Read a book and pass it on

I am a voracious reader. Since I was four, I’ve read at least a book a week. Most weeks, the number is around two or three. Digital subscription services, like, have made my reading obsession less of a clutter problem than it used to be. But, I would be lying if I said that book clutter isn’t still a stumbling block in my home.

To put this into perspective, I brought nine new books into my house this weekend.

Unlike a good number of cluttered readers, however, I actually read the books that make it into my home (see the “voracious reader” paragraph above). As a result, I have devised a series of questions that I use to review books once I have read them. So far, they have helped significantly at keeping my book clutter better under control.

Questions to ask yourself when you finish reading a book:

  1. Is this a reference book (dictionary, thesaurus, parenting guide, etc.) that I will refer to often? Will it contain accurate content for at least a year? Is the reference book better and more useful to me in printed form than a digital version that I can access from my computer?
  2. Is this a cookbook that meets the standards set forth in this post on getting rid of cookbook clutter?
  3. Is this one of my favorite books? Will I honestly re-read it again at several times in the next few years?
  4. Is this book signed by the author and/or dedicated to me? Am I acknowledged by name in the author’s acknowledgment section?
  5. Is this a children’s book for my child that she will ask me to re-read to her again tomorrow night? Has my child decided that this book is more important than vegetables?
  6. If I keep this book, are there two books (or more) that I can get rid of when I put this on the shelf?

If you answered “yes” to the relevant questions above, keep the book. Otherwise, get rid of it by either passing it along to a friend or family member, selling it to a used book store, or donating it to a charity or a local school or public library.

24 Comments for “Read a book and pass it on”

  1. posted by pj on

    These are great rules! I am downsizing and really needed a plan to deal with the BOXES of books I have.

  2. posted by Misty on

    I’ve been having some luck using I’ve been getting rid of some books that don’t fit that criteria. And for now, I’m getting rid of them faster than I’m acquiring new ones with my credits 😀

  3. posted by Andre on

    Hey folks, is also a great way to get the books to people who want to read it!

  4. posted by mws on

    Get the book from the library in the first place. That guarantees you’ll get it out of your house in a few weeks.

  5. posted by scarfish on

    I was going to suggest as well, and also the library. I’m a fanatical reader (average four books a week) AND I work in publishing, but I haven’t bought a book in over a year, and that was only because it was written by a friend. I get all of my books from the library or My library system has a very convenient online ordering process from any of the branches, I can stipulate where I’d like to pick the book up, and it emails me when it’s available. I can also check due dates and renew books online.

    I estimate that 90% of the books I read I will only read once–I just can’t justify purchasing and storing them for that.

  6. posted by jane on

    Seconding the library suggestion. There’s no reason to own every book that you read.

  7. posted by Andrew on

    Ditto on the Library suggestion. And, it’s better for the environment!

  8. posted by William on

    My wife and I, after putting 4 tall bookcases in our bedroom to match the 3 already in our living room and then running out of space, pretty much only buy ebooks now. We get them from ereader and she uses a Palm TX, purchased just to read books on , and I use an old Pocket PC to read them. I also read on my laptop though the 17″ screen makes it hard to lay sideways on the couch and read. I’ve got a few dozen books and she has well over a hundred. Thats a ton of space we dont have to use for storage and we’ve got them all available whenever we want.

    Also we’ve found that the kids, we have 17 month old twins, arent as grabby when it comes to the ebooks. I think the turning of pages gets their interest and the ebooks are too boring to them.

  9. posted by hak on

    Great check list for handling books. While I’ve done well with uncluttering the other parts of my life, I have a hard time getting rid of books…although there are only a handful that would make it through your criteria. Looks like I have some boxing up to do this weekend!


  10. posted by Churry on is another great site for book trades.

  11. posted by Nora Rocket on

    An additional criterium of mine is “Will this be a book I will feel moved to press into my friends’ hands?” I’m very likely to keep a book that I know I will loan out multiple times–especially if that book is from a smaller publisher or on a out-there topic or otherwise harder to find at the library–in my personal “lending” library.

    Book clutter is a problem I don’t mind having, honestly. This summer I am re-reading many of my old favourites. Then again, I did defend the ice cream maker as non-clutter, so take it all with a grain…

  12. posted by Vis Major on

    I second the suggestion. My husband and I have been using that service for a few years now, and it’s interesting to see where our books wind up. One has made it all the way to Brazil!

