A few years ago when Evan and I went to visit our dear friends Julie and Brett, I noticed some of their beautiful books arranged by color on an antique bookshelf.  I was smitten. I came home and promptly over-hauled our main three bookshelves by color.  Every day, I look at them and enjoy their arrangement, all my favorite fantasy series, 19th century children’s books, and modern fairy tales intermingled with our grad school books.  But more than that, I love our color-themed bookshelves because they remind me of being with Julie. And they remind me to relax, to enjoy looking for a book, and to appreciate how my beloved treasures can look well-arranged. I like how it reminds me that what I have can be both functional and beautiful.


Julie and I lived on the same dorm floor our first year of college. Numerous evenings that year, when I was busy taking copious notes on every page of my World History textbook, Julie’s room was abuzz with activity. Julie’s room was the place to be.  It was an extension of Julie herself—beautiful, calm, and welcoming.  I would often leave my stacks of library books and piles of papers and mosey on down to that little oasis of inviting creativity.


Julie would always greet you as if there was no one else she wanted to see more. Her room was filled with floor lamps casting a warm glow on those white painted cinderblock walls. Bunked beds with colorful duvet covers welcomed people to sit and talk.  Damien Rice’s album O would play from her lovely Bose speakers. In place of piles of papers and stacks of library books she had sheet music and pomade arranged artfully.  When people stopped by Julie’s, there wasn’t an agenda or a structure. People simply stayed and chatted, relaxing in a beautiful space. It was a space to breath and just be.



In some ways, Julie and I were unlikely friends. I was an introverted, mid-western, public schooled, anxious, history major. Julie was an extroverted, southern, homeschooled, laid back, piano major. But four years after we met she was reading the gospel at my wedding only two weeks before her own.  And last year she asked Evan and me to be godparents to one of her and Brett’s precious little twin baby girls. My decade long friendship with Julie is one of my most treasured.




But when we first met, we were young and finding our footing away from home. One of my first clear memories of Julie concerned my pajama pants habit.  She told me in the bathroom one morning that my wearing pajama pants to class was not something that fell under her mother’s sound advice to always go to class comfortable but presentable.  I was stunned and embarrassed at this blunt bit of southern wisdom. But in Julie’s defense, my habit of showering, putting on make-up, and then putting on clean pajama pants was a bit odd. Incidentally, so was my habit of wearing my keys and id around my neck on a lanyard key chain, and Julie never said a word about that.  That task fell to my friend Liz.


But that was my ISTJ for you: practical, pragmatic, and painstakingly methodical. I kept all my papers—I might need them! I read all the pages assigned—I was told to read them! I was clean and modest; what was the problem with cute, plaid pajama pants? I wore my key chain—I was supposed to know where my keys were at all times!


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And that was Julie’s ENFP for you: social, spontaneous, and spectacularly expressive. She kept only what she would use.  She read what seemed reasonable and interesting to her. She wore elegant but comfortable outfits that could not be confused with sleeping apparel. She kept her keys in her pretty bag—trusting that they’d be there when she needed them.



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And I loved that about Julie; she was so much more trusting than I was. Over the years, I have seen Julie angry, sad, and confused, but I have rarely, if ever, seen Julie anxious.  She, like many ENFPs, lives very much in the present.  It means that she often would be late to our lunch dates, but when she got there, she would be completely focused on our conversation.


These days, I strive to be more present and less anxious. I appreciate my ISTJ tendencies to make lists, take responsibilities seriously, and keep things organized and structured.  But, I am also striving to incorporate more grace and beauty and freedom into my life.  I am trying to take on less, and to arrange what I have well.  In other words, I am trying to arrange more things in my life like Julie’s colored bookshelves.

[* 2017 update:: Since I’ve been introduced to the enneagram (for the best quick introduction to this 9-type personality system try this liturgist podcast), I can see that my type 1 (the reformer/perfectionist) moves in health to Julie’s type 7 (the enthusiast/epicure).] 



Those bookshelves are the kind of order I want in my life. I want things to have a place and to be beautiful at the same time. I want a well-curated life. I want to get things done, but I want to consciously choose what goes on that list. I want how it gets done to be intentional.  I want my space to be comfortable and presentable, just like Julie’s mom said.


I find that my creativity thrives in this kind of order. I can work better when I have order that combines lists and structure with a beautiful and calm space.  When I cultivate ordering my space both to be inviting and functional, I can see more clearly what needs to get done and what I want to make time for.


How do arrange your bookshelves and your to-do lists? What’s important for you these days as you order your space and time? 


9 Responses to Comfortable but Presentable, A Well-Curated Life

  1. Deb Rogers says:

    Lovely reflections! Thanks for encouraging me in my creative endeavors as you share yours.

  2. Alicia says:

    This made me smile a lot! Such good memories of freshman year! I love your prose…I want to have well-ordered and beautiful bookshelves too! You said it well, my friend!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Alicia! Last week we had to move them to make room for cable internet installation, and I found myself again looking at them as I pulled all books our and put them all back on the big book shelf. There definitely were some books I forgot that I have (like one about doing magic tricks!). It’s a constant process to keep those books in check 🙂

  3. This was such a thoughtful & beautiful post, makes me strive to be that type of friend to someone. And speaking of types, ENTJ here. I moved into a new house last year and finally got to put up bookshelves with my color coordinated books. It’s my happiest room in my house. Thanks for sharing.

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      Thanks Holland! Oh! I wonder what kind of types usually like color-arranged books. I think I might be a little of an ISTJ anomaly in that department. And I am always striving to be a Julie-like friend as well. Thanks for your kind words!

  4. I’ve never organized my bookshelves by color, but so many people in this link-up have done so, and they’re shelves are all jaw-droppingly beautiful. You all have me seriously thinking about it!

    • Amy Rogers Hays says:

      There are so many wonderful ideas about books and book shelves on the link up! Thanks for inspiring and organizing all of it, Anne! I love our colored shelves. Although really if you organize by height and have the spines all lined up, all book shelves become prettier. When I first did the color overhaul though, my color blind husband was not happy! (He loves books and loves to know where they are.) But we figured out that as long as he had his own shelf of books arranged the way he liked, it worked. Now if he needs a book from the main shelves he just asks me, because I tend to think of the book in terms of what it looks like. So, I think it works for people who think of books in terms of their cover image and spine font/color. And you don’t have to do all your shelves! The colored ones are the focus of the living room, but we have library books and current reading books tucked away in bedrooms and other little nooks, and they aren’t arranged by color.

  5. Kelly M. says:

    I love how you turned the bookshelf link up into a beautiful reflection of friendship and blending of temperaments. Thanks for sharing!

  6. What a lovely post! Your bookshelves are stunning! I don’t organize my books by color, but I’m starting to consider doing it, myself! 🙂

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