You don’t have to scroll far on Instagram to see perfectly curated shelves of hardbacks with all the latest bestsellers. But do you ever feel like the bookshelf goals you see online are like Gatsby’s unread books?

two floating bookshelves with books and a plant and the text "Bookshelf Goals: Redefining Abundance in a #Bookstagram World"

Remember the owl-eyed man in Gatsby’s library who discovered that the pages of Gatsby’s books were uncut? The message is that Gatsby tried to create an image of himself as a well-read Oxford man, but it was all fake.

I feel that way every time I see perfect bookshelves with hardbacks only, or when someone has a rolling ladder on their bookshelf.

Don’t get me wrong, your bookshelf goals are your own. But I can’t help but feel like people care more about the consumerism of books than actually reading them when I scroll through Instagram.

Let this post be a defense of cheap bookshelves. If you have one short bookshelf packed full of paperbacks, that’s rad. If you’re like me and hoard used paperbacks from the library book sale, then know you’re not alone.

(Yes, I have read too many books and I constantly pick up books at sales and think “I already read that book.”)

Rather that achieve an untouchable aesthetic, let’s talk about bookshelf goals you actually want to achieve.

Bookshelf Goals for Real People

Look. You aren’t some viral Instagram account. You’re a real person. This list is to help you stop trying to achieve someone else’s bookshelf goals, and enjoy the bookshelf you have.

001: Buy the books you like.

I feel like this should be obvious, but with the way everyone on social media talks about the same five books at any given time, it might not be.

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You don’t have to buy the current bestseller that everyone’s raving about. You absolutely don’t have to buy it in hardcover. You can be a weird little book goblin like me and only collect used, out of print Mary Stewart paperbacks.

It can be hard to wade through all the book hype online sometimes, and a lot of books that get the big marketing push aren’t always worth it. That doesn’t mean those books aren’t great for the people who like them, but it does mean they aren’t for everyone.

So don’t spend your dollars on books you think you may like because everyone won’t shut up about them. Get the books you absolutely love.

002: Support your local library.

I have a library holds list so long that I will absolutely never be able to read them all.

Okay. That’s not true because my library only allows you to put 10 books on hold at any given time. But best believe my holds queue is full always.

While I love the idea of being able to buy every book I could potentially want to read, I don’t think it’s a great idea in practice. Firstly, that’s a fire hazard and secondly, where do you put them all?

The library is great for books I know I won’t want to read again, or books by authors I’ve never read before. I can absolutely go buy those books after I’ve read them from the library if I really like them.

And the library is probably the most ethical way to consume books. Not only does using the library increase funding for it in your community, but it also encourages the library to purchase more books, which gives your fellow library patrons access to more books.

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003: Kitsch it up!

Everyone’s bookshelves on Instagram are very beige and white. They have a small potted succulent here and there, and maybe some sort of small statue. And that’s it.


I think bookshelves should match their owners. So, if you’re a weird little goblin like me, you probably like to keep weird stuff on your shelves.

I have a bust of the goddess Diana in a witch’s hat and a snow globe and some crystals and a huge ass turkey feather and a stuffed letter M and several other weird things.

It won’t win me any minimalist design awards, but I like it.

004: Organize it how you like.

I know that Instagram likes rainbow bookshelves. But that seems like a great way to never find any of your books ever again.

But if it works for you, go for it.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that you should organize your books however works for you, not in the most aesthetically pleasing way.

Also, there is something to be said of the frumpy book aesthetic. It’s where all your books are yellowing and just sitting on a shelf, covered in dust. It’s the way every used bookstore looks.

It’s not Instagrammable. But it is allergy-inducing!

005: Be proud of what you have.

Look. You worked hard to earn money to buy what you have. So, you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

I know that there are images of bookshelf perfection out there. And when you see someone in their early twenties with solid wood bookshelves full of hardback books, it can feel like you’re behind.

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I feel jealous when I see YouTube videos of people who have dedicated libraries in their house, or when they install their rolling library ladder.

But it’s mostly not real life. And at the end of the day, the most enjoyment you can get from these books is from reading them, not by arranging them in increasingly more expensive ways.

006: Read for the sake of reading, not the sake of consumption.

Let this be my final command on the matter of bookshelf goals.

Read because it’s how you feel connected to the world while simultaneously disconnecting from your everyday life. Read because you love the feeling of getting swept up in a story. Read because you need the adventure.

Don’t read because you purchased a ton of books for the aesthetic and now you’re stuck with them.

Fill your shelves with the books you love and ignore the book marketing hype machine.

What Are Your Bookshelf Goals?

Do you have specific bookshelf goals? Do you want to have a rolling library ladder? What kind of kitschy nonsense do you keep on your bookshelf? Do you also live the bookworm life?

2 Responses

  1. I do happen to buy a lot of new releases, which unfortunately means buying hardback books, which my wallet does not love! My bookshelves are anything but aesthetic though. I also do not have a dedicated library so every shelf in the house is stacked at least two books deep. I have candles (talk about fire hazard!) Kid’s toys that have been taken away, and several ceramic gnomes and a 3d print of Nike of Samothrace decorating them. And I wouldn’t change a thing. I do check books out from the library but I also want authors to get full royalties, so I’m always torn. My only regret is not having more flat surfaces to pile books on!

    1. Hahaha! I feel that. We all need more shelves! And never feel bad about using the library. Royalties are so screwed up these days and pub companies have screwed up royalties in a lot of ways. Some authors actually make more from libraries than sales. It’s a weird time to be alive.

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