  13. posted by Dweeb on

    I collect signed books, and, though I’m not bursting at the seams, I am constantly aware that these books are not going away. If I have a personalized book from a celebrity, political figure it is suddenly a permanent fixture in my home. And will be, I imagine for most of my life. This is fun, but daunting at the same time.

  14. posted by Shannon on

    Another service I use similar to ones already mentioned is I am very picky about the books I keep. My rule is: Is this a book that has changed my life in some way or that I love with such an enduring passion that I couldn’t even think of parting with it? When I stick to this criteria, I actually very much enjoy being around my books and consider them more highly personal “art” than clutter.

  15. posted by missdona on

    Another suggestion is to sell some books on Amazon merchants. If they’re in good condition you can make some $$.

    I seem to acquire “free” books in my spare time and books are always being sent to me. I don’t always have interest in the books, but someone does.

  16. posted by Cyrano on

    Another here suggesting the library. My county’s library system is pretty low-tech, but even it allows you to go online to reserve books and reborrow them, automatically checking other libraries in the system if your local one doesn’t have a copy, then ships it to your local library for you to pick up. In fact, the librarian even pulls all my books off the shelf and puts them aside for me. I just click a bunch of titles, wait a couple days, then walk up to the front desk. They even pre-check them out so I don’t have to wait for that, either.

  17. posted by Haggie on

    I “release my books into the wild” via

  18. posted by cmpalmer on

    I love books and I have had a lifelong tendency to hoard them. When we bought our new house, I turned one room into a real, formal library with floor to ceiling built in shelves on three walls (including two large sections with paperback sized shelves) and shelves over the door and window (the wall without shelves has a couch and some prints). Once I did that, I decided that the capacity of the library was all of the books I would own at one time (except for some kid’s books on their shelves in their room, some reference/tech books in the garage work area, and tech books at work). Now that the shelves are full, I observe the one in – one out rule and so far it is working well (but is still a little painful).

    My favorite quote about this (paraphrased) is from Harlan Ellison. His house is pretty much one large library and he said visitors always ask the same question, “Have you read all of these books?” He said there are two answers that he alternates, both of them totally absurd (as is the question). Either “Of course, why would I own books I haven’t read?” or “Of course not, why would I want a house full of books I’ve already read?” In other words, there are books you’ve read and will re-read, books you want to keep “just because”, books you bought that you haven’t read or haven’t finished yet, and books that you might want to refer to but aren’t likely to read cover-to-cover.

  19. posted by sharon on

    I have a hard time buying a real book these days. I love ereader and use my PDA.

  20. posted by ps on

    Getting books from the library is the best. A lot of my book clutter is made up of books that I’ve bought and either haven’t read yet, or started reading and put down “for now.” Now I just keep a list of books I want to read, get one or two from the library at a time, and if I decide not to read one (or put it aside for now), I just return it. No expense, no clutter.

  21. posted by anamika on

    Great tips on reducing book clutter. I think buying audiobooks, ebooks, getting books from the library, selling, donating or swapping old books is a great idea.

    However, I’d like some tips on managing Magazine clutter. I am constantly struggling with magazine clutter since I am a voracious reader of many types of news and articles

    I try to minimize by reading as much as I can online, but have a number of subscriptions where this is not possible, I also have tons of articles and clippings [not easily available online] and it’s getting to be a pain to manage them.

    Would love to get some ideas and suggestions.

  22. posted by Erin on

    anamika —

    See our post on scanning papers and magazines to reduce paper clutter in your home:

  23. posted by shawn on

    I just started blogging about purging books … the idea being that I don’t keep a book unless I feel my daughters should read it someday. They are very young, yet, so I have lots of time to choose. In the meantime, only buying must-haves instead of must-reads.

  24. posted by Wayne on

    In “Black Swan” the author, Nassim Taleb, mentions Umberto Eco’s library, which contains 30,000 volumes. Eco divides the world into 2 kinds of people, those who ask “Have you read all these books?” and people he may speak with a second time! Taleb then refers to Eco’s unread books as an antilibrary. A persons library should get larger and larger all the time with all the information that you haven’t gotten to yet continuing to call to you as you get older!

    I own a used and rare book business and for many years limited the books in my house to a few hundred. But recently I began to realize that there is nothing the matter with filling my house with books I hadn’t read, especially when I noticed that when I was looking for something interesting to read it was pretty frustrating looking at title after title that I had read at least once.

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