Building a Home Library

by | Jun 21, 2021 | Favorite Things | 27 comments

Let’s talk about books, shall we?

On Instagram last week, I shared my latest out-of-control stack of new books to read.  When I order new books, I’ll sit them on the low bookcase under the window of my studio until I take the time to sit down and read them.  When I say “read”, I mean actually read in some cases, but in most cases, I review the books.  I take my time flipping through each page, making notes, and flagging pages I want to revisit, before filing it on the shelf.  (I like to use THESE to flag pages in my books because I can reuse them and they don’t ruin the pages.)  Sometimes, the book goes back in the stack, so I can spend more time with it.  Such is the case with the books sitting at the very bottom of the stack.

building a home library | miss mustard seed

Sometimes the stack can get to be 1-2′ tall if I go on a book-buying-bender.  When I shared all of the books in my to-read-and-put-away pile, I received a lot of comments, questions, and encouragement.  A few people jokingly asked if I needed an intervention while other people added fuel to the fire and recommended their favorite books for me to buy,  It was just an interesting dialog and I thought I would bring it to a blog post.  I also thought I would share my mindset when buying books, why I think my collecting has accelerated over the past year, and my “Dewey decimal” system for keeping things organized and looking nice.

First of all, I’ve been into books for as long as I can remember.  Book fair day was always the best in elementary school and, while I was happy to resell my math and science college textbooks, I would almost always forgo the opportunity to earn some money and kept the textbooks on design and theatre.  I was already alternating between three different mail-order book clubs when I was 20 years old, working the system to get my freebies, fulfill the obligation, and cancel only to join again in a year.  When Jeff and I went out on dates, one of our favorite spots was (and still is) the books store.  When I couldn’t afford to buy new books at the book store, I would sit on the floor and look through potentials, making a list of the ones I wanted to order from the book club or buy on (before it was acquired by eBay.)

When I first thought about starting my business, I turned to a book.  (THIS is the book I read and referenced regularly.)  To get ideas for decorative painting motifs and mural designs, I turned to books.  To learn about repairing and refinishing furniture, decorating, sewing, and upholstery, I read lots and lots of books.  I often joke with Jeff that they are my continuing education.  They are my non-official, non-accredited degree.  And they are a constant source of inspiration, ideas, and instruction that don’t involve a screen.

I joke that my book collecting is a problem, but it really isn’t.  It would be a problem if I bought books I wouldn’t read, I bought books with money I didn’t have, or if I had so many books we couldn’t walk through our house.  Having full bookshelves and a large resource library on topics related to my business and hobbies isn’t a problem.  It’s an asset.

Now, I will admit that the pace of my book collecting has accelerated and I think there are a few reasons for that.  Before we get into that, here is an example of how it’s grown over the past 1-2 years.  This is what the bookshelf in my office looked like in the summer of 2020…

building a home library | miss mustard seed

…and this is what it looks like today…

building a home library | miss mustard seed

Yeah, things are starting to get a little tight!  I’m not quite out of shelf space, but I’m getting there!

I did take time this weekend to clean out the magazines and got rid of about 15-20 books that I haven’t looked at in a long time and find it unlikely that I’ll reference them in the future.  That freed up a little more space to expand.

I got rid of a lot of magazines, only keeping the ones I like to revisit.  Magazines have gotten so expensive they are almost as much (and sometimes more) than books, so I’m getting very intentional about which ones I buy.

building a home library | miss mustard seed

My home office is where I keep my books on decorating, architecture, business, creativity, and some inspirational books.

building a home library | miss mustard seed

Then, there are the art books.

This is what my artbook library looked like in early 2020…

building a home library | miss mustard seed

…and this is what it looks like today…

building a home library | miss mustard seed

I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised at how much I’ve filled these shelves over the past 18 months!  I think a few things have contributed to the uptick…

  1. I was craving inspiration, encouragement, and distraction during quarantine, so my online book purchases definitely increased during that time.  I also liked the pick-me-up of getting mail.  It felt like a connection with the outside world when we were stuck at home.
  2. I discovered Thrift Books!  It’s not the easiest site to navigate or find books, but it’s a great place to look for bargain books and, boy, have I found them!  There are days I would browse around and get a healthy stack for $25-30.  I even earn credits and have gotten several free books by cashing them in.
  3. I have learned that out-of-print art books can be $3 one day, $25 the next, and $100+ if the demand goes up and the availability goes down.  Some books I’m watching have skyrocketed to $900-1000!  This has made me paranoid about out-of-print art books, so I’ll jump on ones I’m interested in when I find them at a reasonable price (usually around $30 or less.)  In the past, I would’ve just added them to a wish list and waited to buy them when my to-read stack was getting a little low or when I wanted to study a specific artist or style.  Now, I feel more of a sense of urgency whether it’s real or perceived.
  4. Books have become a part of my routine.  I set time aside most days specifically for the purpose of reading and studying.  This includes physical books and audiobooks that I listen to on my walks.  I’ve learned it’s a good investment in myself.

