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Masterclass: How to organise a messy bookshelf in 4 simple steps

Turn messy shelves into the focal point of your room with these tips from Laura de Barra.

Laura de Barra regularly brings her lifestyle and home maintenance expertise to the Glenveagh Home Magazine on This week: organising a messy bookshelf once and for all.

HAS YOUR BOOKSHELF grown into an eyesore over time? Do not fear, there are some simple ways to turn this necessary, open storage into something that enhances your room instead of taking away from it. 

Step one: Cleanse your collection

There will always be some books you no longer want or feel would be better used by someone else. Take everything off the bookshelf entirely and pop everything you want to get rid of to one side. If you do want to donate any books; check out local charities, hospitals and library who currently need donations.

Step two: Pick your display method

Now you are left with what you want to keep, there are many ways to display and organise your books. Book display depends on the person and there is no right or wrong. Here are some of the more popular ways to display your books, go for whichever one most appeals to you!

By genre: Split your collection up into genre and then alphabetically by author. Don’t forget, you can decide the genres, instead of ‘Travel’ and so on, your shelves could have a section for books that make you feel good, offer distraction, or the ones you’ve read a million times.

By colour: Arranging books by colour can add a more streamlined and considered look to your room. Depending on your set up, designate a colour to each shelf or blend colours in one another.

By size: If organising by size, make sure you place large books at the bottom so that the bookshelf doesn’t become top heavy. Stacking books that are too tall to stand on the bottom shelf can also look great.

By date: Some like to organise their books in order of when they read them, with a ‘ yet to read’ shelf to help remind them of what they intended to read next. It’s a great way to store books if you read a lot.

Spines in: This is a divisive trend, but one I’ve seen cropping up more. Pages of the books are faced out to give a solid block on each shelf. If you visit your bookshelf often for referencing or work, this is most definitely not for you as it could be difficult to find what you are looking for! However, it is ideal for someone who wants to use their books as a point of interest in a room.

Step three: Enhance with ornaments or lighting

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Battery operated stick-on lights are great for placing under shelves to light up what is on the shelf below. They are inexpensive and require very little effort to install, a fab addition to any book shelf. Just make sure you go for a warm light option, rather than the more clinical colder blue.

In terms of accessories, your bookshelf doesn’t have to be strictly books. I have a mini home bar in the middle of mine, for example. Placing glassware or ornaments around stacks of books can looks great and save space!

If you want a more permanent enhancement, painting the interior of the bookshelf a dark shade can add a luxurious feel to a set of shelves. So can wallpaper, contact paper and mirrors. Editing a free-standing bookshelf like this is great for a rental property as it means you can add your own colour, flair and style without affecting your deposit.

Step four: Find a home for any books that won’t fit

Too many books, too little shelf space? Larger books and thick-spined magazines look great on coffee, side tables and even the floor. For smaller books, try using bookends to stand them on side tables and dressers. Plucking books of all one colour to place somewhere outside of the bookshelf can also work really well.

Keeping books of a certain genre in the room they are most read is also a good way to free up space – keep cookbooks in the kitchen, for example.

If you are really struggling for space, most bookshelves will allow you to go two rows deep. The back row can be taken up with books you don’t intend to use for a while, with your favourite or unread boos to the font.

If you wish to store books out of sight, they’re best stored in sealed containers to avoid water damage, mould or pests. Keep books out of direct sunlight to avoid fading and away from sources of heat, which can warp their shape.

Want more tips and hacks? Laura de Barra’s debut book, Gaff Goddess: Simple Tips And Tricks To Help You Run Your Home is on shelves now, published by Transworld Ireland. Buy it here or in all good bookshops, and follow Laura on Instagram for even more cleaning and lifestyle tips.

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