Color Month

I Would Never Organize My Books by Color — So Here’s What I Do Instead

published Jul 14, 2023
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I’ve spent a long time over the years staring at absolutely beautiful social media posts of bookshelves organized by color. A bright rainbow shining across a wall full of books calls to me. But then I’d turn and look at my disastrous shelves — all the books thrown on willy-nilly, no beautiful organization — and realize that not only am I officially too lazy to spend time arranging my books by color, but I’d also never find what I’m looking for.

I have about a thousand books (as anyone who has helped me move will not so happily attest to). My non-system wasn’t working, and I knew color organizing wouldn’t work. So instead I instituted a new system: organizing my shelves like a library or bookstore. Everything is in categories and easily found. If you want to organize your books the same way I do, here’s what to do.

Credit: Jennifer Billock


Step 1: Pull all the books off your shelves.

Trust me on this. I tried to organize them while the books were still on the shelves, by pulling little piles off and shifting things around, and it was a total mess. With everything off, you’ll be able to properly see how much space you have to use. And as a bonus, with everything cleared off, you’ll be able to clean the shelves!

Step 2: Separate the books into categories.

Take some time here to separate your loose books into the categories that you want them to be in on your shelves. My categories are spread across two shelving units and include fiction, non-fiction, cookbooks, travel, games and puzzles, sheet music, crafts, occult, childhood favorites, herbal medicine, pets, dictionaries, and journalism. You can use whatever categories you like! Your shelves, your choice. At this step, you should also create a pile of books you no longer want that you’d like to donate

Step 3: Decide what parts of your shelves will be for each category.

This was my favorite part of the process. One of my shelving units is in my office, and the other is in the dining room. So I organized my category placement by where the bookshelf is in the house and how often I’ll look at it. I spend most of my time in my office, so I have my journalism, occult, and dictionary sections in there because they’re the ones I use the most.

My office is also a private space, so I keep antique books that I don’t want anyone to touch on that shelf. Those are things like my grandparents’ yearbooks and family history collections. Once you’ve decided which categories go where, label your shelves if you’re going to use labels.

Step 4: Load up your books!

Alright, it’s time to put your bookshelves back together! Put all your piles onto your shelves according to their category. If you’re extra motivated (note: I am not), try alphabetizing the books within each section. If you love organizing by color, you don’t have to let that go — you can organize by color within your sections. I even have a friend who has her shelves organized by section, but the spines are all turned in, so it’s a sea of blank books. Once she reads one (it’s a surprise which one!), she turns it so the spine faces out.

Step 5: Get creative.

When Borders went out of business in the Chicago area, I grabbed a bunch of genre signs from their shelves to use on my bookshelf. Sadly they got lost in my most recent move, but after a while, you start to remember where each type of book lives on your shelves. You can also use washi tape to label the sections of your bookshelf.

Once all your books are up on the shelf and everything is labeled how you want, remember that you can use any extra space to show off decorations or meaningful items. Your bookshelves don’t have to be only for books!