Design Public’s Organization Blog Fest: Bookshelves

The website Design Public is hosting an Organization Blog Fest for a week, and they asked me to be a part of the advice-wielding group for the second year in a row.

Unclutterer’s topic this year is “Clear the Clutter from Your Bookshelves,” and the five tips come from Unclutter Your Life in One Week. The first two tips:

  1. Give away any books that you don’t plan on reading or referencing again, are in the public domain, and can be found in their entirety online.
  2. Keep the leather-bound copy of The Scarlet Letter that your grandmother gave you on her deathbed.

Check out the article to learn the other three tips!

27 Comments for “Design Public’s Organization Blog Fest: Bookshelves”

  1. posted by Sheryl on

    HA! I actually had a leather-bound copy of The Scarlet Letter (that I purchased myself.)

    I gave it away, since Grandma didn’t give it to me. 😉

  2. posted by Gena on

    Oh, the timing! I went over one of my bookcases last night and pulled a good stack of books I’m ready to part with. I posted about half of them on Amazon and sold two overnight (yea! and for more than pennies!). The rest will go to the local used bookstore for review, and whatever they reject will go to the library for donation. My goal, before summer, is to do a thorough purging of the bookshelves. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. posted by Vicki K on

    Yesterday, I sold some books to the used bookstore – we are saving that money for a family-voted-on treat.

    I think of the library as an annex to my own home.

  4. posted by chacha1 on

    I only get rid of books when I need the space for more books. 🙂

  5. posted by Mike on

    I’m with @chacha1. Books take up little space, require no batteries or cabling, and will work the same in a century as they do today. They pack a remarkably large amount of entertainment punch in a small and convenient space. Bookshelves, moreover, look great in most homes.

    That said, it’s a good idea economically if nothing else to go through one’s bookshelf every year or so and resell anything that isn’t ever going to be read again. The wife and I make a day of it, ending up at the used bookstore like children on Christmas morning with a huge store credit balance to spend.

    There are nice, top-end books that are never going away no matter what… leatherbound Lord of the Rings, first edition of Dune, etc… but for many, paperback is enough. I hope my daughters will enjoy Watership Down and the Great Brain series as much as I did when I read those same copies in my youth.

  6. posted by Julia on

    I’m weeding out my books as well but…I’m thinking of relocating all remaining bookcases to exterior walls – they might be good insulation!

  7. posted by *Pol on

    Kids books are my biggest problem. So many fond memories of curling up with the wee ones reading their favourites over and over again. The only trouble is there are SO MANY favourites! Their bookshelves are bursting!

    I have donated a large pile of the younger science books to their elementary school library, so they still have access to them (and so do the other kids).

    My own books seem easier to thin and cull since starting Unclutterer — though they still do not all fit into my bookshelves and the “still to read” pile is enormous. (Baby steps). Since I usually get my books at the salvation army thrift store (by the bag), I have no financial attachment to them and am happy to donate them back for the next thrifty bibliophile…. and they do go back by the bagful!

  8. posted by tabatha on

    I’ve been having fun getting rid of books. most of my books were picked up 2nd hand so if i start reading something and don’t like it in the first two chapters it goes in the give pile. If I discover its part of a series I don’t feel like tracking down so I can read all of it, it goes in the give pile, Never gonna read again goes in the give pile. And anything else that I just decide I don’t want to read goes in the give pile. The books I do read go in the pile when I am done with a few exceptions.

    I don’t want to hold on to all these books because I know I will not be living in this same apartment forever, and I hauled them all here one carload at a time from three hours away or my boyfriend did on his way home and then we had to lug them upstairs. I told him next time we move that isn’t going to happen again. I only want to be taking a couple boxes of books AT THE MOST next time we move, so I am dealing with them now.

  9. posted by Katie on

    May I get soapboxish for a moment?

    From an author’s POV, please consider donating books to libraries before thrift stores. A library can build up an author’s reader base, and if the book gets worn out, the librarian will buy a new one. Books not put into circulation are often sold at sales that allow the library to purchase more new books.

    Authors make zero money from used book sales (and authoring doesn’t exactly make millionaires out of most of us), so donating to libraries is a great way to help an author keep writing in these slim-reading times of ours.

    Also, if you buy a book used and like it, consider leaving positive reviews at the big online stores.

