Mindful and Efficient Book Sorting in 10 Steps (including breaks!)

Happy April! How’s that spring cleaning going?

One big ol’ tip I have for anyone starting a large organizing project: BE METHODICAL.

Pick your starting point, and work through your space as if you’re reading a book: work from left to right and top to bottom. Go one shelf, one drawer, and one box at a time. That way you won’t get overwhelmed about what to sort next — it will always be clear.

If you’re just joining us, this is a post in a spring cleaning series documenting the work that I’m doing with my mom to reorganize and repurpose my childhood bedroom! After we sorted the paper piles, the next step in making my mom’s dream guest room/art studio/office a reality was to work through a bookshelf. Why? Because there was a bookshelf in the corner we chose to start in!

Bookshelf BEFORE

Presenting: Mindful and Efficient Book Sorting in 10 Steps (including breaks!)

(You’re starting to pick up a theme here, aren’t you?)

  1. Clean. Give that bookshelf (sides and tops of books included!!) a good dusting. We tend to neglect bookshelves and the books on them in our general tidying. They’ll probably be wayyy dustier than you think, so you’ll be grateful for the pre-clean.
  2. Make bins for the giveaways and relocates. I recommend having two bins for your giveaways: “sell” and “donate,” and a “relocate” bin for the things you find on the shelves that have a better home somewhere else.
  3. Decide on a system. Decide how you will categorize them: categorically, alphabetical by author, by size, by color, or any combination of these. Write post-its for your categories, letter ranges, or color scheme and place them approximately where you think your groupings will live. This will help you stick to your system. We chose to alphabetize the bulk of the collection, keeping plays and books about racial justice (which my parents are reading through) in separate category sections. Another tip: put heavier books on the bottom shelves. Not only will it help to anchor the bookcase if it’s free-standing, but it makes heavy books easier and safer to access.
  4. Make space. If you follow the KonMari method, it might be wise to remove all of the books from the shelves so you can be active about choosing to keep the books that you love most. If this feels too daunting, at least remove books from some shelves so that you have room to rearrange them according to your new category system. As you do this, take some surface cleaner to those shelves so you’re putting your books back onto a truly clean surface, which brings us to —
  5. Clean as you go (+ breaks!). Clean as you go! Take breaks and hydrate! As with paper sorting, book sorting is dusty and dehydrating! Remember to take breaks for water, and some stretching!
  6. Weed out the books you don’t need. Personally, I am ruthless when it comes to getting rid of things — books, clothes, tchotchkes. This comes from years of practice and my personal strivings to live a flowing, feng shui sort of a life. But many people don’t share my love and ease with that whole out-with-the-old thing. So here’s a good place to start: If you have no association with the book (can’t remember why you even have it in the first place) and/or cannot see yourself ever actually reading it, put it in the sell or donate bin and give it away. If you think you’ll have trouble making a split decision, have an extra “maybe” bin and commit to weeding out 50% of your “maybes” when you can give it more thought.
  7. Fill in the shelves based on your category system (+ breaks!). Try that timer-setting method again. Set a timer for 25-minutes that you commit to working through. Purge, categorize and fill-in those shelves. If some of your books are too large for your shelf, consider laying those in a horizontal stack. This is a natural way to break up the layout and can be super eye-pleasing (it can also work as a built-in bookend like below!). Then, take your break! Make a cup of tea, do some sun salutations, bring the tchotchkes that need relocating to their permanent home (but don’t get distracted with something else while you’re there!), and come back and set that timer again.
  8. Fill in based on your category system (+ breaks!). Part 2. Keep going! You’re doing great!
  9. Donate and sell. Arrange for a pickup, or schedule the time that you will donate your giveaways! It is a serious disservice to the time and effort you put into going through and rearranging if you don’t swiftly get rid the books you don’t need! Goodwill and Housing Works are wonderful organizations that accept books that are lightly used. You can also sell the ones you think might be worth something more. If you’re in NYC, Strand Bookstore might pay you for your books. Ebay is always another option.
  10. READ! What are your forgotten favorites from your collection? Make a list of the books you would like to read or revisit and happy reading!

One thing that I did with my mom — besides arranging the books already on the shelves by category or alphabetical by author — was to feed in the books from other shelves around the room. This is a slight deviation from the whole “be methodical” approach that I mentioned at the top of the post, but felt appropriate based on our needs. It also freed up space on shelves around the room to become homes for art and office supplies down the line!

What titles did you rediscover in your collection that sparked some joy? 🙂

| Next up: Mindful and Efficient Stuff Sorting. You’ll feel lighter after the purge. |

You may also like

3 Comments

  1. My late husband was a compulsive book hoarder, and the first thing my son and I did when he passed (after a moderately decent interval) was to RUTHLESSLY purge his collection. Our criterion was simply to decide whether either of us wanted to read the book more than once. “No”, and out it went.

    It may be time for a re-think…

  2. Titles that sparked joy? Well, the Tolkien Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I pitched them! They need to be replaced, having gone through college and grad school with me, and high school with my son, but still loved. And my mother’s collection of Edna St.Vincent Millay’s poems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *