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How to Clean & Organize Your Home Library

The subject of how many books a person should own and how those books should be organized can inspire a surprising amount of debate. Perhaps nothing provoked more controversy in Marie Kondo’s Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” than her recommendation to cull your book collection to just 30 titles. The best-selling author and organizing expert encourages clients to select only the ones that truly add value to your life.

At Merry Maids®, our professionals wouldn’t dare put a number on how many books you should or shouldn’t keep—but we can certainly offer some guidance on cleaning and organizing the ones you do! Read on for our tips.

Declutter Your Book Collection

While you should absolutely keep any books that bring you joy, that you still plan to read, or that have sentimental value, most home libraries contain at least a few titles that simply take up space. When it comes to decluttering your book collection, you’ll get the best results by removing all books from their shelves, tables, nightstands, and anywhere else they might live and evaluating them all at once, in the same place.

As you decide on your preferred method of organization (see below!) and return books to their shelves, you’ll be able to consider each book individually. Was it written by your favorite author or was it hard to find? Keep it! Did you start the book three times but just couldn’t get into it? Give yourself permission to let it go.

Not sure what to do with books you no longer want? Here are some ideas:

  • Donate to your local library

  • Gift age-appropriate titles to a school or daycare

  • Trade in for cash or credit at a used bookstore

  • Let friends and family “shop” through them

  • Build a Little Free Library for your neighborhood

  • Upcycle damaged books into crafts or gifts

Decide How to Arrange Your Books

How to arrange books is another topic that creates heated debate. Should you alphabetize by author? Arrange by subject or genre? Embrace chaos and shelve by color? Only you can decide what makes the most sense for your home library. As long as you can find what you need when you need it, the rest is personal preference.

For open shelves, you may want to give extra consideration to aesthetics. The physical dimensions of your shelves may also dictate book arrangement, as some larger books may not fit on certain shelves. Above all, keep shelves neat and tidy—or, at least, artfully disheveled— matter how you choose to categorize your titles. For more on displaying your collection, check our Do’s and Don’ts of Open Shelving.

Take Advantage of a Cataloging App

Once you’ve pared down your collection to only those books you truly want to own, make like a librarian and catalog your titles. You can find many apps or online programs to help you do this, and some even feature a barcode scanner to make things easier. Keep notes on who you’ve loaned a book to and when, or record each book’s location if you have multiple shelves in multiple rooms. You’ll also be able to easily see if you already own a copy of a particular book—no more accidental duplicates!

Keep Your Home Library Clean

Once you have your book collection sorted and arranged, now it’s time to care for it and keep it clean. Books may not seem like something that requires a great deal of care, but anyone who has been inside an old used bookstore knows how dusty things can get. Here are some tips for keeping your books clean and protected from damage.

  • Store books away from direct sunlight. The UV rays can cause fading and warping. If bookshelves must be in the path of the sun, consider adding doors to the shelving or curtains to the windows for added protection.

  • Control humidity in your home. The moisture in the air in humid climates can weaken bindings, warp covers, and stick pages to each other—not to mention fostering mold or mildew growth. If your home is especially humid, you may want to invest in a dehumidifier for the room where your books are kept.

  • Dust books regularly. Ideally, books and bookshelves should be dusted once a week using a microfiber cloth or a clean soft brush, like a makeup brush or paintbrush. For more thorough yet gentle dusting, use the upholstery or brush attachment for your vacuum or cover the vacuum hose with cheesecloth. Vacuum the tops of shelved books, working from spines to openings for best results.

  • Watch out for pests. Insects and rodents can wreak havoc on a book collection. Keep an eye out for signs of infestations, and vacuum the entire area well if you find evidence of insects in books. You may also place affected books in a sealable plastic bag and put it in the freezer for 24 hours or more to kill any pests within the pages. Contact a pest control professional for .

  • Remove bookmarks, papers, or anything else within the pages prior to shelving. These items can crease or discolor pages when left too long.

Looking for even more tips on home organization? Merry Maids® has you covered. Browse through our collection of helpful articles!