building a home library | miss mustard seed

Here is my process for buying books…

When I buy books, I always try to buy used ones if the book has been out for a while.  The cost difference can be substantial  If it’s a relatively new book, it usually doesn’t make sense to buy it used from a financial perspective.  I almost always look at Amazon first for the description, a look inside (if available), and ratings/reviews. If I can’t find enough information, I’ll do a general internet search to see if I can find some independent photos of the interior of the book, so I can assess if it’s something I would want to buy.

When buying visual-based books like art, decorating, and design books, I’m looking for books that are a good size, have lots of colored photos, and a decent page count.  I don’t want dinky books with black and white images if I intend to use them to study paintings or interiors.  I didn’t pay attention to the size in one instance and ended up getting a 3″ squared book on impressionist paintings.  I couldn’t help but laugh at this teeny-tiny thing that arrived when I thought was a coffee-table-sized book!

Once I have decided the book is one I want to add to my library, I’ll look it up on a few different sites to find the best price.  I don’t mind buying books in “good” or “fair” condition, since I plan on using them anyway.  I’ve bought many books for less than $5.00 just by shopping around.  I’ll check Amazon, eBay, Etsy, Thrift Books, and Abe Books.  I have accounts with all of those sellers and have had positive experiences with all of them.

building a home library | miss mustard seed

The books in my office are arranged mostly by size and color and I find that visual system works well for that library.  For my studio, though, I needed to sort the books a little bit more sensibly.  I was having trouble finding specific books or getting a good handle on what I had.  I ended up dividing them into two groups – books on artists/museums/styles on the left side and instructional books on the right.  Mostly.  On the left side, I do have textile design and color books, too, but they are primarily art instruction books.  I sorted them even further and have the sketching/drawing books together, portraiture & figure books together, landscapes, still life painting sorted, etc.  It helps me find things easier depending on what I need at the moment.  It also helps me fill holes in my collection and be more strategic about books I want to collect in the future.

Two questions – What will I do when these bookcases are filled?  Do I ever buy the same book twice?

The answer to the first question is – I’m not sure, yet!  I do still have a few inches to grow on my dedicated bookcases.  Beyond that, we have plenty of open shelving in our house, but I do like to keep books sorted in the rooms where I actually use them.  If I start spreading them around the home, it might be harder to interact with them in a meaningful way.  But, that’s what I might have to do!  Pull out some groups of books and put them together in a different room.  I could also clean out some books that have either served their purpose or aren’t ones I’m likely to continue to enjoy.  I feel like I’ve outgrown some of the beginning art books, for example.  It’s always hard to know which ones I won’t want for sure, though, and I don’t want to end up buying the same book twice…

Unless I do it by accident, which I have done!  I actually just did it recently at Barnes & Noble, but I realized it, tucked the receipt in the book, and I’ll return it next time I’m there.

One more question I’ll throw out there…  Why don’t I check out books from the library more often?  Fair question!  I do use my local library (although the one in Rochester is not as convenient as the one when we lived in PA), but I like to own my books.  I like to put in markers and notes and I like to return to them over and over.  These books are a part of a valuable resource library to me, so I like them to have a permanent home on my shelves.  Looking up something online just isn’t the same to me.

Any other book collectors out there?  Any great used book resources I failed to mention?

If you’re interested, here are a few of my more recent book purchases…


If you want to see the books on my Art Book Wish List, you can see that list HERE.

If you’d like to read more in-depth book reviews, you can find 52 reviews from my Book of the Week series in 2020.  You can also find some of the art books in my library HERE (I need to add more), decorating/design library HERE, and business/self-management library HERE.


  1. Sue Cantrell

    You can also try

    • Resa Files

      My fav. for many many years: bookfinder4U

    • Lynne

      I bought the book Gianetti Patina Homes that you recommended a few months back. WOW I love love this book. It’s my style It’s classy It’s very tasteful. How did you know I love plaster architectural accents and gardening. Thank you I’m enjoying this book so much.

