8 Things You Don’t Actually Need on Your Bookshelf, According to Home Stagers

updated Jun 22, 2021
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Credit: Chloe Berk

Bookshelves are meant to be filled with… books, right? Well, take a look inside anyone’s home and you’ll find lots of items on them, from tiny trinkets and piles of disheveled papers to well-loved kids’ toys. According to home stagers, these extra things can sometimes be too personal and/or distracting to buyers during a showing or in real estate photography. However, they say having a bookshelf packed to the brim with books isn’t a good idea either. So, what should you do? Are there some things you don’t actually need on your bookshelf ahead of a sale?

“Bookshelves are always best to keep as simple as you can,” says Sydney Gaskins, senior project manager at Red House Staging & Interiors in Maryland. As a rule of thumb, she suggests slimming down the contents of each of your shelves by half, generally getting rid of things that might not appeal to a lot of people since the purpose of staging your house, after all, is attracting as many buyers as you can.  

What exactly should you take off? Here’s a list of things compiled by four home stagers — Gaskins, Julie Chrissis of Chrissis & Company Interiors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and Kristen Brown and Amy Keeley at Redesigned Home Staging in Rhode Island. 

Family photos

This is the number one item that feels too personal. “The goal is for buyers to envision themselves living there,” say Brown and Keeley, “not be distracted by your family vacations.” Try replacing them with a photograph of something more scenic or a small piece of art.

Dated floral arrangements 

“Now is the time to be more on-trend,” says Chrissis, who recommends replacing faux flowers with a simple vase of fresh blooms.  

Unhealthy plants

Though small plants are a good idea to bring some life to a bookshelf, make sure they look healthy. Half-dead plants “give the impression the house may not be well cared for,” says Brown and Keeley. 

Office supplies 

Items like binders and notebooks can appear messy and don’t photograph well either. Tuck them inside a cabinet or desk drawer.


Though they help contain clutter in everyday life, bins—particularly the more utilitarian canvas kinds—just aren’t attractive and should be relocated. 

Credit: Viv Yapp

Sports memorabilia 

Trophies, photographs, or autographed balls or jerseys are hard for buyers to ignore, especially if they happen to root for an opposing team. 

Oversized books or too many books

A bookshelf definitely needs books, but they should fit your bookshelf properly. Remove oversized ones that stick out, and don’t pack your books in too tight or your bookcase will look unkempt. “You want to highlight the storage that bookshelves offer, especially if they are built-ins,” say Brown and Keeley. “A crowded shelf suggests there is not enough space and will appear cluttered and distracting to buyers. Select a few books to use and place them in groupings on the shelves.” 

Controversial books

Keep it neutral with the books you choose to display. “You want buyers looking at your home not having a political debate sparked by a book sighting,” says Chrissis. 

So, what should be on your shelves? Yes, books of course. Plants and small decor items like candles or baskets are given a green light. A few pictures, maybe some art. “You don’t need a lot to look stylish,” says Chrissis, but take the time to rearrange your things until it looks just right. Also, it might feel counterintuitive, but leave some open space on the shelves. A little breathing room is always a good idea.