Make Space for Reading: 5 Steps to an Organized Bookshelf

By Sarah Grant

Posted in English Tutoring, Featured, Local, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

Make Space for Reading: 5 Steps to an Organized Bookshelf

Organization is an area where kids and families often struggle. Luckily for Teachers on Call, we have a professional organization and design expert in our community. When the pandemic was in full swing, Be.Neat Studio’s Sarah Grant, taught us how to make a workspace that works, with tips to carve out more room for working and learning from home. Now, she is helping us tackle another spatial challenge with suggestions on how to organize a growing book collection to make more space for reading. Be sure to read on to learn her 5 step method that is simple enough for any family to take advantage of.

        Can you ever have too many books? As a mom turned professional organizer and designer, I embraced books both as a way to encourage reading and, admittedly, as one of several tactics to curb the volume of toys we accumulated. But I soon realized there was a limit to how many books we wanted to own, and it was directly correlated to the space on our bookshelves. As our shelf space filled up, and it was no longer easy for the kids to put their books away, I knew I needed a thoughtful approach to keeping books organized in our family home, one that would keep our space aligned with our enthusiasm for reading for years to come.

        Here are 5 steps every family can take to make space for books–and inspire more reading–at home.

        Assess your space

        Does each child have plenty of shelf space to support reading routines? Popular book ledges may make for lovely statement walls in bedrooms, but rarely offer enough storage for all kids’ books. What shelves do you have in each bedroom and what shared areas can you tap into such as living room or family room storage? Consider whether you want to work with a set amount of shelving or if it is time to level up your book storage around growing collections. The following steps will help you decide.

        Find the favourites

        Regardless of how much space you have for books, keeping your collection edited as your kids grow and their interests evolve is equally important. The first step in organizing is no doubt the most kid-friendly so involve them in the process… pull everything out and then hunt for favourites, grouping and ordering book series, even rediscovering forgotten gems. They’ll probably offer some hints in the process about what they like in a good book. Is it particular characters, themes, genres, or writing styles? Get their help grouping books back on the shelves. Prioritize the most frequently read books for prime shelf space and use other favourites to add a decorative touch to book ledges and open shelves. (Note: for large collections, take it a shelf at a time before kids get carried away with the pulling out part!)

        Edit the extras

        When kids start getting bored or overwhelmed by the process, it’s usually the first sign that there is just too much for them. As with any good collection, curation is key. Consider what–outside the favourites– is taking up space and start sorting into piles to keep, save for later, or give away. Encourage kids to curate their personal collections around what sparks their interests. Here are some ideas for what to do with common shelf-filling categories:

        ●       Outgrown books - Remove any books that are no longer age appropriate. Pass along to someone else or store with other items you’re saving for younger siblings.

        ●       Books to grow into - Certain formats or topics may be ahead of their level, but worth keeping. Set these aside – somewhere that doesn't clutter their collection but where they’ll still be top of mind at the right time – perhaps on an upper shelf or in their closet (alongside clothes to grow into).

        ●       Seasonal stories - Store any festive books with your holiday decor. It will keep them feeling like new again each time you take them out for a special occasion.

        ●       Reference books - Give the ones that are still timely and useful a dedicated place near a workspace.

        ●       Activity & workbooks - Separate these from reading books and keep them near where people are likely to use them–desks, art areas, etc.

        ●       Sentimental - Whether they’re physically signed or hold special memories, display what makes you happy and add selective nostalgic books to your keepsake storage bin. Always ask yourself if you really need the physical copy to hold onto memories–perhaps a photo or another related keepsake will capture the sentiment.

        ●       Gifts - You can appreciate the intentions of a gift without allowing ones that aren’t used or enjoyed to take up book space. Redirect the book to someone who will read it.

        ●       Other - You may still be left with a stash that your child just isn’t excited about. If they’re ones you really enjoy, give yourself a period of time to see if you can engage your kids with them. If not, don’t be afraid to pass along to the next kid and let your child’s true interests shine through their collection. Keep in mind that you’re just deciding what’s worth the space at home, and there’s always the option of getting variety through the library.

        Structure & style your books

        After editing your collection you should have a much better sense of whether your existing shelving meets your needs, or even whether you can rearrange some shelves to make space where it’s needed most. Perhaps you’re recognizing it’s time to level up. There are so many ways to incorporate bookshelves into your home design. Here are a few ways book storage can enhance your living space:


        ●       Maximize storage with a home library look that makes the shelves an architectural feature.

        ●       Style your space with books that are both beautiful and personal. Take a minimalist approach with small stacks in coordinated colours to add interest as accents on tabletops and open shelves.

        ●       Create built-ins around windows (bench-included) or beds for a cozy place to read.

        ●       Go bold and create a colourful accent wall behind shelves using richly coloured paint or wallpaper, even natural wood creates a warm look to showcase your collection.

        ●       Add closed door shelving for a calm and contained look, while still making space for large collections. Did you know even IKEA’s iconic BILLY bookcase is customizable with doors?

        ●       Custom built-ins with a combo of doors and open shelves offer versatile storage solutions for living rooms, family rooms and bedrooms, not just for books, but for holding baskets of accessories or toys, and adding personality to spaces that can evolve with your lifestyle.

        Manage the inflow

        There are so many ways to access books these days. E-readers offer unlimited access to eBooks. In addition to owning hard copies of several of his favourite book series, our 10-year-old now discovers many new books and series digitally. For our younger son who still likes picture books, we’ve often supplemented our collection by borrowing from friends, grandparents and the library.

        Our bookshelves hold an abundance of entertainment and knowledge. Just like with everything else in life, we will reap the rewards of our efforts to structure and edit them with purpose.

        About Sarah Grant:

        If you love these organizational tips, check out Sarah Grant’s previous guest blogs with us here. Sarah and her family are based in Kelowna, British Columbia and she frequents Toronto seasonally for projects. For more decluttering, decorating and design inspiration, follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahgrantinteriors 

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