Guide to Cleaning and Organizing a Bookshelf | HappyCleans

clean bookshelf

Posted on November 22nd, 2021

Bookshelves are one of those pieces of furniture that a lot of people rarely think about. All you know is your precious books have a place to be and they’ll always be there when you need some escapism. Over time, though, you’ll suddenly realize that your bookshelves are so full of books and random decor items that you do not have any room for more books. To make matters worse, you can’t seem to find the book you want when you want it anymore.

In an earlier blog post, we spoke about cleaning and organizing your closet. When you’re taking time to look for the book you want, you know it is time to clean and organize your bookshelves. A clean and organized bookshelf has the power to make the entire room it is in look more organized and larger. It also brightens up your entire space, making your home feel airy and free.

Wondering how to clean and organize your bookshelves? This guide will help you achieve this and more.

How to clean a bookshelf

If it’s been a while since you last cleaned and organized your bookshelves, chances are that they’ll need some deep cleaning. Here’s how to do that:

  • Before you start, find something interesting to listen to. It could be your favorite playlist or a great podcast. This is going to take a while.
  • Remove everything on the shelves. Put them aside in a semi-organized way to make rearranging them later a little easier for you. You can start five piles: books you want to donate, books you want to sell, books you want to keep, books you want to give away, and books you need to return.
  • If you have any decor items or vases, give them a good cleaning and dusting. Make sure you get rid of all the dust and grime. Vases should be thoroughly hand-washed in the sink.
  • Start arranging your books in piles of how you would like to put them back on the shelves. For more details on how to do this, please see the section below on organizing a bookshelf.
  • Wipe each book down with a damp cloth. Remember that dust also builds up on the page edges, so wipe these down as well.
  • As you clean your books, set aside any books that you do not need anymore. This is your donate pile. You can also make a bit of money by selling them online or in a used bookstore.
  • Dusting your household isn’t easy, but it is simple to dust your shelves with a dust rag. Make sure to get into all the nooks and crannies.

How to know which books need to stay and which ones have to go

Remember those five piles you’ve just created?  Well, how can you tell which books should go to which pile?

By now, you probably have dedicated piles for books you want to donate, books you want to sell, books you want to keep, books you want to give away, and books you need to return. You already know the books that you need to return. The other four piles can be broadly grouped into two: keep books and go books.

Go books are books you do not like, books you’ll never read again, books you know you’ll never read, and books that make you unhappy to have around.

Keep books are:

  • Books you really like
  • Books you read and loved and will probably read again
  • Books that have special memories tied to them
  • Pretty books that make great decorations
  • Books that you’d love to loan out
  • Books that made you feel accomplished once you read them
  • Books that were gifts
  • Books that were written by friends or family
  • Books that you just want to hold on to.


How to organize a bookshelf

The next step is to organize your bookshelf to make it look nice and neat.

Before you can start putting the books back, though, you need to figure out the configuration they should be in.

To do this, take your largest books and measure the shelving space with them. This will help you decide whether or not they need to be adjusted so that these large books can stand upright.

This step will also help you organize books by size if this is what you want. Be sure to place larger books on lower shelves as they are sturdier. The largest books should never be above your head.

Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to organize your bookshelves. Here’s how to do that:

Organizing by size

If you want to create a nice symmetrical pattern, opt to organize your books by color. To do this, place the smallest books at the top and the largest books at the bottom. Then work your way through the middle shelves by placing smaller books towards the top and larger books towards the bottom.

Organizing by color

There are several ways to do this. You can place all books of a similar color on one shelf, then a different color on the next shelf, and so on. You can also create beautiful shapes, patterns, or images if you have the time.

Organizing by frequency

This method involves placing books that you read often within reach. The rest go towards the top or bottom of the shelf. If you have books that you plan to read, dedicate a shelf to them and arrange them in the order that you’d like to read them.

Organizing by alphabet

This is yet another time-consuming method of organization. However, it pays dividends down the road as your books will become very easy to find. You can arrange them alphabetically by the author’s last name, by the title if you have many books by the same author, or chronologically if you have multiple books in a single series.

Organizing by genre

This is pretty straightforward: non-fiction books go to a dedicated area while fiction books go to a different area. You can further sort non-fiction books by topic and fiction books by genre.

You can mix things up!

At the end of the day, though, there is no one perfect method of organizing your books. In fact, a lot of people use a combination of all these methods. For example, you can have a “books to read” shelf, then everything else organized alphabetically by genre, but your biggest books are organized by size on your lower shelves. It’s all up to you.

Finally, if your bookshelf is also a centerpiece in your room, be sure to save some space for decor items. Don’t fill every shelf completely. It’s OK if they are only half full. You can also mix things up by creating stacks of books on certain shelves instead of just having everything standing up next to each other.

When choosing decor items for your shelves, think about the books and go for complementary colors. Space everything out nicely so your shelves don’t look cluttered. You can also paint your shelves to breathe new life into them.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning and organizing your bookshelf is not that hard. Although it can be time-consuming, it is a great way to bring some order to your book collection, make things easier to find, and transform your entire room by brightening everything up.