Bookshelf art print by Beau Wylie Illustration

Pruning and Organizing the Bookshelves

Now that the hustle and bustle of December has died down and the post-holiday winter doldrums have commenced, I’m trying to focus on organizing my space and hopefully decluttering it a bit. The shop takes up a large part of my personal space, so it’s rather snug. I hadn’t planned on reorganizing the bookshelves, but they caught my eye while I was going through some papers. It had been some years since I had done a full scale book sorting, and now that I’m no longer obliged to keep large portions of the French literary canon, it was time.

Books ruled our lives. - Nick Bantock quote

I’m not “good” at decluttering if we’re measuring in terms of the quantity of stuff actually leaving the premises, but in any case, here are some of the reasons that certain books made it into the “out” pile:

  • I have no plans to read, or re-read, it. Sorry, Proust, I didn’t even finish it the first time through. (I’m rather generous with my definition of “plans to read” a book. You may have to be stricter if your downsizing needs are greater.) For reference books, usage was taken into consideration, since, of course, they aren’t meant to be read in the same way as a novel.
  • It no longer serves the purposes for which it was originally intended; such as books bought for a class or project that doesn’t interest me anymore or even, in the case of one book, it was bought as a gift for someone who, it turns out, already had a copy.

I kept any books that would be difficult to replace (special editions, copies with sentimental value, antique copies), as well as any books pertinent to my interests. I expect there will be more pruning when I actually read the various books I picked up from discard piles and used book sales that sounded like they could be interesting but may or may not actually be interesting. In total, I pruned about two boxes of books from roughly three bookcases (I say “roughly” because I have five bookcases but two are mostly bins of yarn - yeah, that's a project for another week). The remaining books barely fit back on the shelves, but as a chronic book hoarder, I call it progress, and they are all dusted.

Bookshelf Art Print by Beau Wylie

Bookshelf Art Print by Beau Wylie* (used with permission)

I know some people organize alphabetically by author, but since my collection contains rather a lot of books where the author doesn’t readily come to mind (reference books, anthologies, ancient works with unknown authors, and so on), such a system would be about as helpful as organizing by color (actually maybe even less helpful – I can remember what color each of the dictionaries is). I resorted to assigning each shelf a cluster of genres or themes; so one shelf is theater and poetry; one is fantasy, fairy tales, and folk tales, another is math and origami, and yet another is Georgian and Napoleonic literature by women authors with manga stacked on top, also written by a woman (It made sense in my head: social commentary, young people in love, tyrannical relations, educational theory, the pushing of gender and class boundaries, and the occasional person getting shot, stabbed, or falling off a cliff). Some of the shelves are still double-layered, but hopefully, as I reclaim some of the non-book bookshelf space, I can spread the books out a bit more; that is, if I don’t buy too many books before then.

How do you organize your bookshelves? Do you have a system that works well?


* Cameron Beau Wylie Foster is an artist and illustrator based in Sydney, Australia. You can see more of his work in his Etsy shop Beau Wylie.

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