The D’Arcy decimal system

Can a right-brained DIYer actually have fun with decimals? Let’s find out!

After weeks of toiling in the spare room, it’s finally almost done. I still need to buy a new ceiling light fixture. Our electrician, if he ever calls back, needs to rewire the room … then we’ll finish the closet. But right now, I want to show you our new bookcases.

Before we could put them in place, we had to dismantle the guest bed, which our house-sitting friend used while we were on vacation. The cats were disappointed to see their quiet nap space go away.

spare room bed

To create our library wall, we purchased two bookcases: one to match the six-footer that we already have (one for me, one for Eric), and a shorter one in the same style, but with glass doors, which is identical to one in our living room. I was excited to move all of my books out of the dining room storage boxes and into the bookcases … but by the time I finished I was bummed that I’d only eliminated three boxes from the pile of stored stuff. Oh, well … reorganization happens one box at a time (I tell myself). There used to be three more boxes in the front row of this mess.

dining room

I also wanted to move this row of books that I had cleverly parked under the dining room window seat years ago, before so many cats lived here. Since then, these books have been clambered upon, hidden behind, and made to suffer many other feline-induced indignities. Plus, I have a stash of animal stories in the living room’s leaded glass cases. Oh—and all my landscape design books are in the living room’s glass-doored bookcase. Pretty scattered.

row of books under windowseat

I hauled everything into the spare room—all of my books in one place, at last! Well, not quite. I have several more boxes in the attic, which I’m sure could fill another tall unit … not to mention books I inherited from my parents. I don’t even want to think about Eric’s extended collection, the extent of which makes me cry, which fills dozens of boxes in a storage unit. It’s true … writers are loath to get rid of books!

I suppose simply getting the books on the shelves would be enough for some folks, but I demand organization. This is a quirk of my personality that I can’t explain. Why can I live with the household clutter of two pack-ratty people, pet-hair dust bunnies, and remodeling chaos, yet I alphabetize my spices and need a system for shelving books? I’ll let you ponder that.

alphabetized spice rack

Why reinvent the wheel? Why not use the Dewey Decimal system? You remember that, right? No? For as much time as I spent in libraries as a kid, all I could recall was that fiction is filed alphabetically by author’s last name, and biographies are in the 920s. Here are the nonfiction classifications. Does this ring a bell?

000 – Generalities
100 – Philosophy and psychology
200 – Religion
300 – Social sciences
400 – Language
500 – Science
600 – Technology
700 – Arts and recreation Literature
800 – Literature
900 – History and geography

For fiction, I thought about organizing by subject matter instead of by author, but alpha-by-author won out because at some level it bugged me not to have all my Amy Tan books in a row. (And anyhow, I have only three shelves of fiction—hardly unbrowsable!)

Armed with some categories jotted down on an envelope, I set to work putting nonfiction titles in order. It wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. Where would you file Field Guide to Elvis Shrines? Soon I had to call in my computer. I discovered that I could look up most books by searching on “‘title’ dewey decimal classification,” and find the first three digits of their classification number. Elvis shrines, you’ll be happy to learn, belong in 782, vocal music.

Speaking of shrines, I decided to enshrine my beloved art (730–770) and architecture (720) books in the glass-front cabinet. Until I amassed them, I had no idea I had so many! They wouldn’t all fit.

unsorted books

So, I moved all of my gardening and landscape design books (710) back to the living room bookcase. Ditto my books about animals (636 – animal husbandry? Really?) I wasn’t fussy about how I ordered the architecture books. I simply grouped them by affinity: Craftsman bungalow, Midcentury Modern, etc. Okay, I was fussy.

The architecture and interior design (740) books alone completely filled the glass cabinet. The art books spilled over onto the bottom shelf of Eric’s bookcase, which he organized in a similar manner. (A friend of mine recently purged her book collection—something I should maybe consider. Instead, I enthusiastically took a pile of vintage art books off her hands. And you wonder why I have so many …)

Here it is—our library wall—DONE! (except for the books in the attic … and in storage.) It’s crowned with my mom’s monstrous 1936 Royal typewriter.

organized library wall

Royal typewriter

So … can a right-brained DIYer have fun with decimals? I have no idea. I used only the digits to the left of the decimal point. Hey, close enough!



21 thoughts on “The D’Arcy decimal system

  1. Jessica@CapeofDreams

    The bookshelves fit perfectly. They look as though they were custom built, and the typewriter is the icing on top. I understand your pain in culling your books,but sometimes it has to be done. The books are not doing anyone any good sitting in the attic or in storage after all! Unless someone is enjoying them books do not have any value.

  2. Jo

    I know just what you mean about the organization vs clutter. A small orderly space can take one’s mind off loads of and boxes full of precious items. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  3. Karen B.

    I have to say I love the stencil and how it turned out in the guest room. Yep, I’m actually right brained most of the time, but have just enough left brain activity to have an OCD personality. Where books are concerned, I have them color coordinated for the current trend, but I’m truly on a “paring down, minimalist” trend. Many titles are headed to Friends of the Library.

    You’re doing a great job and its fun to see the progress.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Hi Karen! Glad you like the stencil. It’s my favorite part. I’ve never heard of color-coordinating books, but I guess if you can visualize the cover (which I usually can do even after a long time), you could find any book on the shelf. Interesting concept. I need to get on the minimalist trend, myself!

  4. Africadayz

    Isn’t it funny how difficult it can be to part with books? In our big “downsizing” exercise, I’m finding it the hardest thing. Well done with sorting yours although just the mention of decimals is enough to start me hyper-ventilating. I’ve recently seen books shelved according to their colour… Looks great but doesn’t help when looking for something in a hurry.

  5. D'Arcy H Post author

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I love “meeting” readers from around the world! I didn’t know organizing books by cover color was really a “thing” until now. It wouldn’t work for me–I actually want to be able to find them! Besides, getting reacquainted with the Dewey system seemed good for my brain!

  6. Cathy Lee

    Totally never would have guessed where Elvis shrines belong! I love the bookcases, but I especially love that you joyfully (well, that may be the wrong word, let’s try ‘happily’!) let us see what a messy work in progress this remodeling journey really is …

  7. shellgren

    I was just revisiting this page when it dawned on me what I have used as my primary book cataloging system. D’Arcy went to her variation of the Dewey Decimal System. I have determined that my system is the Louie Decimal System (did they ever free Huey?). The shelves went in easily and the room looks great now. New window treatments are in place (in MY day we called them pull-down shades) and it is a peaceful room now. D’Arcy had a great vision for the room and I love it.

    By the way, it was actually fun to watch and help D’ go through the process of cataloging her books. My part was to sit and watch and occasionally look a book up online to see where it might fit.

  8. Cindi M

    Found your blog last night on Hartwood Roses and have spent this cold, rainy day recovering from pollen, reading your blog. I shared this page on my Facebook page. I have over 400 garden books and have started bringing home old garden guides from the fifties when I find them at estate sales. They are kinda, sorta organized, probably from another time stuck home with prednisone-induced frenzy. Thanks for sharing all the work and pain as well as the successes.

    1. D'Arcy H Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Cindi! Since I wrote this post, I’ve heard a lot from friends about their book collections and how they organize them. Hope your allergies get better soon!


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