Breaking News: The Caterpickles library is no longer sorted by color

R.I.P. visually striking organization system that made me the despair of all my librarian friends. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Six and a half years ago, Michael proposed that we organize all of our book by color. Changing the color of the books in a room would be easier than repainting it, he argued. And so we did. We’ve kept the books organized by color (more or less) ever since.

For years, this system worked reasonably well, although the square footage of the shelves dedicated to our lovely sort-by-color system mysteriously kept shrinking.

First, we exempted the cookbooks on the grounds that hunting for a good recipe is hard enough. (Although Eat Your Books makes it much easier – thanks for the tip, Mrs. Mickey!)

Then we exempted The Ten-Year-Old’s books. When we are looking for a book to read, Michael and I rarely look for a specific one.  Instead, we are perfectly content to browse the shelves until we find one that sounds interesting in that moment. We also don’t reread books in general, so even if we loved a book immensely, we typically don’t worry too much about being able to find it again.

The Ten-Year-Old is a completely different story. She rereads all the time. Every time she’s looking for a book, she’s looking for a specific book. No other book will do. Her books tend to come in series, so finding the exact book to read next is pretty important.

Our sort-the-books by color scheme wasn’t working for her at all. So then we exempted The Ten-Year-Old’s books. In a vain attempt to preserve the office’s sort by color scheme, we moved the Ten-Year-Old’s books out of the office and into bookshelves we set up in her room and in our living room.

You can see where this is going. When The Ten-Year-Old ran out of shelf space, we gave her some shelves in the office — not sorted by color though, because she needed to be able to find things. And so on, until fewer than half of the bookshelves in our home were still sorted by color.

The Ten-Year-Old has been lobbying for us to sort the books alphabetically for some time now. She counts a number of librarians among her Most Influential Adults set, and while I am holding firm against any talk of implementing the Dewey Decimal System in our home, after six months of intense negotiations I finally agreed to sort books by type: fiction vs. non-fiction, young adult vs. grown-up. Possibly even alphabetically by first letter of author’s last name.

“And by series, Mommyo. I want all the books in a series to be together.”

Day 1 debris field. At this point, we had barely even gotten started. (Photo: Shala Howell)

We have an enormous number of books, including multiple copies of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in which Kondo posits that having a mere 40 books is really quite sufficient. I am debating keeping both copies, because the irony of that brings me joy every time I contemplate it, and really, isn’t the point of Kondo’s work to construct a home environment that brings you joy?

I digress. We have an enormous number of books, but with the help of The Ten-Year-Old’s two babysitters, we were able to take down and sort through every book in our house (that we know of) in just three days.

Day 2 Debris Field. Canelo is seriously displeased that the book project has spilled over into his sun room. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Three days later, here we are.

The non-fiction books are grouped loosely according to topic and clustered on one side of the office. The fiction books are arranged even more loosely. The Ten-Year-Old’s books are still on specific shelves in her room, the living room, and on her now-traditional office shelves. They are not alphabetized, but they are all within her reach.

The grown-up fiction books are loosely alphabetized according to the first letter of the author’s last name. The arrangement would still probably cause palpations in every librarian’s heart, but with luck it will work for us.

View in my office this morning (Photo: Shala Howell)

Sadly for Canelo, several hundred discards are still piled up in his sunroom. I guess I’d better deal with those today.

Where’s Canelo? (Photo: Shala Howell)

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About Shala Howell

I write about wildly curious kids, rabbits who hunt dragons, and 1880s Boston. When I’m not scratching my head over pesky characters who refuse to do things how I want them done or dreaming of my next book (which will of course be much easier to write than the current one), I blog about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, muse about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, or tweet about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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