How to Start Decluttering Your Books in 5 Easy Steps
“In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” Deepak Chopra, author
If you love reading and own a lot of books, it can be difficult to even think of parting with some of them, but an extensive book collection takes up a lot of space — and needs a lot of dusting!
If you’d like to pare down your book collection, where do you start and how on earth do you decide which books to keep and which to discard?
Here are five easy steps to get you started, based on my own experience of decluttering my family’s books.
1. Decide Which Area of Books You’ll Declutter First
Begin by making a list of all the areas in your home where you’re storing books. These may include:
- Bedside tables
- Boxes in your basement, garage, etc
Think carefully about which would be the best area to start decluttering. For example, it may be a good idea to sort through a bookcase before going through a box of books. Once you’ve decluttered the bookcase, you’ll have some space to store the books you want to keep from the box.
Prioritize each area by writing 1 next to the area you’ll tackle first, followed by 2 and so on.
In her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying¹, Marie Kondo advocates bringing all the books in your home into one place and piling them on the floor, before going through them all and then deciding where to store the books you want to keep.
If you have a relatively small number of books, this will be easy to do, but it may not be practical if, like me, you have a large collection of books.
When I started decluttering our books, I started with the largest bookcase we have. I went through it shelf by shelf and, when I’d finished, there was space for other books that were stored in other locations.
2. Have I read this book? Will I read it again?
Set aside some time to go through each book in the area you’ve decided to declutter first.
Pick up the first book and ask yourself if you’ve read it. If so, ask if you’re likely to read it again in the next year. If the answer is no, put it in on the “discard” pile.
Bear in mind that we all re-read very few books. Paperback novels are least likely to be read again.
So, try to keep only your absolute favorites for re-reading. If you’re hesitating over whether to keep a book you might want to read again, remember you could always buy another copy or borrow it from the library, if you did decide to read it again.
Once you’ve finished a book, it’s a good idea to pass it onto someone else who will also enjoy reading it.
If you don’t know anyone who would like the book, donating it to a charity is a good way of passing it onto someone who will appreciate it, and helping a charity at the same time.
3. Decide What to Do with Books You Haven’t Read
It can be difficult to decide what to do with books you haven’t read.
If it’s been a year or more since you bought the book and you still haven’t read it, ask yourself if you will read it.
If you’re unsure, ask yourself why you bought the book:
- Did it interest you at the time but no longer interests you?
- Do you feel as if you should read it because it was recommended by someone else, but you’re just not sure if you’ll find it interesting?
- Did you start reading it but gave up at some point because you found it difficult to get into or boring?
- Was the book given to you by a family member or friend? Would you feel guilty if you gave it away without reading it?
If you’ve answered “yes” to at least one of these questions, then it’s a good idea to let go of the book. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you don’t really want to read the book but you feel obliged to do so.
If you think that you will read the book, put it on your “to read” pile. If you still haven’t started it within another three months, let it go. Try to keep the books on this pile to a minimum.
After decluttering my first bookcase, I had four books on my “to read” pile. Since then, I’ve read one and passed it onto a friend. The other three are still sitting there. It’s time to let them go and to let go of the heavy weight of obligation I feel whenever I think of them.
4. Decide What to Do With the Books You’re Letting Go of
There are several ways to let go of books:
- Donate them to a charity, school, hospital or other organization that accepts book donations
- Sell them online on Amazon Marketplace, eBay and other websites
- Give them to a friend, neighbor, family member or someone else who will enjoy reading them
- Recycle them if they are in poor condition.
It’s also possible to swap books online but this won’t reduce the overall number of books you have! However, if you’re an avid reader, it might be a good idea to swap some books so that you receive a “new” book that you want to read. It’s also a good way of making sure your book is going to a good new home!
When my teenage daughter was decluttering her books, one of my neighbors mentioned that she was helping the local primary school to re-organize their library. She asked if I’d like to donate any books that my children had grown out of.
It was perfect timing as my daughter was letting go of a lot of books she’d enjoyed reading when she was younger!
Sometimes you can take advantage of serendipitous events like these to ensure your books are sent to a good new home.
5. Let Go as Quickly as Possible and Move on to the Next Area
Remove the books you’ve decided to let go of from your home as quickly as possible. I keep my “donate” bag by the front door so that I remember to take it to the charity shop or add it to a doorstep collection.
Removing books quickly will give you the space to organize and store the books you’ve decided to keep.
Then, you can start sorting through the books in your next area of priority.
Personal Experience of Decluttering Books
I have found that decluttering my books is becoming easier over time. I love books, so at first it was often hard to decide to let a book go. However, after a while, I found I was getting rid of more books. Sometimes, I went back and later decided to let go of a book I’d initially decided to hang onto.
I learned that I was keeping some books out of a sense of obligation.
Some had been given as gifts and I felt guilty for giving them away without reading them.
Others had been recommended, so I felt I should read them.
However, as Louise Hay says in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, we all need to remove “shoulds” and “oughts” from our lives. Doing so made me feel much lighter and I no longer felt guilty when an unread book caught my eye.
I discovered that I was being true to myself by defining exactly what I did and did not want.