  2. Mary Anne Berry

    You are talking my language!!! I’ve been a book person since I was young and grew up to be a librarian. For me, books give depth to a subject that you can’t get in short articles. Like you, I invest in books that I will re-visit periodically…especially my hobbies and interests. Fiction books I tend to order on Kindle since I rarely revisit those and they won’t take up bookshelf real estate.

    I was a children’s librarian my last 14 years before retirement and had accumulated 100s and 100s of books over the years. It was painful, but I donated and gifted most of the books except my very favorites.

    Since one of your sons has expressed interest in art, you might consider placing some of those easier art books in his room or in a family area that makes them most accessible. You never know!

    • Dionne Street

      Mary Anne Berry, were you a professor at SHSU ? I had a professor by that name when I was in graduate school there studying for my master’s in library science.

  3. noreen kelly

    just curious – do you never read fiction?

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I do! The thing is that I get obsessed with novels. I will stay up way too late and neglect too many things, so I have to save them for when I am on vacation, sick, a long car ride (we’ll listen to an audiobook), or during a time when I can be absorbed! It really is silly that I can’t be more disciplined about it. I also used to read a lot when I had an hour commute on a bus/metro. I mostly read biographies and historical non-fiction, because I was interested in learning more about specific people or subjects.

  4. Kaelsma

    I’ve just sold the LARGE house I’ve lived in for 35 years and am downsizing to a two bedroom apartment. The one thing I will NOT radically purge is my book collection. I just got nice bookcases (about a year ago) and I weeded out lots of books in the process of consolidating all of the smaller bookcases/shelves into one space. I LOVE my bookcases. They are FILLED with all kinds of books on different subject matter as well as meaningful knick-knacks and other items. Just looking at my bookcases makes me happy. I mean REALLY happy. I’ll find SOMEPLACE for them in the apartment.

  5. Mary

    A girlfriend and I jokingly say the one that dies with the most fabric, pretty napkins and books wins!

  6. Denise Ann Wolfgang

    You are speaking my love language when you talk about books! I have them in bookcases under lamps, stacked on tables loaded in my reader and on loan from the library and I read them all, more than once.
    My husband an I are considering moving and he asked me if I really needed all those books. Then he said never mind, “you would think I asked you to get rid of one of the kids”, and I said,” they are like children. Which ones should I choose to leave behind ” ?.

  7. Jo

    I absolutely love books. In California many of the thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill have stores with just books. It is hit or miss but so worth the treasure hunt trip. The books are grouped by author and/or topic. The prices are pretty much the same throughout California; any paperback $1.99 any hardcover $2.99. Over the years I have found treasures. I love to make pencil notes in my books. It is also fun to find a book with a lovely gift inscription or signature. I also use Books can be so expensive. You would think with the interest in book reading on e-book devices that the cost of books would go down. I too often have more than one book waiting to be held and read which gives me time to hunt for a better price. I rarely pay full price for a book. Anything on your wish list will eventually show up on a bargain shelf somewhere.

  8. Julie | Home On The Hill

    You are singing my song when it comes to books.

    My mum’s best friend worked for a mail order book company when I was in my 20’s. She would give us the catalogues & we would select books of interest, then if one on our list came in damaged or had the outer cover torn etc we could buy them for just a few dollars.

    I still have 80% of those books today plus dozens of others accumulated over time. Mostly about Art, Interior Design or History.

    I also did what you did & joined a book club called The Folio Society who make classic titles & new books using quality bindings etc, I would meet the commitment then drop out until they sent me an offer to rejoin that I couldn’t refuse. 😀

    I also keep the magazines I enjoy in old suitcases, most are American publications that over here in Australia have cost $20 plus for many years, they are 25+ years old in some cases but classic styles never date.

    I even wrote a blog post about the wonderful experience of reading real books as opposed to digital ones, the paper, the smell! It’s not my most read post (ironically 🙂 ) but was something I wanted to share after reading an article that millennials have rediscovered the joy of real books after being brought up immersed in digital media. I’m so happy for them that they are experiencing the joy of real books.

  9. Karen K from Buffalo

    I’ve got so many books that I can’t wait to read but I a caretaker for my husband. I’ve got several piles & like you, I want to own my books but when I am finished with them, I head to the library to donate them.

    I am in love with the bird picture you have framed & hanging on your bookshelf. May I ask where I could get a copy of it? The colors are wonderful & I have a penchant for bird paintings.

    • Marian Parsons

      I bought that painting at a school auction a few years ago. It’s an original, so prints are not available (to my knowledge.)

