The second pass

One of our local libraries recently asked for donations for their upcoming used book sale. The revenues from this sale help to supplement their funding over the year and they also go through the donations to see if there are any books in good condition they wish to add to their collection. I love this time of year because it gives me an excuse to go through my bookshelves to see if there are any titles I’m ready to give away for the sale.

In the article, “Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf,” I outlined the standards I use to decide which books to keep and which ones to donate, recycle, or toss. Now that I’m a regular Kindle user, I added a fourth standard to my Donate, Recycle, or Toss list that includes getting rid of books easily accessible in the public domain. If I can find it for free online and easily download it to my e-reader, I donated the book to my library for their used book sale. I use Google Books and my library’s digital checkout system Overdrive (a very large number of public libraries in the US use this service, so check it out to see if yours is included) as my online resources.

Inevitably, as was again the case this year, a week or two after the donation period for the sale I’ll look at my bookshelves and spot even more books I could have donated. It’s as if the first pass was a practice run and helped me to build up courage to be even more thorough with my uncluttering efforts. Instead of letting the books linger on the shelf until the next year, I grab a box and complete the second pass.

The second pass has become a vital step in my uncluttering process, whether I’m getting rid of clutter off my bookshelves or in my kitchen pantry or in the linen closet or my wardrobe. I’ll always find at least one more thing to donate, recycle, or toss, but usually I find enough items to justify a second trip to a local charity. In the case of books, another nearby library has a used book sale a couple months later, so I simply make a drive to the other library to donate the second pass books there.

When completing a second pass, I don’t usually need to go back to reference the standards I used on the first pass. The only question I ask myself during the second pass is, “Do I really want this?” If I have finally admitted to myself I’m never going to finish reading a book on my bookshelf, the second pass is when I’ll pass it along to someone who will read it. If a shirt is a pain to care for, and I don’t get enough enjoyment out of wearing the piece of clothing as I should for the amount of energy I have to invest in it, the second pass is when it’s most likely to get added to the donation pile. Being brutally honest with myself is all the second pass typically requires.

The second pass is also a good time to evaluate the organizing work you did after the uncluttering process. Is everything in its best place? Does everything still have room for storage? Are the items you’re accessing most frequently in the most convenient to reach locations? Are items you’re not accessing very often in the less convenient to reach locations? Is there anything you need to do to improve your initial organizing efforts?

Do you do a second pass on your uncluttering efforts to make sure that you didn’t accidentally leave clutter in your collections? If you haven’t been doing a second pass of the areas of your home and office you’ve uncluttered, I recommend you schedule it on your calendar for a few days or weeks after your first pass in your uncluttering process. My guess is you’ll find one or more items you’re now ready to purge from your bookshelves, or whatever area you’ve recently uncluttered.

20 Comments for “The second pass”

  1. posted by Jodi on

    When we cleaned out my husbands storage unit this summer, this concept of a second pass is essentially how he eased his way into uncluttering. The first trip we discussed, analyzed, and he got rid of practically nothing. The next time, he started questioning himself on why he was keeping things.

    The third time was under threat of losing everything (he had lost his job and the storage unit bill took low priority over food and mortgage). That was a tough job emotionally, but the trial runs helped him make decisions that he didn’t regret.

    We still have the basement, attic and entryway to declutter, but the process of uncluttering is like learning to play piano. You start with learning theory, then practicing, and get better over time.

    I wonder if the “second pass” for a seasoned unclutterer is kinda the difference between one last practice before the big recital. I like the concept of a second pass, because it allows for room to continue to grow and improve!

  2. posted by Anne on

    I don’t have this problem because I’ve gone 100% digital with my book collection. Slice the spine off your books and then scan with a scanner such as the ScanSnap. Make sure you recycle the paper afterward. It’s really the only way to go for a true unclutterer – you wouldn’t insist on paper airplane tickets, would you? Any new books are bought on Kindle. If there’s no ebook version, I buy the book secondhand from Amazon then cut up and scan.

    I would therefore suggest using this “second pass” tip when you go through your bookcase deciding what to scan. Think, “Do I want to go to the trouble of scanning this?” and if the answer is no, donate it. That really helps me get things into perspective.

