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The SST Guide to Styling A Bookshelf

May 13, 2014

I think I have touched on this before, but if not in order to properly understand the SST story, you must know that Wilson is a complete and utter hoarder. He holds on to something, ANYTHING, for any possible reason and for far too long.

A few years ago while encouraging him to expunge some of his clutter, I suggested that he throw away a 007 Bond video game from a Nintendo 64 that he owned in 1996. Aghast and affronted by my request, he sputtered, “No we can’t throw that away! That was my favorite game!” After I asked him if he still owned the actual Nintendo 64, he responded: “No but I was thinking about buying one on eBay. I think it’d be so cool to have people over and have a party to play the game.”

When Wilson plans the party, I’ll be sure to send you an invitation.

Then there’s little ol’ me, who loves to throw anything and everything away because I despise clutter. It is a guilty pleasure of mine to consistently reduce the amount of things I own, and of course I do it to a drastic degree.

When we moved in together, Wilson and I had an interesting — shall we say eclectic — mix of household items and furniture. I took it upon myself to reduce the amount of riff raff we owned and deduce it to an organized — shall we say thoughtful — array of things, keeping only the items that were absolutely necessary and that demonstrated unyielding utility.

Pre-Hurricane Anti-Hoarder Anna, we owned three can openers.


I cannot possibly explain the anxiety and distress possessing THREE OF THE SAME THING caused me. I”m getting upset right now just thinking about it. Cue another swig of Malbec. Because I am an extremely generous person and always put the needs of others before my own, I donated the two spare can openers to the Salvation Army — along with a slew of other items Wilson doesn’t know about, until now of course — and felt very good about myself for the rest of the day because of my commitment to both philanthropy and organization.

A few weeks later, the aforementioned commitment to philanthropy and organization was severely questioned when I made an enormous pot of chili and needed to open approximately 15 cans of food. Shit. “We used to have at least two can openers,” Wilson said briskly, dangerously cutting his eyes at me. If looks could kill. “Where could they possibly be? Wouldn’t it be so nice if we each had an opener so we could open all these cans at the same time so it wouldn’t take as long?!” Double shit.

Clearly there are some advantages to being a hoarder, as learned from my dear Wilson.

Besides having an extra can opener when you need it, hoarding provides myriad odds and ends from which to choose items to style your bookshelf. Thanks to Wilson’s unnatural penchant for keeping stuff, I was able to easily and satisfactorily arrange the bookshelf in our living room — and the one in our loft and guest bedroom too, for that matter.

Wilson did you think I’d ever say thank you for hoarding? Don’t worry I’m not. I’m just saying I didn’t detest it quite as much on the day when I organized this bookshelf.


Tip #1 to organizing your bookshelf — shop in your own home. This is a 100% free way to shop for things to put on your bookshelf. You can’t get any more #plasticforkbudget than that.  I shopped in Wilson’s unbelievable amounts of shit stuff he’d amassed over the years, and you should do the same. Look for great hardback books, pretty photographs, trinkets from the past — the blue bird above was my Grandmother’s — mementos from a fantastic vacation… Anything and everything that you think looks pretty, pull it together to arrange on your bookshelf.

teapot bookshelf

Tip #2: Once you select the things you like most from your clutter, separate out the books. Books are the most important element of a well-organized bookshelf. Your goal for your bookshelf is a collected, lived-in look, not like you spent hours moving things around an inch or so until they are just perfect — don’t even act like I’m the only one who does this — and a variety of books, both paper and hardback, achieve this tricky balancing act.

I was lucky because Wilson owned a million hardback books about UNC and Tar Heel basketball, which were perfect for displaying on the shelf. All I did was remove the covers from the books — no I did not throw them away, Wilson would disown me if I damaged his precious UNC memorabilia — and then organized them by size and color. In the picture above, I stood them vertically in the upper shelf and arranged them in a faux rainbow, and then stacked some other books horizontally and put a picture of Wilson’s family on top on the lower shelf. Whatever you feel looks right, go with it. It’s your shelf for heaven’s sake. 

books on bookshelf

My beautiful and silver spoon taste Herend china dessert plate.

Tip #3: Decide how you want to space each grouping of items together. Do you want the items spaced out to give the shelf a more modern, simple feel? Or do you want to mimic an actual library, and stack books on magazines on anything until the shelves are completely filled? Both are great looks, it just depends on your style. Personally I like a less-cluttered look — shocked, I’m sure — and so I space each little group of things together about four inches apart. Surprisingly I did not measure between each grouping. Maybe my OCD is improving.

books and conch

Wilson and I brought back the conch above from our honeymoon in Turks and Caicos. We drank a lot of rum punch and Wilson made friends with everyone. People love him, especially when he’s been overserved.

bookshelf upclose

Tip #4: Edit yourself. Even if you are going for a library, cluttered look for your bookshelf, you always need to scale it back just a touch to make sure everything goes together. Coco Chanel recommended that every woman should remove one piece of whatever they are wearing before they leave the house to ensure they aren’t overdone — same concept here. You should remove one or two things from your bookshelf styling to make sure it’s not too much.

side table

Another example of using books for decorating.

The good thing about bookshelf styling is the overall look of the shelf can easily be tweaked, changed or completely overhauled in just one afternoon. You could even accomplish it in a cocktail hour if you have a good bottle of red as your motivation. Try out my tips and let me know how it goes by leaving me a comment. I love hearing from you my pretties…

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  • Reply Reston May 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Wilson gets the hoarding from Murray! Dad holds on to everything, including all of his magazines. He just says he will read them later. Maybe it is genetic? I hope I don’t have it!

    I have been meaning to redo my bookcase for a while now because I have gotten some new pictures. I have great old books that were my grandfathers. I am hoping to accomplish this reorg this weekend as long as Beasley leaves me alone long enough to get it done.

    • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Haha I love it! Tell Beasley that she needs to entertain herself for a bit because bookshelf styling is very important!

  • Reply Leslie May 13, 2014 at 9:39 am

    And thanks to your OCDness, the Ronald McDonald House also had tons of items for our yard sale!

    • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Haha oh yes! Let me know if y’all need some more things, I’m sure I could scrounge up more stuff… 🙂

  • Reply Catherine McCloskey May 13, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I think a copy of The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky would round out the book collection. You can tell Wilson I have a copy for him 🙂

    • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm

      Hahaha Catherine those are fighting words!!! I’m telling Wilson!

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  • Reply Wilson, the Hoarder May 13, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    What else of mine did you throw away?!

    • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      I’ll never tell… AND YOU’LL NEVER NOTICE.

  • Reply Patrice Boyd May 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    What is wrong with hoarders?

    • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      Mom — you and Wilson can hoard together. Once a hoarder, always a hoarder. xoxo

  • Reply JGray May 14, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    goldeneye would look great under the ceramic piece in that last photo. brit and i own a console and look forward to your russian themed, black tie n64 martini party. #proximitymines

    • Reply Anna May 15, 2014 at 7:49 am

      John Gray do not dare bring that thing even an inch near our house or ELSE. Not to mention I threw away the game. YES!

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