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6 tips to tame the bookcase chaos

by respaced on April 28, 2009

It can be tricky to make a bookshelf full of books and collectibles look uncluttered. All the different items on the shelves with all their various sizes, colors and functions can look like a jumbled mess. And even if your bookcase just holds books, all the different spine sizes, colors and typefaces on the books can make your library look cluttered. Here are a few ideas to minimize the bookcase chaos:

1. First and foremost, choose bookcases that blend in with the rest of the furniture. An all-white particle board bookcase in a room filled with oak furniture is going to scream “look how tacky I am!” Something that blends in will make your room feel more organized and restful.

2. Pare down your collection of books and collectibles. Ideally, you would leave 20-25 percent of your bookcase empty so you have room to add to your library. The best way to do this is to leave empty space at the end of every shelf, rather than leaving an entire shelf at the bottom empty.

3. When my clients ask me what order they should stack the books on the shelf, I advise them to think about how they would find the book. Would you retrieve it based on subject, author, title, spine color? The conventional alphabetical-by-author method is useless if you are the type who only remembers titles, not authors. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

4. Some people are bothered by the garish colors and bold typefaces on the spines of their books. One idea is to remove the dustjacket on your hardcover books if there is a solid color book cover beneath it. Another idea is to stash your paperbacks in decorative bins or boxes that are tall enough to cover the height of the book. Then you can use a labelmaker to label the outside of the box so you know what is inside the box. Taller books can go in magazine file boxes. Finally, I have heard of people making paper covers for all of their ugly books. If you have the time and the energy (and you care that much), I say go for it.

5. If you are mixing collectibles with books, put just one large object on a shelf with books. If the object is small (under 6″ tall), you can put up to three items on one shelf. Any more than that, and your bookcase will start to look cluttered again.

6. For the most unified, organized look, make sure your collectibles have some sort of cohesion. Items of all one color or all one type look the best.

Finally, a word about safety. Make sure your bookcase is screwed into the wall. This is important, not just for those of you who have children, but for all of us living in earthquake zones. Earthquakes don’t kill people — stuff falling on them in an earthquake kills them.

Fantastic photo courtesy of, and they say they found the photo on Flickr from user chotda.

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