This past weekend, I tackled a project I’ve been wanting to work on for a while – the simplifying and organizing of our bookshelves. The home we currently live in has built-in bookshelves in the living room, but I also have several bookshelves strewn about the house – all of which needed some decluttering.
Now, I’ll be honest, books are one of those things I have a difficult time getting rid of. They are such an integral part of our lives because we homeschool using living books, and when you use books every day, it sometimes becomes difficult to control the books, as evidenced in this photo from several years ago…
Until a few years ago, this was a common sight in and around our homeschool bookshelves. It was an absolute mess! The only time prior to this I had any control over the bookshelves was when I put them in the garage where no little hands could get to them! That’s right, a friend and I moved my bookshelves to the garage, organized all the books, labeled the bookshelves and kept my little ones out of them. So, while I believe all children should have access to good books, I needed the books to be kept tidy for my own sanity, and keeping the bookshelves in the garage was the only way I could think to manage things. (By the way, we did not have a vehicle in that garage – it was too small, and the size of the house required us to use the garage as storage. I would not recommend storing books where there will be gasoline fumes!)
Currently, my issue is not the mess, but rather disorganization of the books and too many books we do not truly need. We often can’t find a certain book needed for school, and I must resort to paying a reward to the child who finds the book. While this method is quite effective, I’d really like to eliminate this source of income for my children!
So, yesterday I buckled down and forced myself to dig into the bookshelves. My 11 year old daughter eagerly joined in, for which I am quite thankful! Let me share our method of simplifying and organizing…
First, my guidelines for simplifying:
1. Don’t keep any books that are badly damaged. If there are books we would like to replace, I make a list on Amazon and replace them slowly, but surely. However, there is no need to keep junky books on the bookshelf – they just make the bookshelf look junky. If you are not willing to throw out torn up books, at least try to fix them.
Oh, and don’t forget you can set up an Amazon Wish List of the books you want that can be seen by friends and family when they need gift ideas!
2. Don’t keep books that are free (or cheap) on Kindle unless they are well crafted. An example of this is our copy of David Copperfield. It’s not a collector edition. It doesn’t have a leather binding. It’s a paperback that is falling apart. It takes up a lot of space. It needs to go. (*gasp* I can’t believe I just said that!) I bought the copy linked above for $.99. All the chapters are linked and the original illustrations are included. It never gets lost or torn up, and it isn’t taking up precious space on my bookshelves. (If you do not own a Kindle, you can use the Kindle app to read on your other devices, including your home computer.)
Quick note: If you homeschool using a lot of living books, I highly suggest you invest in a couple of Kindles. You can get the “New” Kindle Fire for $49.99 or get a Kindle specifically for reading for around $79.99.
You can also check OverDrive.com to see if your library is part of the electronic lending system, and if they have books you want. You can borrow books and read online or download to your device for a period of time just like you would borrow a real book from the library itself or via interlibrary loan. Search for your library HERE.
Now, for the organizing…
1. Choose categories. I literally stood in front of my bookshelves, and made note of what categories were readily visible on a notepad. These were the categories I ended up with:
- Mom & Dad’s Books
- Kid’s Books
- Baby Books
You want to keep things simple. You’ll never be able to maintain an elaborate Dewey Decimal system or super specific sub-categories. Stay broad. Stay sane.
2. Make piles.
First, let me point out the little girl on the left who is “helping” me by reading the books in the piles. In fact, every child who walked by the bookshelf as we were organizing found a treasured book to sit down with that afternoon! Trust me, I’m not complaining.
So, back to organizing…our method was simple. Clear out a section of shelf and sort that section into piles based on the categories we came up with previously.
2. Have a rough idea of WHERE you will be putting each category on the bookshelves. As you clear out a section of shelf, you can start reducing the size of your piles (unfortunately, we did have a few books capsize during the process).
3. Enlist helpers. Even the littles of kiddos can help hand you books from piles. It is so much more efficient to have a child hand you books so you can put them away as opposed to you constantly bending over, moving from pile to pile, or even running back and forth between bookshelves in other rooms.
4. Make a special space for baby books. If you have toddlers and babies, have a section dedicated to their books. Before we organized, I would send my two year old to the bookshelf to get a book for me to read to him, and inevitably, he’d come back with Dostoyevsky or Hemingway! Having a section just for him gives him easy access to books he can enjoy (and comprehend!).
Now, let’s have a quick discussion on whether to label your shelves with the categories or not…
I have labeled in the past, and it is perfectly acceptable to do so; however, I have one big reason why I do not bother to label anymore…
The children who don’t know how to put books back where they belong, can’t read.
So, while I could put labels on my shelves for my own sake or for the older children’s sake, a quick discussion with my olders about WHERE the books belong on each of the bookshelves suffices. They don’t feel the need to mess up my system. As for the littler ones…I’m going to ask them to NOT put the books back, but to simply leave them on the ledge (which they tend to do anyway!). One of the more organizationally inclined people in this house will graciously put their books away for them…no label needed.
For even more information on how we organize homeschooling books and materials, buy my ebook Large Family Homeschooling:
You can also see more organizational ideas on my Homeschool Organization and Scheduling Pinterest board:
I’ll also be adding more videos on simplifying and organizing to my YouTube Channel (so be sure to Subscribe!). And I will periodically be chatting on Periscope (@RaisingArrows or find me on Katch). If you follow me there, you’ll get notifications when I’m on live and you will be able to chat with me and ask questions!