Reading is one of my favorite things to do. But that love of reading can sometimes lead us to buy more books than we know what to do with. And once we get started things can get out of control pretty quickly. If your shelves are overflowing it’s time to declutter your books.
Before we can start decluttering we have to tackle one of the most difficult parts of the decluttering process: mindset. We have to get to the point where we’re willing to let go and the best way to do that is to shift our thinking about what we’re trying to get rid of.
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 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. This shift in my thinking made it easier to declutter my books and more importantly I stopped overbuying books altogether. 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. I stopped caring about the format and focused more on 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 physical books but you can get just as much enjoyment from an ebook or audiobook and they will take up much less space.
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. The point here is that if you want to have a library of physical books, you’ll need to become much more selective about the books you want in your collection. Plus, the fewer books you own, the more space you’ll have to allow new books into your life.
Some Books Have a Limited Shelf Life
Great fiction is timeless. Books about history and other factual events can also continue to be relevant. However, sometimes non-fiction books have 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. Aim to declutter outdated books from your collection first.
Only Keep Books You Know You’ll Reread
This one is tough because books are expensive. You may have purchased a book on a whim and but then realized you didn’t love it. If you know that you aren’t going to reread something or hated a book so much that you didn’t even finish it, it’s safe to say that you probably won’t be picking that book up again. There are too many good books out in the world to keep the ones you didn’t enjoy.
Books As Status Symbols
Do you like to keep a massive book collection because it makes you feel smarter? 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 the hassle of keeping a massive collection of books.
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 my own. 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.
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 knew I won’t be re-reading a lot of them so it was time to declutter to make space for new stuff.
I was pretty quickly able to pick out books I could get rid of. This was just a start but allowed me to set up some criteria for purging my books:
- Books my kids had outgrown.
- Books I’d 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’d had on my shelves for years and had never read. Sorry, Leslie Sansone!
- Books that were so old it was 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.
Our city hosts an annual book swap staffed by volunteers. It’s free to city residents. So if you bring in 50 books to swap (I brought 188!), then you are allowed to swap for, up to, 50 other books. They also do VHS, CDs, and DVDs. So you can purge your books and find some new options.
Hi Kathleen- Thanks for your comment. I wish they had something like this in my area. That sounds like fun. 🙂