Uncluttering your reading material

Do you have a huge backlog of things you want to read sometime? Does that sometime never seem to come? The following are some steps you might take to unclutter that reading backlog — and keep it from building up again. I’m going to ignore books for now and focus on some of the more ephemeral materials: newsletters and magazines.

Consider general guidelines for the reading materials you keep

You’ve probably heard the famous words of William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I look for the equivalent in my nonfiction reading matter: useful information or engaging writing on a topic of interest. Useful information, to me, is something new that I can definitely see myself using in the near future, usually in my work — not something that might be useful, someday, in some unspecified way.

Manage your online newsletter subscriptions

It’s easy to wind up oversubscribed to online newsletters because it just takes a click to subscribe and so many of them are free. But they can just as easily overwhelm your email and create a huge reading backlog. And I should know, since I recently noticed some newsletters I had sitting around from October of last year. (They are gone now.)

Because of that backlog, I’ve been re-evaluating the newsletters I get. There’s one I subscribed to a couple months ago, knowing I wasn’t sure about it but wanting to give it a try. I just unsubscribed from that one because the content simply wasn’t compelling enough to give it my time. I also dropped a long-term subscription because my interests have changed, and another one because the author’s style no longer appeals to me.

One of my newsletters is purely a current news update so I make sure to delete it daily, even if I don’t get around to reading it the day it arrived. There’s always more news, and the stories in yesterday’s news digest may well have been updated by today. So I get rid of that newsletter the same way I would recycle a day-old newspaper.

My remaining four newsletters (two daily, two weekly) are either useful in my work or just really fun to read, so I feel fine about keeping those subscriptions and letting the newsletters accumulate in my email for a little while — a week or two, perhaps — if my schedule is too crowded for me to read them right away.

Manage your magazine (and paper newsletter) subscriptions

Again, it’s easy to wind up with subscriptions you don’t really need or want. For example, I know people who have bought magazine subscriptions in order to support a fundraising effort, even though they didn’t really care about the magazines. (In such cases, it might be wise to ask if you can just donate to the cause directly, rather than through buying the subscription.)

It’s also easy to wind up with a subscription that expires many years out, because those renewal notices sometimes keep coming, and you may forget you’ve already renewed. If you have subscriptions to magazines you no longer care about, you may want to cancel them now (and perhaps get a refund) rather than just waiting for the subscription to expire.

Other magazines that can cause trouble are those that come every week, especially if they are not light reading. The New Yorker may be a fine magazine, but it’s very easy to develop a large pile of unread New Yorkers. Be honest with yourself about how many magazines you can reasonably keep up with, and you’ll enjoy your subscriptions more.

Personally, I’ve realized I’m not good at making time to read magazines, so before this week I was down to two subscriptions: one I chose and one that comes along with from my auto club membership. As I went to write this post, I realized that I don’t really want the auto club magazine, so I just called and got that one cancelled.

4 Comments for “Uncluttering your reading material”

  1. posted by Shel on

    I recently went on an unsubscribe spree for both newsletters and blogs. Similar to what you describe above, there were several that I no longer needed, enjoyed or found useful. Now I need to tackle the articles I’ve saved to Pocket. I suspect there are a great many I’ve saved but will never read.

  2. posted by laura m. on

    shel: me too, even deleted one of my email address because several would not stop or unsubscribe me. Plus some of them sent spam for products they sell. I just go directly to their website instead. Also, I ditched other email correspondence, was wasting my time, I told them I had to cut back and pare down my email time. I gave lots of books away several years ago. Have very few now. We no longer get newspapers, poor quality all over nowdays.

  3. posted by Laura on

    Libraries are a great way to keep your own reading clutter to a minimum. Peruse free magazines and books and return them when you are done! A lot of libraries will also let you check out e-books and audio-books. — Your friendly librarian.

  4. posted by Berin Kinsman on

    What I discovered a while back is that categorizing and grouping things makes declutttering a lot easier. Whether it’s book, browser bookmarks, or RSS feeds, grouping them by topic makes it easier to weed out what you no longer need or are no longer interested in. Instead of going through everything looking for what to cull, you can either blow up whole categories or simply look for best-of-breed in each category and get rid of the rest.

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