Organize Your Books & Magazines

I know a couple whose apartment is always picture perfect. They both work full time outside the home and have no children. There has always been something missing in their environment. A mutual friend of ours put her finger on it one day when she said casually: "Jean and Tom's apartment looks like nobody lives there. In fact, it looks like a hotel room!" Indeed it does. You won’t find books, magazines, music or catalogs -- in other words, signs of life -- anywhere. Without them, there was a sterile quality to Jean's and Tom's surroundings.

Are you surprised to discover I feel this way? I’m certain many of you assume that as a professional organizer, I'd probably suggest you eliminate all of these items from your home. In truth, I want you to organize them in a way that enables you to enjoy them and, if appropriate, share them with others. I do not want you to be controlled or overwhelmed by these items. Brought into the average home or office without rhyme or reason, magazines, books and catalogs will take over like a plague of locusts.

Let’s consider the meaning of a 'Zen organized' home. It is a dwelling or office that emanates peace and calm. It is a physical place where the Souls of all its occupants and those who visit feel nurtured and welcome. It yields its treasures on demand and never adds to the strife in our lives. Sound impossible to achieve? For over a dozen years I have created environments like these for clients across the country. I live in one myself. Let’s take a look at the practical steps involved. You'll be amazed how easy it all is!

It seems that every house I visit has a problem with catalogs, magazines or books. Take a minute to look at the situation in your home, asking yourself these questions:

  • Do professional periodicals and newsletters get saved but never read?
  • Are you a magazine subscription junkie?
  • Can you remember the last time you actually had the time to read one of the many books you've brought home?
  • Do you have several years of the same catalogs piled high in a basket?

Let's look at each category separately and see if we can tame this tiger. With a little effort, you can release your role as a slave to reading matter.

Isn't it fun to look through a beautiful catalog? They make it easy to shop. They give us ideas for organizing, decorating and projects. They can also pile up around the house like a fungus. Here's a simple solution to the problem:

  • Get a pretty basket for your catalogs and keep it in the family room. You can browse through them while you're watching TV. If your basket can barely accommodate a copy of TV Guide, it's too small. If it could hold a normal-size two-year-old, it's too big.
  • Immediately toss catalogs you didn't request or ones you have no interest in.
  • When the latest edition of a catalog arrives, toss out the previous one, even if you haven't read it. It takes only a minute and will give you an enormous sense of control.
  • If you receive catalogs related to work and you want them for reference material, try keeping them in labeled magazine holders from your office supply store. You can get an inexpensive one made out of cardboard or a fancy one in a colorful plastic. They can be kept in your office along with all other support materials.
  • I shop for clients from my catalogs, so I keep them in categories. If someone wants help finding a kitchen tool, I won't have to riffle through my garden and clothing catalogs to find the resource material I need. You may want to create categories in your basket.

Here's the bottom line on magazines: If you aren't reading the ones you subscribe to, cancel your subscriptions. It's just that easy to relieve the stress from your life that stacks of unread magazines will create. Isn't it sad that something that should bring us joy can make us feel so guilty? You can always skim the new issues in the supermarket, and if you want a particular issue, you can bring it home.

Getting Your Money's Worth
When I subscribed to two magazines, I kept issues for one year. The day the newest issue arrived, I tossed the oldest. About two years ago, I decided I needed a little fun in my life and I added some magazines I can only describe as "eye candy." I still keep the new issue on the coffee table, but I have no previous issues lurking in the background.

Once you up the ante and have multiple magazines coming into your home, you need to be a little more aggressive. Let's consider the $3 you might spend on a fancy coffee drink. Your latte doesn't last very long, does it? Nevertheless, you feel satisfied with the few minutes of pleasure you derived from the drink. In just the same way, a magazine doesn't have to be read cover to cover. If it gives you 15 minutes of pleasure the day it arrives, you have gotten your money's worth.

Here are some tips to help you keep the magazines you do want in your home in order:

  • Keep the current issues out on the coffee table so that family and guests can share the fun.
  • If you want to keep back issues, store them in labeled magazine containers as we did with catalogs, or try a beautiful basket in the living room. This basket will be bigger than the one we chose for catalogs. Try the one-year rule: Toss the oldest when the newest arrives. Feel free to use a shorter time frame.
  • Magazines that are devoted to specific interests are best stored in the area where the related activity takes place. For example, your husband might like his carpentry magazines in the garage near his workbench. Your children will enjoy their magazines in their rooms where they can share them with friends.
  • Work-related magazines should be kept in your office in magazine holders. Now that they come in pretty colors, you can give your practical collection a festive touch.

I was raised with the saying "A house without books is like a house without windows." I agree with Oprah that reading can expand your horizons. With that said, I think there needs to be a rhyme and reason to how we keep our books in our homes and offices. Here are a few guidelines from my book The Zen of Organizing:

  • Divide the collection so that books are strategically placed around the house. Keep specific genres closest to the person who will most enjoy them. For example:
    1. I prefer biography, spiritual and self-help books and like to keep them in my bedroom.
    2. Reference books stay in my office. I wouldn't expect to find my guests browsing through the latest in organizing books when they come for dinner.
    3. When I had a country house, I kept novels in the guest room.
    4. Cookbooks generally reside in the kitchen.
    5. If Dad likes to tinker in the garage working on cars or refinishing furniture, why not create a reference shelf to help support his efforts?
    6. Categorize books before you place them on shelves. Why have your collection of history books scattered on the shelves of a bookcase or, worse, scattered throughout the house? When you wonder where a particular book is, you'll have only to remember where you parked that category.
  • My mother taught me a great visual trick to make a bookcase more interesting and inviting. Instead of lining all the books up like soldiers on every shelf, create a varied pattern. A few books can be stacked on the end of a shelf. You can vary the corner you decide to stack: left to start and then right a few shelves down. Collectibles or plants can be interspersed throughout. Make the visual not only interesting but also restful to the eye.
  • I prefer not to alphabetize my books. The shapes vary and the result can be visually disturbing. Remember that your present living space may one day no longer accommodate your growing collection. I'm sure a book or two could be donated to charity the day you send over those clothes you've decided you're not going to wear again.

Remember to enjoy devising your solutions. No facet of getting organized has to be a bore. Nor does it have to be written in stone or what we live with forever. Collections change, and so do the ways we keep them under control.

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