Maybe you own only a few physical books preferring to use a device like a tablet, e-reader or your phone to read. Or you may have bookshelves full of books and when you run out of shelf space you create piles on any flat surface you can find. No matter where you fall along the spectrum of book ownership, sometimes you have this nagging feeling that they’re taking up too much space and it’s time to declutter your books.
I’ve had a love affair with books since I first learned to read. I thought they were so amazing and magical I decided to make a career out of working with them. I became an editor because as a booklover, what could be better than being immersed in books every day? And I have to admit, it was pretty great. But during my years in publishing my relationship with and perspective on books changed. Here’s what I learned and how it can help you let go of book clutter.
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The Value Is in the Content
I became much more flexible about how I consumed books. I came to the conclusion that books are valuable because of the content they contain. And I didn’t really care about the format as much as the ideas. Impressive covers, nice paper, fancy font and beautiful pictures are great but after a while they lost their appeal for me. I’m not saying there isn’t a place in your life for nice books but they probably won’t make up the bulk of your collection. If you’re holding on to pretty books you have no intention of reading, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
So Many Books So Little Space
According to Leonid Taycher, a Google software engineer, as of 2010 there had been 129 million books published. Can you imagine what the number is now? There are just so many books out in the world. It seems pointless to own lots of books when there will always be an endless supply of new ones to read. I read books constantly and will never be able to keep physical copies of all the good ones. I actually found owning physical books to be a hassle. The fewer books I own, the more space I have to allow new books into my life.
Some Books Have a Limited Shelf Life
Great fiction classics and great fiction in general is timeless. Books about history and other factual events can also continue to be relevant. However, sometimes non-fiction has a shelf life. Books about non-fiction topics are great when they’re first published, but after a while that information may become outdated as new information on particular topics is discovered. But even when the information is still relevant, photos can become dated which makes them less appealing and you’ll be less likely to actually read them.
Having Lots of Books Doesn’t Mean You’re Reading More
It can be so tempting to buy books hoping you’ll read them some day. I had access to so many books during my career that I often brought home books to add to my TBR (to be read) list. But creating a TBR doesn’t actually mean you’ll get around to reading everything you’ve collected. I found that having all those books just made me feel guilty and my TBR became a to-do list that took all the fun out of reading. I settled on just having a handful of books at a time to keep the guilt and overwhelm at bay.
Books As Status Symbols
Do you like to keep a massive book collection because it makes you feel smart? Do you think others will be impressed by how well-read you are? I get it. But there’s an easier way to do this. There’s a place online where you can keep track of what you’ve read on digital bookshelves and make lists of what you want to read. It’s called Goodreads.com. Now you can still feel like a smarty pants because anyone on the internet can see what you’ve read without having to keep a massive collection of books in your home.
You Can Read Books You Don’t Own
Being surrounded by books changed my mindset to one of book abundance. In other words, I knew that if I wanted to read a book there were a number of resources out in the world that would allow me to access the content without needing to own a copy of the book. There are free resources like libraries and websites like gutenberg.org and archive.org. If you have the budget for it, there are subscription services like Kindle Unlimited and Scribd. The above should allow you to get your hands on almost any book you want to read. And if there’s a book you really love and want to own, you I can always buy it. At this point, I only buy books I know I’ll be referencing often.
Related Post: How to Declutter Your Magazines
My Own Decluttering Project and What I Purged
I recently started a book decluttering project of my own. We have a pretty big built-in bookcase that we’ve been using to house decorative items and old books. I know I won’t be re-reading a lot of those books but they did a pretty good job of filling up the shelves so that they didn’t look so empty.
But I’ve recently decided to homeschool my kids which means that lots of those shelves need to be cleared out to make room for school books. Yay!!
Here’s what the bookcase looks like now (at least most of it because it’s hard to get the whole thing into one picture). It’s not terrible, but there’s definitely room for improvement. I’ve already started adding the homeschool curriculum books by moving some of the decorative stuff but I still need more space. And I was pretty quickly able to pick out books I could get rid of.
This pile includes the following books it was time to part with:
- Books my kids have outgrown.
- Books I’ve outgrown. These are books I purchased for a season of my life that has come and gone. An example is that toddler book.
- Books I’ve had on my shelves for years and have never read. Sorry, Leslie Sansone.
- Books that are so old it’s embarrassing. That home decor book is from the 90s!
What To Do with Your Books Once You’re Ready to Let Go
Give Away to Family and Friends
I know most of us don’t want to burden our family and friends with our books but if you have a fellow bookworm in your circle, why not offer them a peek at what you’re getting rid of?
Give Away to Strangers
I’m not always a fan of Facebook in general, but when it comes to giving things away it really is useful. My favorite group for getting rid of things is my town’s Buy Nothing group. Tag sale groups work too. People in these groups love free stuff and things tend to get snapped up pretty quickly including books.
Donate to a Library
My library has an annual book sale and they accept donations for most of the year. This is my favorite way to get rid of my books. They’ll even take older books that aren’t in great condition.
Sell Your Books
I’m including this because I know it’s an option but I would only bother if you have books that are rare or in high demand and you think will sell for a good price. This option should make you enough money to be worth your time. You can sell books on Amazon or Ebay.
Another one I’ve used with success is sellbackyourbook.com. They have a pretty straightforward process for selling books as well as DVDs and CDs. I wrote a bit about my experience using sellbackyourbook.com in my post about decluttering my movie and music collection.
Yes, recycling your books is a good option. They’re made of paper after all. This would work for damaged books and books that are so old the info is hopelessly outdated. It may feel wrong but it’s ok to recycle books once they’ve outlived their usefulness.
Be Honest About Why You Keep Your Books
If you’re a reader and a booklover it can be so hard to let go of books, especially if you’ve had them for years. Sometimes we really have to examine why we’re holding on to our books in order to let go. Do you have beautiful books that look pretty on your shelves but you’re not reading? Do you have books that were gifted to you by loved ones that you just can’t bring yourself to give away? Why we keep the books we do comes down to deeply personal decisions that have more to do with our memories and emotions than the actual books themselves. It’s a good idea to revisit those decisions from time to time just to make sure you really want what you’re keeping.
Do you have any other tips for decluttering books? Please share them in the comments.
Until next time, happy decluttering.