How to Fill Your Bookshelves Without a Large Book Collection

It’s easy for big book fans to fill bookshelves in their homes with everything they’ve ever read or want to read. But not everyone has a large book collection. You may not be a big reader, prefer e-books, borrow from your local library, or choose to pass on your favorites to a friend when done reading. You simply don’t own that many books. But that doesn’t mean bookshelves don’t have a place in your home. Decked with books or otherwise, bookshelves offer both style and supplemental storage. And with a few simple tricks, it’s easy to make them feel full but not cluttered.

Fine Art and Souvenirs

Whether it’s a museum keychain or a one-of-a-kind artisan sculpture, all art has a place on your shelves (by Town of Mt Laurel)

People seem to fear knickknacks nowadays, citing them as tacky, ugly, or dust-magnets. When people travel now, they immortalize the trip and their memories of it with photos and tweets of the event; but in the past, it was custom to bring home a souvenir. I’m not saying that only taking photos is wrong. There isn’t one right way to vacation! But I’m a huge fan of small mementos from trips. Whether you’re traveling around the world or to a local arts and crafts show, small objects, figurines, or other bits and bobs are a great way to preserve the memory… and are right at home on a bookshelf that’s light on books. Even small objects want a little space to “breathe,” so you only need a handful of them to fill your shelves, and showcase your personality while you’re at it.

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Photos, Frames, and Photo Albums

Daria Antique Mirror Photo Frames S/3, 18567 by Uttermost

Not convinced? Well, those photos from your last trip can also make great shelf-filler, especially if you buy a nice set of matching frames. You’ll want ones that are freestanding rather than hung, but you can get creative with “matching;” whether it’s an almost-identical set of different sized frames, or an eclectic collection painted the same color, good coordination will help give your bookshelves a purposeful, designer finish rather than making them feel crammed or cluttered. If you’re still a printed-photo person (rather than keeping them all on a thumb drive), you can even put a photo frame on top of a photo album laid flat for a nice finishing touch that will round out your shelf space. And, really, what better reminder of the important people in your life and the time you’ve spent together?

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Plants, Real or Otherwise

Plants liven up any room, and your brain finds them pleasing whether or not they’re real (by Bask Interiors)

If you don’t have many books, but have a green thumb, a bookshelf can be a great place for a mini indoor garden. I think this look works particularly well with a segmented bookshelf like the one above, but any shelf can work with a little fine-tuning. There’s nothing more lovely than a long-lived pothos cascading down the side of your shelf! That said, depending on the style and location of your shelf, bookcase plants may not get enough sunlight to thrive, or can be in a hard spot to water. Make sure you choose plants that are suited to the room’s environment. Don’t forget to keep a tray underneath to catch any spills or drainage from over-watering. And if all your plant care fails, fake plants can be a lovely alternative to still give the room a little life.

Decorative Storage Containers

Coral Gables Decorative Boxes, 1218-1000/S2 by Elk Home

Attractive storage units can add flair to your otherwise boring cord drawer or sock bin, but have the downside of taking up more space than the practical, plain option. Not so when you’re trying to fill up a bookshelf! When placed out in the open, decorative trays, boxes, or baskets become part of your decor. As with decorative figurines, you’ll want to give them enough space for the best effect – with nothing touching them on either side. But the containers themselves don’t have to be particularly practical, they just have to look good while you’re using them. If you have plenty of fun items in a box, you can keep it open and allow the exterior and interior be decorative. If you have your box full of loose cords or empty because you simply thought it was charming to look at, you can display it closed.

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Bookends (Yes, Really!)

Wine Rack Book Ends (set Of 2), RACK004/S2 by Elk Lifestyle

Now this may seem counterintuitive when the entire premise is decorating a bookcase without books, but hear me out. There are a LOT of cool bookends out there, and they help preserve your titles from bending or sagging. More importantly, they add a lot of heft to even the smallest of book collections. Whether it’s your favorite five cookbooks or the last three NYT bestsellers, a good set of bookends will draw attention to what you’re reading and make it seem curated rather than sparse. So while bookends are redundant for a closed bookshelf or impractical for a large book collection, they’re a great way to make a small collection feel big. Bonus points if the bookends are nicely sculptural or have a secondary function, like a wine rack or clock.

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Don’t be afraid to store something other than a book on a bookshelf because of its name. Whether you have a small collection of books (or none at all), bookshelves can serve as a fantastic canvas for creating a really personalized display. And if you prefer tactile objects to flat wall art, a big bookcase is a great way to replace empty wall space with some great customizable surfaces.

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