The Secret to Combining Bookshelves With Someone

Take your time, do it right.

When you’re moving in with someone, there are fewer commitments bigger than merging your two bookshelves—certainly with a roommate, and especially with a significant other. After living with roommates who kept separate shelves for the past three years, I’ll be sharing space when my boyfriend moves in with his book collection in tow. Here are a few tips for you (and for me) on the best way to combine our shelves, from accounting for new and different tastes, to the actual mechanics of how to display a suddenly larger collection:


Approach with optimism. This is not a temporary change: You’re intentionally putting a lot of work into something that would take as much, if not more, time to take apart. Don’t fixate on the future; think about what you’re doing now.

couple looks at book

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Streamline. This is where the real hope comes in—you trust that it’s OK to get rid of duplicates. Stack up all of the books you have multiple copies of and decide what you want to do with them: Save a copy to lend out to friends? Donate the whole stack to a used bookstore?

two copies, same book

Decide how you’ll organize. This is the most fun part! Do you alphabetize? Designate different genres? Organize by color? Do certain books—comics or art books—get displayed in a special way that shows off their visuals? This gives you the opportunity to create a system that matches both of your personalities. However, you’ll have to be flexible…

rainbow shelf


Understand that you’ll have different tastes or preferences. You might look askance at a certain genre or author that your roommate or significant other brings to the table, but there’s no room for judgment here. Find spots for every book, in ways that interact with the patterns you’ve already set up. And who knows—maybe once those books are part of the larger collection, each of you will be inspired to pull something new off the shelf!Graphic Novel Shelf

Don’t leave anything out. My boyfriend’s definitely a bookworm as well, but he also loves collecting action figures and other knickknacks. Rather than relegating them to their own section of the apartment, I want these toys and collectors’ items to share shelf space with our books. Cute touches like that—or special trinkets, or a little potted succulent—break up the book spines and provide some variety when you’re showing off your shelf to friends.

knick knacks on shelf

Have your own shelf. It sounds counterintuitive, but really it’s giving yourself the best of both worlds. Perhaps you have a double you can’t bear to let go of—a signed edition, or your first copy of a favorite book. Maybe you need certain books more within reach. In this case, get a smaller bookshelf and set it up next to your bed or at your workspace. That way, it doesn’t take away from the work of art you and your roommate/partner have made.

your own shelf

What have you found is the best way to combine bookshelves?


Image credits: Courtesy of IS_ImageSource/, nd3000/, KyusiReaderJohn Nakamura Remy, Torie Partridge, Stulloyd100/, loonara/

About Natalie Zutter

NATALIE ZUTTER has always been a voracious reader, from reading Agatha Christie and Entertainment Weekly above her age level as a kid to squeezing 52 books into the year whenever podcasts aren’t taking over her commute. A 2016 Amtrak Residency writer, Natalie also writes plays about superheroes and sex robots, and Tumblr rants about fandom. You can find her giggling over pop culture memes on Twitter @nataliezutter.

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