  3. posted by karen on

    Anne, I must not be a true unclutterer because even though I have a Kindle, I will give up all paper books when I am dead and buried. πŸ™‚ That said, many classics are found free, so I have downloaded those (Les Miserables, et cetera) rather than buy them. And I regularly go through our book collection and take some to the secondhand book store, and get credit there for some good children’s books.

    I admire your sticking to your guns, though, when it comes to no paper books. I really do. I am not that strong. πŸ™‚

  4. posted by Someone on

    For me, I think the second pass has another psychological cause. There will be things that some part of me doesn’t want to categorize with the things currently in the to-go pile, because they are more “keepable” than that. But once the to-go pile is gone, I can look at them with fresh eyes on their own merits, and let go of the next “layer” of degree-of-attachment stuff.

  5. posted by anna on

    The second pass is very useful. It doesn’t work well for me with books.

    I share my home with a book and magazine collector husband with a very large fiction library, around 9,000 books and 3,000 magazines at a guesstimate. A lot of my uncluttering time is keeping the books in the bookcases and stopping them from appearing in piles around the house. My uncluttering twitches start mostly when I notice there are 2 or 3 copies of the same title because ‘the cover art is different’. Twitch. Twitch

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anne — There are some books, especially reference books and cookbooks, that I HAVE to hold in my hand. I can do fiction on my Kindle. I can do non-fiction I’m only going to read once and that I’ll read cover-to-cover on my Kindle. I can’t do pattern books or textbooks or anything where I want to flip back and forth or just look up a single entry. We all have our preferences … it’s okay.

  7. posted by snosie on

    @Anne – well yes, I still get a paper airplace ticket… or perhaps that’s a boarding pass. IN any case, even E tickets I still print, cause I’d hate to be in a weird country without internet and no way to check details, and the check in clerk (or machine) telling me, NO, I don’t have a flight. Peace of mind, I tell you… (And I’ve been to weird countries, well at least ones where I don’t have smart phone/roaming enabled, or where the checkin staff LOSE the internet!!)

  8. posted by DawnF on

    Slicing up books… wow. πŸ™ Please say that’s not really happening…

    I think the second pass concept is great when encouraging kids to declutter the toys they have outgrown. My son goes through his toy box and closet a little too quickly so we do a quick second look before heading off to Goodwill or sending a box of goodies off to my niece.

  9. posted by Sinea on

    Yes, I definitely make a second pass later on to declutter an area more. Sometimes I get a little jealous of others who, in my imagination, have so much more time on their hands to really dig in but then I have to realize that decluttering doesn’t have to take long…just commitment!

  10. posted by EngineerMom on

    I did the “second pass” in my kitchen utensil decluttering, though it wasn’t intentional. I removed a bunch of items and stored them in an empty diaper box on the top shelf in one cabinet. The deal I made with myself was that if I discovered I needed the utensil, I took it out of the box, used it, then found a permanent home for it. Six months later, I donated what was left to Goodwill. During those six months, I had added a few items I’d found while cleaning out other cupboards.

    Two weeks after that donation run, I decide that two utensil holders next to the stove was one too many, so I did a “second pass” to get rid of more utensils, and I pulled a few less-used ones (like my big soup ladle that gets used only every other week or so) and put them in a drawer. Now, the crock next to the stove only holds utensils that see daily or at least every other day use.

    I think I’ll do the same thing with the kids’ toys – might help my son learn to let things go!

  11. posted by Amanda on

    Anne, I consider digital clutter a far larger problem than paper book clutter. Eventually, the Kindle will wear out, break, or be so obsolete, you’re essentially forced to update it. At which times you’ll have to figure out how to safely and environmentally soundly dispose of it. And often “recycling” it in the bins outside of stores isn’t actually environmentally sound (see: China’s Electronic Waste Village).

    I have 100-year-old books that are still readable, and when a book eventually does really, truly wear out, I can recycle it or compost it. Yes, it takes energy to produce books. But a single book on my shelf can last for decades and go through dozens of hands, and the pollution is in the creation, not the disposal. Your Kindle won’t last for decades and creates pollution in the production and disposal of it.

    Digital clutter might not clutter up your bookshelves, but that doesn’t make it Not Clutter.

