How can I best organize my books?
October 31, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest way to organize all of my books? I've got a small apartment, more books than bookshelves, and an extremely low budget.

I've got roughly upwards of 250 books (I made a quick count before doing the post). I've got a couple bookshelves equalling about 13 3-foot wide shelves, but those are now all full, but now I have more books piling up on coffee tables and my desk.

To top it off, I have a lot of art and design books (read: weird sizes) and I have trouble figuring out where to put them.

I really really don't wanna get rid of the books, I've already narrowed them down and donated ones that I don't really love, so what can I do?

I'm on a student's budget, and as much as I would love to go to Ikea and buy a couple more bookshelves, I don't really have the money and I'm already running low on space for cheap Ikea BS. However, if necessary I could save up for a couple bookshelves to replace the ones I currently have, if they have some incredible dollar to books-shelved ratio.

I'd appreciate any tips on really awesome, efficient bookshelves. Or awesome simple DIY bookshelves. Or ways to keep your books organized. Or just general tips at all. Thanks so much in advance!
posted by ejfox to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Cheap boards (perhaps salvaged from pallets) and breeze/cinderblocks. (Previously.)
posted by holgate at 4:40 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: Milk crates. I know my university kitchen would put them outside where in theory someone would come pick them up. Most of the time that someone was a student who just wanted one.

On the less sketchy side Target and Wal-Mart sell them, although they're a different size and not square. Depending on things that might work better for you, partly because they're made to stack in a way that you can put the bottom against the wall and the open side out.
posted by theichibun at 4:45 PM on October 31, 2010

Yep, you can either steal a pile of milk crates and zip-tie them together to make shelves, or get cinderblocks and boards. Ikea does indeed have an incredible dollar-to-books-shelved deal in the Expedit (which also holds hundreds if not thousands of LPs!), but milk crates or cinderblocks & boards will be an order of magnitude cheaper. You might even be able to score one and/or the other on freecycle.
posted by vorfeed at 4:47 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: Oh! You should do what I've been meaning to do for a while now, and make some Invisible Books Shelves. They just cost you the price of some brackets and screws at the hardware store, and IMO look really cool. They'll also save you space since you can put them in areas that normal bookshelves won't fit.

The link has step by step instructions, and if you scroll down on the first page you'll see some examples of what people have done with it.
posted by auto-correct at 5:01 PM on October 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Walmart particleboard bookcases are only $20-$30, IIRC. They won't hold up through multiple moves but should do you fine for now.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:04 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: I just double up my books. That is, I have two rows on each shelf, one in front of the other. I have a database with all the titles logged in it, so I know what I have, and everything is sorted so that I can find the back stuff pretty easily. It's also a good way to hide books you want to keep, but don't necessarily want to display (why yes, I do have an embarrassing addiction to crime novels, thanks for asking). And, it's free.
posted by decathecting at 5:07 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I vote for the Ikea Expedit, because you can always find them on CL used and because you can use both sides, if you don't put it up against a wall (you can double up the books, if you do, but that makes access harder.)
posted by Ideefixe at 5:29 PM on October 31, 2010

Almost every homeowner has more scrap wood than they know what to do with. If you knocked on my door (or left a note with an email address) saying you're a student on a budget looking to take some of it off my hands, especially if you said you were going to build bookshelves, you'd be loaded down with more boards than you could cart away in a trip, and I'd probably throw in some more books. Your neighborhood may vary, but it wouldn't cost you a thing to try.
posted by sageleaf at 5:31 PM on October 31, 2010

I saw a neat idea at a place I stayed once. He put bookshelves up that bordered the perimeter of the room near the ceiling. They stayed out of the way, left wall space for other things, and provided a cool decorative element. So if you are having trouble finding space for a bookshelves set or individual shelves at eye-level, that could be a way to go.
posted by amicamentis at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: One of the things that helped me maximize my bookshelf space was organizing my book by type of book.

Oddly sized books went together -- textbooks, art books, etc. Then regular hardcover books went together. Then trade paperback. Then mass market paperback.

