5 Ways to Reclaim Your Cluttered Bookshelf

As an avid reader, I’m certainly pro-books. I love having books in the house, even once I’ve read them. Just seeing a book I’ve read setting on the shelf can bring back wonderful memories of the tantalizing tales or lessons within. However, too many books can make an otherwise clean-cut room seem heavy. Read on to see how you can keep your books AND polish your look.

Don’t Fill Out Each Shelf

A major no-no is cramming each shelf of your bookcase to capacity. This will give off a cluttered look, no matter how the books are arranged.  Instead, fill each shelf ½ to ¾ full and place little knick knacks in the empty spaces. The extra space makes it look like your intentionally kept those particular books to showcase and are not simply using the bookcase as a storage unit (even if you are).  

As for the knick knacks, consider items such as small plants, photos, candles, or any other decorate pieces that fit your style. Refrain from putting these items in front of your books. Only use the empty space to the side! Putting any decorative items along the shelves of a full bookcase will only make it look more cluttered, not less!

Purge the Books That No Longer Serve a Purpose

I said you can keep your books, but maybe not all your books. Chances are, you haven’t taken the time to consider the value of your books recently. Or maybe ever! Rare editions, trusty cookbooks, your favorite novels… feel free to hang onto those.  

On the other hand, you may own books from an old college course, beach-read novels that didn’t leave a lasting impact, how-to books you’ve never once opened… you get the picture.  Let them go! Send these books on their way to a new home where they can be appreciated! Donate them or take them to your local resale store and trade them in for a small amount of cash. Specialized books such as college textbooks can be sold for a higher price to certain online sellers. Check around online to see what yours might be worth. Make some room and some money while you’re at it.

Alternate Sides

So we talked about not filling out each shelf. You’ve got that down. On top of that, alternate which side of the shelf your books are on. So, say you’ve got a bookshelf with 4 shelves. On the 1st and 3rd shelves, have the books start on the left and go across with room to spare on the right side. On the 2nd and 4th shelves, have the books start on the right side and go across with room to spare on the left. This will give a more balanced look to your shelves and your room.

Keep Your Current Reads in a Separate Place

I like to think about books in two different ways: by decor and function. Most of our books on a day to day basis end up serving the purpose of decor. However, in any given month, there are likely several books you’re using on a weekly basis: your current novel, your Bible, your favorite cookbooks, your book club read.  

Keep together on one shelf, basket, or table the books that you are accessing frequently. You don’t want these mixed among your “decor” books, because every time you grab for one, you’ll mess up the arrangement. But these books still need a home! Pick a place (you might have a few different places for different family members) where your current reads will belong for the time that you’re using them.

If All Else Fails, Relocate!

If you’ve reached the end of this post and are shaking your head, thinking, “None of this will work for me,” this last section is for you. Perhaps you don’t want to get rid of any of your books. You think knick knacks are stupid, and you just can’t (or won’t) create any space in your shelves to make the room appear more clean cut. That’s okay. I’m not here to force you to get rid of anything. However, at this point my best suggestion for you would be to put your books elsewhere.  

If you’re trying to make your living room or office look less cluttered, but aren’t willing to downsize your book collection, perhaps it’s time to put some of it in a less seen location.  Transfer half (or more… probably more) of your books a cabinet with solid doors or even a closet.

If all of your books are currently in one location, you could also consider splitting them up throughout the house into smaller batches that look less overwhelming. The name of the game is minimalism. If you don’t have a minimal amount of books, create the illusion that you do.

Room to Spare {Part 1}

Ah photo boxes…seemingly so much easier than photo albums, but do they really save time in the long run? Once photos go in a box, do they ever come out? Do you really enjoy your photos if they’re thrown in a box and then thrown in a cabinet after that?

The digital age has made boxes of photos less of a problem for the future (we’ll save the topic of organizing your computer photos for another day), but many of us still have hundreds of photos from years past. In this project, I helped Katherine* organize decades of photographs so she could better enjoy them, find her favorites if needed, and have more cabinet space…because who doesn’t need more cabinet space?!

*named changed for privacy


As is my routine with most projects, I first pulled everything out of the area to be organized. Even though Katherine designated this her “photo cabinet,” there were several other items as well- candles, decorations, etc. and I wanted to see what all was in there.

After going through the candles and decorations, Katherine decided to trash or donate many of them.

Many times the first step to clearing out clutter is simply taking the time to ask yourself, “Do I actually use this?” Look through your own “candle shelf” (or DVD rack or jewelry box) the next time you have a free moment. When was the last time you used each item? A few weeks ago? A few years ago? Saying “See ya later!” can feel so good!

Many times the first step to clearing out clutter is simply taking the time to ask yourself, “Do I actually use this?”

In a few cases, we relocated items that were being stored on this shelf, but could be better stored elsewhere with other like-items. After that ground work, we were ready to get started with the main project: sorting those photos!


As I dug into the project, I realized that some photos were already in albums by year or occasion (“Summer 2012”). However, most were contained in boxes and not sorted by any category. These were just “catch all” boxes Katherine had used to store photos that she knew she wanted to keep, but for which she didn’t have an immediate solution at the time.

Our first step was sorting the photos by year. I say “our” first step because Katherine and I worked closely together on this project. Some photos were in envelopes marked with dates or had dates stamped on that back. Those I could place in order myself. However, I did need to consult Katherine on numerous others. I simply worked through each batch, placing the photos with no date in a pile for her to review at one time.


Once the photos were sorted by date, there came the challenge of how to store them going forward. While there were a few groups of photos (family vacation pictures, school pictures, etc.), most were just miscellaneous images taken at a variety of times and places. The best solution was to create a “Miscellaneous Photos” photo album.

Aren’t these stick-on tabs cute??

I began by inputting photos by year. I attached tabs to the first page of each section as I went along: 1990, 1991, 1992… I also left a few blank pages at the end of each section for later additions.

For example, if Katherine decides to switch out some of her currently framed photos down the road, she’ll have a place to put the old pictures. There’s no point in getting organized if you create a system that can’t be maintained! I didn’t want her to have to revert to the old catch-all box she was using before.

There’s no point in getting organized if you create a system that can’t be maintained!

For extra-large photos I made a separate miscellaneous photo album following the same concept. Except this time I used a photo album in which each page was sticky all over so she could fit photos of any size. This was a great solution for some of those ex-framed photographs that were too large to fit in a traditional photo album slot.

At the beginning of both books, I taped an envelop that contained extra tabs. Going forward, Katherine can simply make a new tab for each new year.

We were making great progress, but there were still a few items that needed sorting and storing: Photo/slideshow CDs, home DVDs, and panoramic photos. For these items, I determined that the previously used catch-all boxes could be repurposed.

While I don’t think boxes are ideal for storing photos, they certainly can do magic with CD cases! I separated these items by year as well using cards that came with the boxes. It would have been super easy to use large, labeled index cards as well.

The Result

You might be surprised to see this after picture.

On the left side of the cabinet are the decorations (top self), candles (middle shelf), and a few other items that Katherine chose to keep.

And on the right side there are…boxes of food? That’s right! This cabinet is located in the bar area of Katherine’s kitchen. After assessing the situation, I recommended freeing up this valuable space to store items she accessed more frequently. The result? She got to move some snack items from a spare bedroom into the kitchen area! That’s a win!

But what about the photos? If you’re wondering where they went, you’ll have to check out my next post when we reorganize Katherine’s guest room closet!