Book Organization for the Small Home


Hey, Kelsey! I’m having a dilemma. We have A LOT of books. I am pregnant with baby #3 and space is at an all time premium. I have drawers full of baby books, board books, toddler books, work books, etc. Then we have shelves of our books; novels, series, etc. We also have reference books, text books, medical dictionaries and such. Not to mention we each have a stack of “currently reading” on our night stands and then the shelf of bibles/marriage/parenting “go-to” books. We still have several totes of books in storage.  I feel like I’m drowning in books!  –Hailey

Ah, yes.  Books.  I love books.  There’s so much potential in a bookshelf stacked to the brim.  Of course, as our family has grown, that bookshelf (or bookshelves) has become needed for other things.  After all, those toys and blocks need to be stored somewhere.  We have a small home (under 1k square feet) and everything in it needs to be functional or clutter and chaos can take over faster than you’d think.

So what is a lover of both organization and books to do?

First, categorize and prioritize.  It isn’t easy, but figure out which books are actually used on a regular basis.

Let’s take a look at Children’s Books. 

 Chances are, in your collection of board books and toddler books, only a portion of them are read through regularly.  Are there books you feel ambivalent about?  Boring ones?  Shallow, stupid ones?  Annoying ones?  The ones where you die a little bit inside when your child pulls it out for you to read?  You know what I’m talking about.  Get rid of them!

Keep the engaging ones, the prettily illustrated ones, the educational-in-a-fun-way ones, and the rhyming, humorous, fun-to-read-out-loud ones.  Keep anything your child is in love with (unless you really, really don’t like it yourself).  In summary, keep the ones you love and discard the ones you don’t.

You may have a smaller pile of books at the end of it, but it will be so much easier to find what you’re looking for.  Plus, you won’t have to worry about the mystery-book your child comes back with when you send them to fetch one from the shelf.  In our home, a few of our reading favorites are the Dr. Seuss books and the Arch Bible stories.  I’m a sucker for anything written in rhyming verse.  It’s just so fun to read!

If you have a preschooler or school-aged child, you probably have a few workbooks lying around.  Treat these the same way.  Simplify, simplify.  Find what you love and keep it.  Work it from cover to cover.  Don’t collect a gazillion of them just ‘because’ it might make your child smarter.  Being intentional about what you keep, will help you be more intentional about what you teach.


On to Adult literature…  Fiction, novels, and other One-time Reads…

I’ve been reading for pretty much my entire life.  If it were up to me, I’d keep all of my favorites (and there’s a lot of them) out and on display.  Many of them, I want to save for my children to read.  However, for many books, it will be 13+ years until my child is mature enough to read them.  You can see how storing them out in the open (using up valuable, functional space) for that long is impractical.

So, cut it down.  Save… maybe 10?  Ten of your all-time-favorites, I’m-saving-for-my-children books.  These are the fun books you adore but probably won’t pick up again anytime in the near future.

For the other books you enjoyed, turn them into lists.  I have a list as long as my arm of “Books I Want My Kids to Read”.  Chances are, I’ll be able to pick them up for a few dollars when my kids are in gradeschool or highschool and old enough to appreciate them.  And I won’t have them cluttering up valuable space in the meantime.   Give them away to someone who can enjoy them now.  Or give them away as a long-term, no-pressure loan. 


What about reference books? 

Before keeping a reference book on your shelf, answer this question:  Does this book contain information I can’t find on the internet?  The internet knowledge is so vast and happens to be awesomely efficient in the space-saving department.  If your answer is yes, and you know you’ll be referring to the book regularly, then keep it.

My husband and I keep several Stage-of-Life reference books out.  Pregnancy/Labor, child-rearing material, wife/homemaking reference books for me.  Economic/Investing strategies, small-business owning skills for my husband (this will vary depending on your husband’s job).  We also keep some interest-specific reference books out.  That would be Writing/Blogging books for me, and self-sufficiency or military history books for my husband. 

Don’t keep huge, bulky dictionaries or concordances (that’s what the internet’s for).  Don’t keep reference books for things you have no interest in (fishing, sewing, etc, unless you like those things).

Of course, as a Christian, your regular reading material should include the Bible (and any current devotionals/theology books), so keep those handy.


What about the books you want to read?

First, be realistic.  How much reading time do you actually have?  As a busy mom of littles, I don’t have that much.  Maybe, 15 minutes a day if I wake up before the kids do.  Because of this, I have to be selective. 

I pretty much get my fiction-fix from 2-hour movies nowadays.  Sometimes I’ll multi-task to a guilt-free audio book.  My to-read list includes more of the practical how-to-be-a-better-wife, mother, or Christian literature.  That random book I want to read on Mesopotamian history is not going to trump those anytime soon.  So I gave it away.  I’ll buy it again when my kids are grown and out of the house.