  10. posted by Fred E. on

    Katie, having a good market for used books like on Amazon,, etc. actually increases sales of new books for several reasons. First of all, some people are more likely to buy a book if they know they can sell it. A lot of people use the money they get from selling books to buy new books. Some people don’t even buy new books, they only buy used books, and they’re not going to buy a new one if they can’t buy a used one.

    In addition, my library sells almost all donated books anyway, for $2 or less–it is more effective for me to sell them for more and then donate the proceeds.. Giving books to the library is the same as giving them to charity shop here. That money goes to a good cause–buying books.

    It has even been shown that giving away e-copies of a book increases sales and that getting books in peoples’ hands by any means increases that author’s sales, even if it is only in later publications.

    So you’re just barking up the wrong tree. Libraries are not-for-profit charitable institutions, authors aren’t. When I buy a book I can do anything I want with it.

    In fact, you would be wise to give copies of your books away instead of trying to tell other people what to do with their own property in a way that benefits yourself.

  11. posted by Gena on

    Katie, I’d love to donate outright to our library. The problem (for me) is that our library doesn’t necessarily keep any of the stuff that’s donated. If they have a need for it, then yes, they’ll keep it, but otherwise, it goes into their inventory for their big “buy by the pound” book sale. It’s one of the reasons that it’s hard for me to leave stuff I love at the library; there’s no guarantee it’s going to be there when I’d like to check it out. And it’s not like our library is so incredibly well funded or well stocked. Due to CA’s tax situation, monies to public libraries have fallen off dramatically. You’d think the library would be thrilled to incorporate donations, but alas, they really seem to get recycled.

  12. posted by chacha1 on

    I buy almost all my books new (supporting authors!). I have given hundreds of books to our library (Beverly Hills, CA).

    If I am divesting hardcover fiction, I divest an entire collection (i.e. everything by that author), so typically the library ends up with a full backlist. I expect most of them have gone into the “friends” bookstore. Though our library is exceptionally nice, its fiction collection is not particularly deep, and I know they can’t keep everything. I don’t mind if they sell it.

    As to non-fiction, Goodwill won’t take it and local used bookstores don’t give enough in trade value to make it worth the trip to me, so those also go to the library.

    I think my bookshelves are an asset to our home decor. We bought really nice glass-fronted bookcases, most of them deep enough to hold art objects or pictures in front of the books, so the place doesn’t look like a library. It’s not cluttery, it’s not dusty, and it’s great sound insulation in an apartment.

    I also have books in my closet, in the hall closet, in a Mongolian chest in the den, and in the kitchen cabinets. 🙂 Since I read and re-read constantly, making space for books is a big priority.

    For me, keeping the bookshelves neat, orderly, and not overstuffed is essential – not just because I don’t want to look like the crazy book lady, but because I want to treat the books with respect.

  13. posted by Sue on

    “Give away any books that you don’t plan on reading or referencing again, are in the public domain, and can be found in their entirety online.”

    I read this to Dh–he is hyperventilating at the thought! LOL!

  14. posted by McBeth on

    Reading this post I had to reach for my inhaler…! I love my books, I don’t see them as clutter and they have aesthetic value in my home. Oh, plus if I’d followed this advice, maybe I wouldn’t have my first edition Harry Potter books (now worth lots!) among other things. ;0) My books and bookshelves also provide sound insulation from the neighbours and I’m sure add heat insulation too!

  15. posted by Bibliovore on

    I get rid of duplicate books and very few others. I love having books around so I can read (or re-read) them up at whim, loan them out, and look things up. I don’t see them as clutter — they’re well and neatly organized on sufficient shelves, and I like the look of books in a space.

    However, this is reminding me to get my old cassette tapes and vinyl records in digital form and unclutter those.

    To each their own. 8)

  16. posted by Skye on

    People that part with their precious books lack intelligence and substance.

    Yes, get rid of badly written books or books that fall apart, but keep the good books.

    I own books from the most important writers in the world, i.e from Homer, Kafka to Herman Hesse and Camus. I will never part with my books, they are like my children.

  17. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Skye — So you’re saying that I lack intelligence AND substance? Ouch. That’s totally inappropriate.

    Also, what does it say about you that you judge someone based upon the books on their shelves instead of the books that they’ve actually read or the content of their character?

