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What to Do When You Run Out of Bookshelf Space

If you’re anything like me, then you too can often be found with a new book in one hand, staring at those towering bookshelves you just put up a few months ago, willing a gap to open between Marie Lu and Adrienne Young. But none does. So where does that lovely new book go, since it definitely cannot go on the floor or be given away…or can it?

Throughout my long reading career (beginning at birth ;), I’ve often run into the problem of too-full bookshelves. I definitely don’t have all the answers, so please let me know any ideas or suggestions you have in the comments below about what you do when faced with bursting bookshelves and an unending TBR list.

1. Buy More Bookshelves  

This is a joke. Mostly. Sometimes it is possible to buy more bookshelves, like when you move into a new house, turn your car into a bookmobile (how neat would that be!) or use an empty office at work as your new library (I’m sure the powers-that-be wouldn’t mind, especially if you stocked the room with their favorite books).

If, though, you’re not moving into a larger house, your spouse/parents won’t let you turn your car into a bookmobile, and your boss doesn’t read, there are some cute bookshelves that hang on the wall instead of taking up an entire one, like this one on Amazon. You probably won’t be able to fit your entire Tolkien collection on it, but it’s a good option for taking up less space with a few books. There are also some shelves that you could sneak into a corner like this elegant stand.

If, however, you truly are out of bookshelf space, and your walls and corners are all covered up, never fear! There are more options, so don’t throw that book in agony yet.

2. Purge Books You Won’t Read Again 

Like going to the dentist, purging books can be painful. Yet, after it’s over, you’ll feel good and glad you did it. Over the months and years I collect books from birthdays, that I’ve ordered on a whim, bought at a bookstore because the cover was gorgeous, or just cling to them for sentimental reasons. Sometimes the books I buy on whims don’t turn out as well-written as I’d wish. So why keep them laying around, taking up precious bookshelf space? And will I really read that novel I read in third grade again?

The dangerous thing about purging are these beasts called Used Bookstores. They lie in wait for a book-obsessed reader to walk in with a pile of books to sell or give away. All is well and good until the Bookseller mentions the seductive words, “in-store credit.” The reader’s eyes light up, and the Bookseller knows they’ll see them again in a few months with a new pile of books in their hands, ready to begin the vicious cycle all over again.

So a friendly warning: steer clear of used bookstores with in-store credit if you’re trying to open up more space. Try giving books away at a Goodwill or other donation center.

3. Re-Organize Your Shelves 

Some people are bookshelf organizing masters; they can fit 500 books in one bookshelf! (I may be exaggerating a little). I have not yet mastered this exceptional skill. I love all my book spines to face outward and all look the same way. As I reach the limits of my shelves, though, I have experimented with one or two different ways to make more books fit without harming the ink beauties. Mostly I just put the book in front of the others or on top of the books, laying horizontal. It may not be as pretty, but it’s functional. If you have any other ways to organize your books so more will fit, I’d love to hear them below!

4. Check Books Out from the Library 

There is this magical, wondrous place called the library. Here, you can check out books for free (yes, for free!), keep them anywhere from 2-6 weeks, and return them when you’re done. And no stressing out about where the book will fit on your shelves required! I’ve always loved libraries and hope to make more use of their magic in the future.

5. Use Books as Decorations 

Many people dissect books for art, which is fine if you don’t care about the book or tell any other book lover, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Year round, I have a display of books on top of one of my bookshelves highlighting the season or a certain theme. They sit atop the bookshelf, glad to get some fresh air. Besides freeing up some bookshelf space, this is also a great way to show off the lovely cover art you might not otherwise see! I’m sure there are more creative ways of using entire books to decorate your home and give it a charming, quaint feel.


6. Read More E-Books 

This is my least favorite option, which is why it’s last. I know some people only read e-books (and they even do so because they want to), but I’m an old-fashioned book gal. I love to hold the book in my hand, smell its dusty/inky scent, use an actual pencil to underline favorite passages, and feel the crinkly paper as I turn the page. I’m all about the entire reading experience, which is why it’s difficult for me to buy and read ebooks. But, there’s at least one good thing about them: they save bookshelf space. Even if they don’t smell or have (as) beautiful covers.

What do YOU do when you’re out of bookshelf space?

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Adam

    My wife made me pare down my library a few years ago. Books were already stacked horizontally, 2-3 rows deep, and I had stacks on top of the bookcases and on the floor. Getting more bookcases wasn’t an option in the place we were living, so I went from being an occasional ebook reader to being a most-of-the-time ebook reader. While I do enjoy the aesthetic of print books, the convenience of ebooks has won me over. Not only do I not have to worry about where to put that new book, but I can have hundreds of books with me wherever I go on my iPhone/iPad/Kindle. Never again do I look at that paperback with 40 pages left and have to decide whether that is the book that travels with me today, or if I should bring a different one because I might need to read more than 40 pages before I get home. No longer do I have to figure out how to lug around that big 1000pg fantasy hardcover by Sanderson/Jordan/Rothfuss/Martin with me on my travels. No longer do I have to spend half an hour deciding which books to pack when going on a trip, trying to predict how much I’m actually going to read (I always overestimate and pack too many because I don’t want to run out of books!) and also predict what I’m going to be in the mood to read. Now I don’t think about these things – I just pull out a device and READ.

    I will say, however, that the above primarily applies to fiction – when it comes to nonfiction I do have a preference for print books that I can highlight, underline, take notes in the old fashioned way. Doing it on the Kindle app just isn’t the same, and I make an ebook just fall open to *that passage* that I keep returning to quite the same way as a print book.

    1. Rachel Greco

      Great points, Adam! I’m perilously close to running out of bookshelf space, so I might have to read more ebooks as well. They definitely save on space (but I’ll never love them as much as paperback books :).

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