How to arrange a bookcase


posted by on Momelettes


In our list of major projects to accomplish before the kidling arrived last year was the small task of getting rid of all our mismatched dorm-ish bedroom furniture.

Our house was starting to look like an IKEA catalog anyway, so we went with the momentum and chose the BILLY bookcase series. This was mainly because we also purchased a new wardrobe system from there and needed the overall height and color matching in the room.

We went from the sublime to the ridiculous; an overstuffed short bookcase to a tall one with apparently too much room. Now what? In usual fashion, I went online and read and read and read.

Here’s the key takeaways I learned from the experience.

1. It’s overwhelming at first! The best starting point is to first sort your hardbacks from your paperbacks.

You’ll be putting them in separate places on the bookshelf anyway, so sort your hardback books from your paperback books now and you’ll instantly feel less overwhelmed. Spread them out on the bed, the floor, wherever.

2. Now is a really good time to clean out your book collection.

Textbooks, particularly household and technical books tend to get outdated very quickly. Do you need them still? Are they still relevant? Can you find the info on the Internet instead? Case in point: While sorting, I stumbled upon a book that was a gift to me while house-hunting, “The 100 Common Mistakes First Time Homebuyers Make and How to Avoid Them.” Yes, I read it cover to cover, and it was useful. However, it’s been five years, and the market has completely changed. And anyways, should I ever need to buy a house again, I won’t be a first-time homebuyer. This two-inch, three-pound book could be donated to help out some other first time homebuyer.

3. Anchor your heaviest books at the bottom.

Tom Clancy fans, your books have a home! In my case, it’s the complete set of Harry Potter and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series that took the bottom shelf honors.

anchor heavy books at the bottom

4. Next, arrange your leftover hardbacks by height and color, putting the tallest in the middle of the pack and working out.

This will balance the arrangement.

Do the same with your paperbacks, in a separate space. If you have books that just don’t seem like they go with everything else, that’s actually good. A little variation helps.


I decided to take my over-sized really thick paperback books and stack them, they also make great bookends! (don’t forget the really thick hardbacks are on the bottom shelf.) In the picture to the left, note that the hardbacks and paperbacks are in separate groups, and with few exceptions, on totally separate shelves.

The darker books are on the left, and they get brighter as they work out.

Not only are they sorted by color, but also by size.

The oversized books are stacked underneath picture frames and baskets, stacked horizontally for visual relief.

I’ve also got PLENTY of room for expansion. I can move the horizontal books vertically anytime I need more room.

However, I did want this to look nice as well as be functional, so I’m not going to overload it. If anything, it will help keep my collecting in serious check.

5. Baskets are great for battered, dog-eared paperback novels.

I always got made fun of for my insane basket collection. Now I get to go, ‘ah-HA!’ There’s two universal truths about paperback fiction novels:

1. They are usually all about the same size, and

2. They are usually so unsightly from being read that you don’t want them in sight (or, in my case, you are ashamed of your inability to resist picking up a new copy of “The Princess Bride” just because it came in a new cover).

A great way to hide your ugly paperbacks and even add some variation to your bookcase is to put them all in baskets on the same shelf. It’s also a good way to quickly find a good book – just pull the baskets out and see what looks good to grab for a road trip!

baskets are good for holding paperbacks

6. Finally, put your lightest items and any decorative displays on the topmost shelves, and anywhere else that looks empty.

This will balance out your bookcase. Though you may think it will look more cluttered, in actuality it will have the opposite effect. Having too many empty spaces will make the bookcase look more visually cluttered than having all available space used up. This is the essence of balance. And, by putting decorative items at the top, you’ll never have to strain to reach for a book – the books are all at reachable levels. When you DO need more room for books, you can just get rid of some decorative items to make room for them.

decorative items at the top

As you can see, it’s actually quite formulaic and simple. However, even with these tips, it still took me all night to arrange this shelf to my satisfaction! I placed items and took a few steps back. I moved more items. I re-arranged, and re-evaluated. Finally, I was happy. We even got extra winter blanket storage by putting baskets on the very top shelf. You’ll also notice that I chose to keep the back piece off, to let the color of the walls come through. I have no idea what that did to the stability of the bookcase. Let’s hope I never have to find out.

The finished bookcase:

The finished bookcase

Send in YOUR pics of your bookcases and I’ll post them! Remember, if looking at it doesn’t make you feel great and relaxed, then it’s not good enough for all us moms. Do it over! This is in my bedroom, where I’m going for an overall feeling of AHHHHHHHHHH so I can rest. I couldn’t before. Now I can look at this every night before going to bed and feel great because I have a pretty bedroom.

Send your bookcase pics to!

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