  18. posted by Fred E. on

    Skye, there’s no need to hoard books. You can always check them out from the library or buy a new copy. Especially the authors you name, those are always available for a dollar or two at a used bookshop, or you can just download some of them for free. It felt so good to get rid of my high school paperback copy of Walden and replace it with a free, searchable e-text that never will yellow or get dusty. It’s very hard to stop hoarding books but think of it as sharing or liberating them and getting them into the hands of people who want them. The key is to realize you are not your things and books are things. If your identity is based on your property, work on that issue first and then it will be easier to get rid of clutter.

  19. posted by Kate Robertson on

    I use a website called Paperback Swap ( This helps me rotate my book collection. You basically post books you would like to part with and pay to have them shipped to the member who wants it. In return, you receive a credit and may pick out any listed book! The site also has a wishlist feature where you can receive first priority when a new book is posted. This has been a great decluttering strategy for me. 🙂

  20. posted by John Soares on

    I also get rid of books that I can easily get again at the library or a bookstore.

    I keep only those books I’ve written in for learning purposes or that I need for reference.

    I also make good use of the library — just started On Mexican Time about living in San Miguel de Allende.

  21. posted by Karyn on

    One idea that has helped me, not only with books but with possessions in general, is this: Just because I LOVE it doesn’t mean I have to OWN it.

    For me, letting go of such notions as “books are like children” or that my bookshelf ought to reflect everything I’ve ever read, or be a physical representation of my intellect and interests (to WHOM? the people who pack ’em away after I die?) has been key to keeping my physical and mental space clear.

    Do I really want to hang on to a bunch of books that I’ve read, enjoyed or not, and haven’t touched for years, or do I want to focus on what I’m reading NOW, on what reflects who I am today? Even if you have the physical space to store tons of books (and other possessions) they also occupy mental “space” in terms of your energy and attention.

    Of course there’s also the aspect of “What I’ve Read” as part of my life’s journey, a chronicle of what helped shape me into the person I am today–but I don’t have to have every single item in my physical possession in order to reflect upon its role in my past.

    One useful tool for me is Library Thing. Rather than using it to catalog every book I own, I’ve been using it to keep track of books I’ve read or want to read, creating a virtual, searchable library for those times I want to recall a Book from the Past and check it out again.

  22. posted by Marjorie on

    I like to keep books that I know I will pick up again to reference or to re-read. For the ones that I know I can part with, I “release” them after I register them on is a fun concept. Registered users can trade books with other users (a “controlled release”) or do a “wild release” and leave it in a coffee shop or wherever and then track the book’s travels online.

  23. posted by Vanessa (One New Thing) on

    I’m both a writer and a reader, yet I own only four books at the moment:

    1. a great dictionary (although I use the online version often)
    2. a GRE study guide (wish me luck!)
    3. a piano tutorial (which I haven’t used but plan/hope to) and
    4. Brian Tracy’s ‘Goals!’ (a useful book I refer to occasionally)

    Now, if I can just get rid of these vinyl records…

  24. posted by JJM on

    We are about to convert our office into our daughter’s new bedroom, since Baby #2 is due in late summer and will be occupying the nursery. The walls in our current office are full of shelves, and full of – mostly – my husband’s books. He is notorious for purchasing new books, starting them, and not finishing them. It drives me crazy! He is also a graphic designer, so he has many programming books as well as design magazines, several years old, that he refuses to part with. We will be downsizing our office into a shared space that also functions as storage, i.e. no room for quite so many books! Any advice for gently encouraging him to “release” some of his books and magazines??

  25. posted by Gil on

    I grew up in a home filled with books and parents that encouraged me to read and appreciate them at an early age.

    However, living on my own I have become attuned to the fact that books make up a HUGE amount of clutter, but take up a lot of space. Additionally next to furniture, books take a lot of physical and mental energy to move, sort and organize.

    I do plan on inheriting and keeping a few of my dad’s art books that would be very rare to find today, and a few of my own that I re-read often. However, I want to have no more than 20-25 books in my collection at one time

  26. posted by Jill on

    I have a super hard time parting with books, the ones I own now I will never part (all of Anton Lavey’s works plus a few other authors)

  27. posted by Jill on

    that should have been “part with” :S

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