Thursday, June 23, 2011

How to: Organize a Bookcase

My big task for the week, in addition to finally cleaning out the guest room and mailing out the last of the thank you notes from the wedding (I know it’s been four months, don’t judge me), was to organize the bookshelf in the living room. I’d bought it for my closet at my apartment because I had a weird three foot long segment that was only eight inches deep due to the electrical box being on the opposite side of the wall. This bookshelf I found at Ikea was the perfect fit, so I took my first Ikea roadtrip up to Phoenix to pick it up.

Image courtesy of Ikea

The only way it would fit in the car was to lay it in the front seat so I slept curled up under it in the back seat the entire drive home.

I was so excited once we set it up in my closet. I finally had a place to put my Buddha collection, my picture frames, and the few novels I wasn't storing at my parent’s house.

Once I moved in with Dan, the bookcase kind of became an afterthought. We put it in the living room because it was the only place with the extra wall space and the picture frames and knickknack migrated to different parts of the house. It became a sad, empty shell of what it was to me.

But I had one shining light: all my books that I’d hauled out of my childhood bedroom. I was so excited to load up my bookcase, but I didn’t know where to start because an ugly, poorly organized bookcase isn’t something I want to see first thing I come home every day. So here are the strategies I found:

Pick out the objects you want the put on the shelves
Don’t just throw things on the shelves you have sitting around. Organize a pile of the things you’d like on the shelves. Mine is mostly my Nancy Drew books, picture frames, and my favorite knickknacks. This will also help in determining the look of the space. Do you want it to be clean and minimalistic with only a handful of special objects with a common thread? Do you want it to be a hodge-podge of your favorite pieces? Do you want to show off a collection?

Determine the height of the shelves or the height of the objects
My bookcase is nice because the shelf height can be adjusted. If you can, move the shelves so they best frame the objects you want to put on them. You don’t want to cast a shadow on the shelf below because they are too close together, but at the same time, you don’t want an eight inch gap of unused height. If you can’t change the height, change how you place things in the shelves, which leads me to…

Don’t think that objects have to have a certain orientation
Most people store books so that the spine is vertical. Who says you have to do that? If I only did that with my Nancy Drew books and had the shelves evenly spaced, I’d have at least six inches of unused space between each shelf. Since I don’t read these books every day and probably won’t need much access to them, why can’t I just stack them? Additionally, because they are hardcover, once they’re stacked I have a nice little platform for something else, like my giant blue polar bear eraser.

It allows you to play with the height and the line of the shelf so that everything isn’t coincident with the line of the shelf. And there’s also no reason why you can’t store books conventionally and still use them as a platform. I love seeing the piggybank my sister got my in Chinatown in NYC for Chinese New Year atop my first edition Nancy Drews (can you tell I’m a collector?).

Group similar objects
Even if the objects don’t all go together, I still like to group similar things. Pictures of my parent’s wedding with my grandparent’s wedding, all my 50’s Nancy Drews together, all my 80’s Nancy Drews together, etc. Everything on the bookcase my not go together, but I think it’s less random if similar things are together. Also, for the most appealing visual, arrange books by height or by color. I always think bookshelves look sloppy when the books don’t look like they go together. If they are drastically different sizes, just put them in different parts of the bookcase.

You can use the top as a shelf too

So here’s the final product. It may not seem like much, but I’m pretty proud of it.

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