall asleep. A wall-to-wall bookshelf in the living room has the rest. I keep my books up high, the kids’ chapter books in the middle, and the picture books on the lower shelves in baskets along with board games, Lego sets, and other toys we need at arms’ reach. 

When to say goodbye

As much as it pains me, sometimes we do KonMari our books. I try to keep any books that might be used in a traditional curriculum because of my tutoring clients and teaching gigs. If a book is fully falling apart, I can sometimes be convinced to get rid of or replace it. 

Sometimes, but only sometimes, a book does not spark joy. In that very rare instance, I often relegate a book to a box in the garage for a year or two. If I haven’t missed it, I will donate it to the school book sale or take it to my local independent bookstore that sometimes buys it. I thank my book and say goodbye. Of course, if I’ve gone to a book sale or store, I’m coming home with new additions to the family, so I don’t mourn for long.