Organizing a shelf sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? But look around almost any living space, and one can see that putting books and objects on a shelf can be quite challenging.

Many have the (false) idea that organizing shelving is costly and time-consuming, and the time spent maintaining organized shelving is too much to be bothered with. We often think, “I could never keep it that beautiful.”

Many feel overwhelmed by the prospect of organization. Others use shelves, cubbies and other storage spaces simply as functional spaces and discard all aesthetics, but storage shelves can still be practical yet beautiful at the same time.

Having beautiful, organized shelves is usually free, or can be done on a very strict budget, and organized shelves take much less time to maintain than the time spent constantly searching for your favorite items. Here’s how to get started.

Choose one space to tackle first.
I would recommend you work with a grouping of shelves (for example, the shelves underneath your television) so your final display will appear cohesive, but if that feels too overwhelming, feel free to begin with just one shelf.

Assess your needs.
What do you use this space or shelving for? One of the major mistakes homeowners make with organization is that they don’t store things where they will use them. For example, if you read in the bedroom, that is where your bookshelves should be. Otherwise, you’ll either rarely get your books out or (more commonly) rarely put them away.

Commit to a thorough cleaning.
Do you have more items than shelf space? If so, you may have to make some hard decisions about what you want to keep and/or display. Items you use in that area should stay, but otherwise begin by getting rid of the good to make room for the best.

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Arrange your items where they will be most useful, then go for beauty.
Go through your “keep” pile and decide what needs to go where, or what decor or items would look best or be most useful on what particular shelf or area. Put those things in the places that you’ve chosen and see how you like it. This may take a bit of time, but once you find what works, you’re done for good!

Additional Tips:

  • Is your shelf close to a high-traffic area? If so, you may use it as your junk catcher, which can actually be a good thing. This keeps mail, keys and other miscellaneous items from spilling over into the main living space. This will be a good place to display bins, boxes or bowls that will also do double duty as catch-alls. Wall hooks or other hanging storage also work well in this area.


  • Do you have shelving that is high up or hard to get to? If so, this will be a space that you’ll hide seasonal or rarely used items, or these may be shelves that you use only for artwork or other collectables you would like to keep on display.


  • If you need extra cubbies, bins or baskets to keep things organized or hidden, think outside of the box – literally. Vases, terra cotta pots, beautiful mixing bowls … all can be used for storage and bought for pennies at garage sales and outlets. And these same items make wonderful bookends and help showcase your creativity.
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  • As you place your items, think about balance and impact. Rarely does a shelf look balanced and natural when all items are perfectly symmetrical, or straight and centered. Balance a tall frame with a small jar. Use groupings of smaller items, such as putting three vases with different heights together.


  • Mix and match. Place cherished, worn items with new items on the same shelf to create contrasts. Try to mix colors and heights of items to create the most impact.


Most importantly, have fun! If you don’t like the looks of things, you can always modify it. And don’t be afraid to change up your design as you or your family’s needs change. No matter how beautiful it looks, open shelving and storage doesn’t make sense when it doesn’t work for you.


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