Ultimate Guide to Cleaning and Organizing Your Home Library: Tips from Experts

Many people dream of building a home library. But if you’re like most, those bookshelves get cluttered quickly, especially if you’re creating a library in a small space. But cleaning your bookshelves can be a daunting task, especially if you have a large collection.

In honor of February 20, National Bookcase Cleaning Day, we spoke to interior designers, authors, and booksellers to find out the best way to clean and organize your bookshelves. Whether your bookshelf just needs some tidying up or is one book away from an avalanche, we’re here to help.

1.Clear the Shelves

A great way to get an idea of how many books you need to organize is to clear all the bookshelves at once and stack the books on the table or floor. Make sure there is enough space around the books for sorting and organization. Especially if you have a lot of books, this task alone can seem overwhelming. Note: If you already have an organizational system that you want to keep, arrange the books so that it is easy to put them back in the same order later.

2.Sort the Books

Once you’ve laid out all your books, first sort them into two piles. One pile for the books you want to keep and another for the books you no longer want. Sometimes it can be hard to say goodbye to books, even when you know you should. Just remember that with every book you delete, you make room for the books you really like. Ask yourself: Is this a book I will read soon? Did I enjoy this book enough to read it again? Does this book have significant sentimental value? How difficult would it be to replace the book if I change my mind?

If your books are particularly dusty, take the time to wipe down the covers of each book. Then set aside the books you want to keep and sort the books you’re getting rid of into piles to donate, sell, and reuse.

3. Donate, Sell or Reuse Unwanted Books

One of the easiest and fastest ways to get rid of old books is to donate them. There are so many local and national organizations that collect books. Almost every community has a thrift store or charity shop, but here are a few other ideas to consider.


  • Little Free Library: You’ve probably seen one of these mini libraries while walking around your neighborhood. If not, these book exchange cabinets are usually located at the front of gardens of homes, businesses and community buildings, allowing anyone to exchange an old book for a new one. You can take some of your books to an existing library or start your own library.
  • Better World Books: You can donate your books to this company by dropping them off at a designated collection point or shipping them directly. With a portion of the profits made from these books, the company promotes various environmental and social programs. The best part: for every book sold, a book is donated to someone in need.
  • Operation Paperback: This nonprofit sends gently used books to U.S. troops abroad, as well as veterans and military families in the United States. To donate your books, sign up as a consignor on the company’s website. Once registered, you can enter the genres you have, and the company will give you a personalized list of addresses.
  • Books For Africa: According to its website, this organization has shipped more than 59 million books to all 55 countries on the African continent since its founding in 1988. You can donate your books by mail (USPS offers Media Mail shipping that can ship about 70 pounds of books for about $40) or by dropping them off at one of two storage locations.
  • Local Schools and Libraries: It never hurts to contact your local school district or library to see if they accept donations. If they don’t, the librarians probably still have ideas about where you can donate your books locally.


Although most books aren’t worth much and are better off donated, it’s still a good idea to check for potentially valuable, antique or rare books. “These can be first editions, books on extremely niche topics and even certain autobiographies or biographies that are out of print,” says Chris Nabil, president of Britannic Auctions.

If you’ve recently taken a course, textbooks are another type of book to consider selling. Many websites pay you for the textbooks you use. They often offer free shipping, so all you have to do is pack them up and send them in the mail.


Some books are missing perhaps not intended for a new home. Maybe their pages are all torn or have too many coffee stains. Maybe the dog chewed the cover or it fell in the bath at some point. Whatever the reason, there are many different DIY projects you can do with old books. One of the most popular is hollowing out a book and using it as hidden storage. Other ideas include making a journal from the front and back of book covers or creating wall art by decoupling pages.

Not feeling creative? When books are recycled properly, they can be turned into pulp to make new books. Be sure to check with your local community for rules regarding recycling.

4.Clean the Shelves

Do you feel like your house is always dusty? If yes, then this is the right time to reduce dust in one of the most difficult to reach places. Without the books getting in the way, your shelves just need a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth and they are ready to use. Don’t forget to dust off any accessories, frames or figures while you’re at it.

5.Organize and Replace the Books

Perhaps the most important part of the process is putting your books back on the shelves. It is essential to choose an organizational system that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also easy to maintain; otherwise you will have to clean your board again soon.

There are many different approaches when it comes to the best way to go about this, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

By Feature

“Incorporate visual elements into your bookshelf organization,” says author Nikki T. Anthony. “Don’t be afraid to experiment with color coordination or alternating between horizontal and vertical stacking of books for a visually appealing display of books.” In addition to organizing by color and orientation, you can also organize by size and height or separate the hardcovers from the softcovers. Note that you can combine this more aesthetic approach with the ideas below.

By Author (or Alphabetical)

If you’re good at remembering authors’ names, this can be an excellent method of organization for you. One way to address this is to organize the books completely alphabetically, first by the author’s last name and then by the title of the book. Instead of sorting by title, you can also sort the books in each author section chronologically by publication date or group series together.

By Genre

Another popular method of organizing books is by dividing them into genres. Depending on your collection, this could be as simple as separating the nonfiction books from the fiction. If you have a larger collection, you can sort into more specific categories such as biographies, autobiographies, fantasy, or science fiction.

On Emotion

“A creative idea is to organize books according to the emotions they evoke, such as ‘books that make me laugh’ or ‘books that make me cry,’” says interior designer Seymen Usta. This can add a personal touch and make your bookshelf truly unique.” Some other ideas include books for rainy days, books that make you nostalgic, and books that inspire you.

On Progress

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably guilty of buying more books than you read. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how big that TBR pile is. By separating the books you’ve read from the books you haven’t yet read, you get a clearer picture of what’s out there. If your “to read” section is especially large, you might want to consider not buying any new books the next time you visit the store. This method is also easy to maintain, as you can organize the books you’ve read with one of the systems above but easily throw the new books into the TBR section.

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