Right now, I’ve thinned my Want-to-Read books down to one shelf-full.  For the little reading time I have, I know that one shelf will easily last me a year or more.

Some tips: 

1) Explore digital, clutter-free mediums, like the Kindle.

Sure, nothing beats the ‘book smell’ or the feel of crisp pages between your fingers, but then it’s hard to beat the digital prices or space-saving awesomeness.  I bought a Homemakers Ebook Bundle last year for $35.  I got several hundred books (which I would never have been able to fit in my house), all for a great price and zero clutter.

2) Multi-task with an Audio book!

Life is busy.  I get it.  But another perk of the modern age is the arrival of audio books!  Think about getting an membership.  If you buy the yearly package, it comes to something like $10 per book.  Not exactly, Goodwill prices, but then Goodwill doesn’t include someone to read the book to you either.  For a year, you can choose two audio books a month out of their vast collection.  I love the multi-tasking gift of audio books.  It’s a great way to get laundry done and read something at the same time.  It also works wonderfully for my husband, who does a lot of driving for his work.

3) If your husband is a book lover, don’t start thinning through his books for him.  Trust me, that will get ugly pretty quickly.  Explain specifically what you need the space for and try to come to some middle ground.  My husband is not the minimalist-at-heart that I am and his books are his babies.  Giving them away is like giving away part of his soul.  I’ve learned that the hard way.

The best tip I can offer here would be to corral his books in his office or husband-specified part of the house.  Perhaps specify a Husband-Only Bookshelf.  When that gets full or his office starts overflowing, hopefully he’ll deal with the quantity himself. 

I hope that helps!  I’d be interested in knowing any book-storing tips on your end!

12 thoughts on “Book Organization for the Small Home

  1. Jan says:

    Great suggestions. I love my Nook and Kindle app on my iPad. I get daily emails of free books for them based on genres I like. (Bookbub, ereader news today, etc) I have way more books than I’ll read in my lifetime for free, no clutter. Also don’t forget the brick and mortar library…for donating books that you revisit and for their online resources. Many libraries now have a membership to an elibrary (my library uses Wilbor) where I can borrow Ebooks and audio books! Yay! I save money using it and stopped spending money on They were fine but pricey for my tastes.
    I totally agree on being picky about which books to keep for kids reading later. One thing I keep in mind is how much more likely they are to read it digitally when they’re ready and classics are free digitally anyway. Plus there’s the factor that my son’s choices will be vastly different from what mine were! And who knows what my daughter will want…I want them to remember the feel of a real book (we have tons of real books and I sell children’s books so we always have a fresh supply mixed with our favorites), but I won’t discount the convenience and aww of digital books for my young ones. The biggest reason I got an iPad was for books while traveling so we didn’t have to lug a huge bag…we still take a few real book on trips but not as many, especially when we fly.
    But storage does involve some tough love and real consideration. Regular decluttering is a must.

  2. Beth S. says:

    You’ve hit our Achilles Heel, Kelsey! Great suggestions, though. 🙂

  3. Machelle says:

    While I have a Kindle, as do most of my children, and see the value in getting rid of a few books, using your Kindle for travel etc. I could never voluntarily part with any large portion of our books. As a large homeschooling family we have a library in our home – curriculum, theological books, reference books, historical fiction, how-to books, self-help books, gardening books, spiritual growth books etc. etc. etc. It is part of our lifestyle. Thus instead of getting rid of books when they reached the place of overtaking our home, we bartered to have someone build us built-in bookshelves around our dining room windows and in the wasted space up high next to the ceiling for those books we use less often. It was the perfect compromise.

    I did enjoy reading your post. I just cringed at the thought of parting with something that is such an integral part of our lives : )

    • I'm Kelsey! says:

      Don’t get me wrong, Machelle. I DREAM of having the space for a complete library in my home someday. If you have the space, I say go for it! In our small home, however, we have to be more choosy. Thanks for reading!

  4. Jeanine says:

    I am a downsizer too; not necessarily because we don’t have space, perhaps it’s due to our many moves and my love of organization, so I really enjoyed reading all your ideas! I’m always trying to give simplifying ideas to others too, like you mentioned, we have the internet now to look up so much info. that we used to need books for!

  5. Becca says:

    Hi there lovely… Found you b/c a friend shared your cus Lewis inspired post to tired mommas… I fit that bill! I am preggers with a third boy and the two that keep me running are 2.5 and almost 5. I’m finding a handful of things here to relate to and man I totally hear you on small homes and needed to pritoritize what I keep in it! Thanks for the fresh motivation to do some decluttering. Be blessed! -becca in mn

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