For many of us, books are harder to part with than other objects. Even people who are not regular book readers have this issue. But as much as having books in the house can add character and charm, any book hoarder can tell you it also leads to some other issues:

  • Books are the perfect place for dust to collect, especially if you don’t regularly take all the books out, wipe them (and the shelf) individually, and put them back. Hello, allergies!
  • In humid places, they are a perfect environment for mildew. Hello, allergies and bad smells!
  • Little transparent book-dwelling insects can start to breed on the pages.
  • Termites love books.
  • Binding and paper get weaker with time.
  • Books take up space and add to visual clutter.

Parting with books takes utmost honesty. You need to be honest with yourself about what you have read, still want to read, etc. It’s easy to convince yourself you will read books you haven’t gotten to yet in some indefinite future. But let’s be real. If they gave you any joy, you would have already consumed them.

And think about the possibilities: For every day that a book sits untouched on your shelf, it can’t touch someone else. Books are expensive, and lots of organizations depend on donations to provide reading material to underprivileged people. There’s probably an NGO or a collection center near your home. Remember: The primary purpose of a book is to be read. If you really love books, put them in the hands of those who will cherish them.

For every day that a book sits untouched on your shelf, it can’t touch someone else.

Here’s an easy way to part with them. (Note: Do not, at any point in this process, sit down to read any book. Put it in the relevant pile and move on. There will be plenty of time to read later.)

Start by sorting your books into six piles:

1. Unread Books

These are the most difficult to part with. If you’re like me, you probably have a small fortune worth of unread books piled on your bedside table and plenty more that were moved to the bookshelf as the pile grew. Take them all out, and stare at them. If there is nothing but guilt stopping you, give them away. Deep down, you know you’re not going to read them. There are better and newer books in the world, and your interests have changed. Look at the bright side—once you give these away, they will actually be read by someone.

2. Books You Are Currently Reading

This pile should contain no more than five books. In some exceptional cases (if you are working on research, for example), you may have as many as 15. But no one can humanly read 10 books at the same time, so don’t kid yourself. If you haven’t picked up a book months after putting it down, you don’t really want to get back to it. If you can’t find it in you to finish a book this time around, it’s unlikely you will find time to finish it at a later date. Give these away.

3. Books You Regularly Reread

This “keep” pile should consist of somewhere between three and eight books. This would include religious books and those you have loved to tatters. There is little reason to keep dictionaries and encyclopedias as most information is available with less effort online. When was the last time you used a paper dictionary versus Google? Precisely.

4. Books You Have Read and Want to Read Again

There are likely very few books you have read more than twice. And fewer still you would enthusiastically read again. Keep only those that excite you—the ones you recommend to people in bookstores and break into conversation about on the metro. If your feelings about a book are lukewarm, don’t put it in this pile.

5. Books You Have Read, but Don’t Want to Read Again

This entire pile can be given away without much thought. You’ve derived what you could from them and don’t feel there’s much that warrants further time or attention. After all, you only have so much time, and there are other books to read.

6. Books Received as Gifts

This is the last categories you should look at, as these books often have sentiments attached. But, for a moment, think of the book independent of the emotional ties. If you would have otherwise kept the book (according to the above guidelines), keep it. If not, try to be as sly as possible about giving it away. Of course, there are books you will not be able to give away—something that belonged to someone now deceased, for example.

After this, you should be left with two stacks: the ones to keep (very small stack) and the ones to discard (very large stack).

Having cleared away these books, you should feel relief (especially when you finally decide to give away the guilt-inducing ones). It’s a good, unburdened kind of feeling.

Now, all you have to do is call up your local book donation center and send those piles away to be enjoyed by others.