  12. posted by Lynda on

    I believe that sometime between the first and second pass on any storage, the process of disposal becomes easier because You’ve Actually Done It. Things have gone but the sky hasn’t fallen in; you realise there’s at least 20 available at the local charity shop or online; you haven’t noticed the object isn’t there…

    Ah, digital clutter. When someone in your household has recorded a film on the computer and then rerecorded it as it’s in high definition and still haven’t watched the blooming thing. Haven’t gone for digital books in a big way but have noticed I do tend to download, skim and not go back to reread which doesn’t bode well for my adaptation to digital books!

  13. posted by Juhli on

    Thanks so much for mentioning donating gently used books to your library for fundraising sales. Most libraries also take DVDs, CDs, and perhaps other media to put in their sales. With many libraries facing huge budget cuts it is becoming even more vital to raise money in other ways. And the people who buy the books are always so thrilled to get them. As a volunteer who sorts through donated books for my local library let me add though that donations should be of the quality that you would buy it yourself. Out of date reference, travel or text books, and very dirty, musty or stained books simply create more work for us and can be recycled instead of donated.

  14. posted by Mary in TN on

    I like not only the second pass, but third, fourth, fifth, and so on. It’s like peeling back an onion: you do it one layer at a time. It’s easy for me to find a small bag’s worth of books to donate to the library sale. Once I decide to donate one bag of books, I just “make a pass.” Each time I do, I have no trouble filling a bag with books that, one month before, I wouldn’t have wanted to part with. Go figure.

  15. posted by JustGail on

    I’ll have to give Anne credit for sticking to what works for her on the books, esp. after getting hammered the last time this subject came up. However, her way isn’t for everyone, especially the book slicing and scanning. I’ll look for e-books, but I’m not quite ready to slice them up. That’s just the time/equipement issue and doesn’t touch the ethics/future compatibility issues. And often the “do everything digitally” people forget not everyone has a smart phone, e-reader, etc or trusts them for everything yet.

    I’m in the need paper books crowd for some categories like cookbooks, so I can do something that probably irritates some people – write or draw in them! Not altered book art – I mean clarifications, adjustments, markings to keep my place, or a note if it’s good or never make it again. Can that be done with e-books, without spending a huge amount on software?

  16. posted by Alix on

    Second, third, even fourth passes over time. Uncluttering is like archeology: you don’t dig up the whole site all at once, you let it reveal itself, one layer at a time.

  17. posted by Jen on

    I usually find more stuff to give away/toss every time I go through my belongings. I think it’s because, without the first-pass items there (the low-hanging fruit), it’s easier to see the second-tier items that are maybe not quite as useless as, say, the stained pants that also don’t fit but you wouldn’t want to wear them even if they were in good shape. You really have time to ask yourself the hard questions like “do I really love this shirt enough to let it continue taking up space in my closet” and whatnot. I think it’s harder to do that when there’s other clutter there that’s easier to get rid of. We all take the path of least resistance most of the time πŸ™‚

  18. posted by ninakk on

    We have had quite interesting discussions on this in the forum and I am of the school believing one is never done decluttering, but there will be round after round, while digging deeper just like the archeology analogy above.

    Anne, I just inherited some books that were first owned by my grandmother’s father; I doubt the same can be said about your electronic files and grandchildren’s children. You have written of your books numerous times before, so why not move on to some other subject too?

  19. posted by Auntpeso on


    I have a Kindle, and it allows me to underline text, makes notes and set bookmarks. Even in library e-books — and it will keep my notes if I check the book out again or buy it from Amazon.

    That said — I also have about 300 physical books (down from more than 500 last year), some of which I would not want in an electronic form because of the reasons some have mentioned already.

    Everyone has to find the setup that works for him or her.

  20. posted by chacha1 on

    I always use the “second pass” technique, especially when addressing my bookcases. Since my cases hold much more than just books, I use the second pass to restore aesthetic balance to the contents after moving (or removing) books.

    I recently donated to the library my whole collection of Bruce Alexander mysteries (fine hardcover firsts, all signed, hope they can sell them or if not, add them to the collection) which freed up a big chunk of shelf. So that entailed moving some books, which opened up OTHER spaces.

    It’s a fun process, for me, and often serves not just as a way to tangibly enjoy my treasures but as a way to meditate on the whys and wherefores of keeping them.

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