It allowed me to maximize the spacing of my shelves, over trying to sort everything by author, because all my short books were together in one spot.

Also, the shelves I got from IKEA had far fewer shelves than were really reasonable for the height of the case. I used a couple of hardcover textbooks with a piece of board layed over top of them to create makeshift shelves in between the real shelves -- I could put a layer of paperbacks both above and below them.

Also, stacking paperbacks on their sides would allow me to fill the space all the way up to the shelf above rather than leaving air there.

With mass market paperbacks, you can often fit them two layers deep. It makes it harder to find things, but if you keep them fairly strictly alphabetized, whether by author or title, you can pretty accurately guess where to start looking for the books that are behind other books.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:58 PM on October 31, 2010

I'm using an Expedit, but the thing I'm doing to double up my storage space would probably apply to any bookshelf. I got myself some 1x6 boards and some 2x3 boards. and I cut the 2x3s into 5-1/2" lengths (the width of a 1x6) and cut the 1x6s into the width of my existing Expedit shelves (3 feet, in your case)

Then I screwed them together so that they'd make the books in the back row sit up a about three inches, so I could see them behind the books in the front row.

[]         []         []

(Roughly like so, hoping that preview isn't lying to me here.)

This doesn't work spectacularly well for large-print books like architectural coffee-table things, but for paperbacks and small hardcovers it's a visually appealing way of doubling up your existing shelf space.
posted by mhoye at 6:02 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are always bookshelves for almost nothing on Craigslist. I would start buying all different sizes that come up for sale, paint them all the same color so they match, and then find the places in my space that best match the size of the shelf. But the milk crates are the way to go for zero monies.
posted by raisingsand at 7:44 PM on October 31, 2010

My hubby has his mass-market sci-fi paperbacks stacked three layers deep, with the books lying on their sides. This method fills up pretty much every available inch of space on the shelf.

We also have a fair number of books stored away in Rubbermaid tubs tucked into various corners of the apartment. You could also put some books into under-bed storage boxes.

Any place you have a few feet of empty wall space along the base of the wall, you could set up a row of books between bookends.

Stacks of books can also be strategically placed to enhance a casual decor style. Art & design books especially would be good for this, you could place two or three stacks under your coffee table which would be inviting for guests to look at.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:00 PM on October 31, 2010

I saw a neat idea at a place I stayed once. He put bookshelves up that bordered the perimeter of the room near the ceiling. They stayed out of the way, left wall space for other things, and provided a cool decorative element. So if you are having trouble finding space for a bookshelves set or individual shelves at eye-level, that could be a way to go.

Likewise, if you have exposed beams in the ceiling, you can put bookshelves up there by painting cheap plywood and nailing it across the beams.
posted by vorfeed at 8:04 PM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: Dude your space to shelf ratio is way out of wack, unless like 8 of those shelves are made of large hardcovers. I have a few more shelves than you (maybe 20?) and over a thousand books, and they're all on the shelf.


1. Stack books on top of each individual shelf. I stack particular genres on top of one, and signed/first editions on top of the other. I lay them flat and pile them up. Don't go higher than ten.
2. Shelve books by size, not by anything else. This means the tops of them are all even
3. Put other books on top of the new flat, area created by shelving books of the same size. Layer them like bricks. :)
4. The bottom shelf should always be largest, put books you rarely read, or all by the same author etc two or three deep in that shelf. If they're by the same three or four authors, you will always be able to find them even if they're not visible.

good luck!
posted by smoke at 8:32 PM on October 31, 2010

The good things about using milk crates:

1) They are a regulation size and are common as milk itself;
2)When you have to move you just leave the books where they are and pick them up;
3) They are the only truly modular cheapo option;
4) They are stupidly versatile - you can stack them alone, or use each crate as a support for a board, making narrow stacks or long rows;
5) You can give them back when you don't need them any more by simply leaving them anywhere milkcrates roam free.

Just remember that they are also stupid light so the bottom ones will need a brick or two to keep everything stable.
posted by Jilder at 8:54 AM on November 1, 2010

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