One Shelf Library.

Its a real b!+@# trying to narrow down which books you can keep in the house when you are downsizing. It can also be difficult NOT buying that book you want to read, or knowing which books will be read enough times to be worth the space you saved for it on your one tiny shelf available for books. It isn’t an easy task, but I believe I have some worth while suggestions for you on just which books are worth that precious space.

The average shelf in a book case is about 32″ wide, 16″ tall, and 12″ deep. Each of these measurements vary by manufacturer and bookshelf style, of course. These, however, are the averages of most book shelves sold in U.S.A.. These are the measurements I will be referring to in my “One Shelf Library” project.

I’m a firm believer in reference books. We are only as smart as we allow ourselves to be, and some books are not “readable”, we just need them one entry at a time. We need to refer to them often. For that reason, I find it very necessary for every library to possess a dictionary and thesaurus. You can, of course, purchase a combined copy of these. Personally, I recommend separate dictionary and thesaurus.

These choices will use a total of 4.9″ of your shelf, leaving us 27.1″ left to fill.

I’d like to say I know how to do everything. My mother might tell you I DO, in fact, believe this. I’ll admit I do not, though. Therefore, we need to add a few “how-to” books to the shelf. A cook book is an essential, and of all the cook books you can choose I believe it best to know how to eat cheap, relatively easy, and at least somewhat healthy. I also believe that it is necessary to know how to take care of a home on your own — from house repair to growing your own food. For these reasons I’d like to add the following books to our One Shelf Library.

Together, these books will require 3.1″ of space. When combined with the reference books, this leaves 2 feet.

We are almost finished with our nonfiction section. While we all may choose to follow different beliefs, we are all capable of finding a book that can teach us more about whatever religion or lifestyle we choose to follow. For me, that is Christianity, but for you that might be something else. If our shelf were bigger, I’d suggest owning copies of many different religious and holy books. This helps us to understand one another better. For now, add your “holy” book in here.

  • Bible (New Living Translation) $16

For me this leaves 22.3″ I can cover with more books.

Poetry is an integral part of Literature of all languages. There is a poetry book out there in every language, for every age range, and compiled into selections for all varieties of situations. I, personally, prefer to own copies of poets with entertaining visual language. I suggest owning two books of poetry, preferably with different styles or subjects.

These books add up to 3.7″, leaving 18.6″ to deal with.

Here is where you add in a couple of classics, a couple of favorites, and the books necessary for emotional survival. You can choose these randomly on your own, but again I have a formula.

Now to fill the remaining 12.8″ of space on the shelf with your favorite fictions.

I was able to fill my fiction ranks with 2.4″ remaining. Depending on the actual size of your shelf, this might mean its full! Some of you will still have space left. This space could be (or maybe should be) filled with a book end, depending on the type of shelf your books are being placed in/on. If you still have space you need to fill, consider a nonfiction book you’d like to read/own. For me this would likely be a book on writing, such as On Writing Well by William Zinsser or The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Perhaps you aren’t a writer. An Encyclopedia on one of your favorite topics could also be a fun choice; try Wonder Woman Encyclopedia, for instance, or The Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. If biographies, memoirs or general nonfiction are more your speed, then You are a Badass, The 5 Love Languages, or Talking As Fast As I Can (by Lauren Graham) might be a good choice.


IF you’ve made all the same choices at myself, and you buy all new hardback books at Amazon, this will cost you around $389 plus tax. If you had the extra room for the nonfiction books at the end, you can tack on about $30 to the end of it, bringing the total to about $419 + tax.

There are, of course, more economical choices. Raid your local garage sales. Local libraries sometimes sell old and distressed books. You can buy used from Amazon too.

So that’s my One Shelf Library Formula. Happy building!


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