  10. Sue P.

    If there are magazine titles you like to look through, perhaps for ideas, but don’t want to purchase, you can download a “loan” copy via your library’s Overdrive/Libby account. There are hundreds of magazines on all different subjects with old and new issues. Use your library card number to create an account and have instant access. Just about every state library system subscribes to Overdrive where you may also borrow digital and audio books.

    • Marian Parsons

      I didn’t know you could get them from libby! My husband uses that for audio books…I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

    • Julie | Home On The Hill

      Yes, it’s a great affordable resource – we have that in Australia as well. 🙂 I was pleased find they had a magazine I just recently discovered on there – Jean d’Arc Living that has mostly Danish vintage style interiors.

  11. Brenda Acker

    Library Thing is an app that helps you catalog your books. It’s helpful so you don’t buy the same book twice (been there 🤦‍♀️). Another couple of places for finding used books: Better World Books (always free shipping) and Biblio. Goodwill Books sometimes is valuable. I use my library for ebooks and audiobooks but I seem to have developed a taste for out of print books that my library doesn’t carry so I go on a hunt. It’s thrilling when I find my treasure for a nominal price. We’re leaving for Maine on Thursday and the only thing on my list to search thrift/antique stores for is books.

  12. Cherie Bautista

    I absolutely love love love books! I read every day and have hundreds of books. They are my treasures that I have been collecting for over 50 years

  13. Nicola

    My father always jokes that he was glad to give my hand in marriage to my husband because he was willing to haul off my book collection that was taking up to much room in his attic! We were a military family and my collection started when I learned to read, I still have many of those books, I am amazed and happy they let me haul those around the world with us! I have noticed that classic book sets and antique books have gotten pricey and harder to find in my area. I have even acquired some of your suggested books! Love those posts!

  14. Jean

    I feel the same way about books – addicted! I used to work in the 700 collection at the public library in Springfield, IL (a great library by the way) where my addiction was regularly satisfied without costing me a dime. But that was several lifetimes ago. Just in case you didn’t know, on the copyright data page of most published books, included with the ISBN, is the MARC catalog information so you can sort your books according to the Dewey Decimal system. It is infinitely logical! I run out of shelf space regularly – we have books in every room in the house these days. I keep all my reference books in my studio though, I can’t wait to see your book this fall! Happy Reading!

  15. Deb

    Your local library may already have a shop on Amazon in addition to having its monthly book sale. Many pristine books are necessarily weeded from library collections due to lack of space. I’ve found amazing books for $5!

  16. JenW

    I will return to books over and over to reread. Fiction and novels too. I did have to make some hard choices a few years back and decide if I wanted to dedicate more space to books or limit. It was painful but I moved many of my physical books to e-books (admitting that feels like a dirty secret!) and only kept special collections or authors. I’ll never let go of my hard copy Madeline L’Engle books!

  17. Dionne Street

    As a former reading teacher and elementary school librarian, I strongly feel that you can never have too many books! My to-be-read pile is probably three feet tall right now. I have a fear of running out of books to read so I always keep them on hand. My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to use the library more and spend less on books, but then covid happened and our local libraries shut down. Have you ever tried Half Price Books? Go to They have used books at good prices. I have bought books more than once because I couldn’t remember that I had already read the book. So I have a system now. I have a reading list board and a good reads board on my pinterest page. I always consult it first when I am at the bookstore before making a purchase. Another rule I have, never buy hardback fiction. I always wait a year later after it comes in paperback. I’ll admit though that sometimes that’s hard. Another rule, no styling bookshelves for me. All of my bookshelves are completely full of books. There is no room for knick knacks. My books are like my friends and hold good memories. I like to go back and reread them. I loved your book reviews last year and I am one of those strange people who when I read your blog, look at magazines or books, etc. I get the magnifying glass out to look at the books on people’s shelves. It is so very interesting to me to see what people read! I love your blog! Thank you so much!

  18. Pat Swenson

    I totally concur with your statement that having books and reading are part of your continuing education. It’s been a long time since I have attended school, but my thirst for knowledge and information has not disappeared. It’s interesting to see where our interests lead us through life. I feel sad when I hear someone say that they don’t enjoy reading, especially children. I understand some people deal with learning problems that robs them of that pleasure. Books open so many worlds to our imaginations. I can never have too many books!

  19. Diane Smith

    Hello! I, too, am a librarian and book-lover. My question, however, is related to the white bookcase above. I’m curious as to where it came from – It would be perfect for my quilting studio!

    • Marian Parsons

      The exact one is no longer available, but this one is very similar and by the same company.


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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