Organizing the bookcase – by color or subject?

Books are often overlooked until they pile up and we have no room! I’m glad a hot summer keeps me inside to tackle the inside projects like going through my tabletop books and purging – and organizing now by color, or by subject?

ooks, and bookcases that are overflowing often get overlooked. We spend so much money on these books and think one day we need them, only to find we can’t shove another book into our bookcase! Just me? Can’t be! So I decided to empty all the bookcases after I returned from an estate sale since I had a few hours (it didn’t take hours, just maybe a single hour) and I wanted to share the process of organizing these books!

Do you organize your bookcase by color or subject right now? Or neither?  I should have put in the poll “neither” as many didn’t participate haha! Or “I have no books!” But anyway, this was the result and here’s the thing about me – I am always about function and also beauty.

So I decided, I would organize for function because I need to find my books but figure out some way to make it pretty because it is in the garden room after all.

do you organize your books by color or subject?

Should you sort books by color or by subject?

  • Sorting by color is visually appealing. The downside is when you are looking for a particular book and you don’t remember what color the spine was and you are looking everywhere – a true story of mine.
  • Sorting by subject is easier, but can be so messy to some.
  • How about both? I decided to organize by subject for each shelf, and if more than one subject are on a shared shelf because there weren’t very many, use a divider such as a vessel or photo. Organize that shelf by color, but not too intentionally as I like to have the visual look but not be so rigid and over the top. I want a relaxed look.

Wiping down bookcases, dusting books and going through them was so nice, it was a purge session too. At first I thought maybe I wouldn’t get rid of many only to find opening some I was like, ugh I’m over this book and these photos are ugly. Sorry Pottery Barn books. It just wasn’t relevant any longer and they were a huge hit to decorate with for me a few years ago and all over Costco like 15 years ago (anyone remember?) but it’s time to say bye.

Also – I decorate with my books but I don’t like that because candlesticks on them prevent me from accessing them. So I decided to use books I won’t read or only like for the spine or look and use those to decorate with, leaving all my newer coffee table books to be read. I really do read my books, I don’t buy them to decorate with!

I did quickly discover how to easily organize hardcover books when you have hundreds. Here are some tips to make it easier.

How to organize books for bookcases

  1. As you remove the books from the shelf, lay them against a wall so you can see the spine, organizing each line of books by subject (if you are going to organize by subject and then color as I did). This helps with selecting books when you need to put them back instead of going through all the stacks on top of each other as books are heavy!
  2. Have a donate pile, flip through your books and see if they inspire you and you’ll want to reach for them again in the future. If you haven’t touched them for a few years just consider if you will in another. I’m all about keeping books because you like them and you have the space, but if you are limited in space, then maybe it’s time to purge some. Gift them to others, or find a neighborhood library book box also known as a Free Little Library and drop them in there. You can find the nearest one in your neighborhood on the Free Little Library map.

how to organize books easy way -

The cookbook needs to go in the kitchen, and I only have like 3 other ones and rarely use them as that’s not my skill set.

But anyway, doing it this way was so helpful and it gave me two opportunities to purge – when I removed them off the shelf, and when I had the choice again to put them back on. I’m still going to have to work on styling and getting rid of some books because it’s a little much :) But for now, at least I know where to look and I’ve already been finding old books and flipping through them!

Diana Elizabeth often pulls these books out before she jumps online to bid on something, before heading to an estate sale, or antique store so her eye is sharply trained to look for certain items! 


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Diana Elizabeth Steffen setting the table for her annual garden party


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Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive thrift shopper. You can typically find her in the garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next creative themed party. She continues to blog weekly.



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