Reader Heather wrote in to ask advice about letting go of some of her books.
I read a lot (up to four books a day) and I have a number of books that I read over and over from select authors. I also have an advanced degree and am going back to school soon. I have novels, books about writing, poetry, birds, science, and art. I never know when I’ll be up all night or stuck at home for several days. I have been reading through Gutenberg.org, but that limits me to books for which the copyright has expired.
I have three regular sized bookshelves and one double sized bookshelf. I know I need to get rid of at least one bookshelf, or all the books on the floor in stacks, or both. My one-bedroom apartment is cluttered with books, birds, plants, and art supplies. It depresses me and it’s hard to take care of. I’m pecking away but often my chronic health problems interfere so it’s hard. Can you offer any suggestions?
Thanks for the great question Heather. Many bibliophiles have difficulty getting rid of books — myself included. I grow so attached to some novels that getting rid of them would be like throwing away my best friends. However, there is only so much space we have to store books that tough decisions (and yes indeed, they are tough) must be made.
Unclutterer has a great article about what books to let go. These include books you won’t ever read, books you won’t read again, and books you don’t like. Below, I’ve included a few more unconventional ways of uncluttering. Perhaps you will find one or more helpful.
Evacuate your home. Pretend you have been ordered to evacuate. You can take only the books you can fit into three smaller moving boxes and you only have 30 minutes to choose your favourites. Set a timer with an alarm and start boxing up your favourite books. When you are done, the books in the boxes are those you will definitely keep and everything else is negotiable. This tactic makes you react on instinct and not overthink your decisions. It doesn’t work for everyone, but if you might want to give it a go and see what you discover. It is a similar process to asking yourself if the book “sparks joy.” However, with many book lovers (myself included), every book “sparks joy“ so giving yourself this evacuation challenge might help.
Worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what would be the worst possible thing that could happen if you got rid of the book. Would you lose important information that would be difficult to find elsewhere? Would part of your family heritage be lost? If so, then the book is a keeper. Everything else that you could find in a library or on the internet, is negotiable. If the book is essential for working on a current, active project, then the book is a keeper. Convenience is important too. Once the project is complete though, the book becomes eligible for elimination.
Book Custodian. Are you looking after the books as if you were a librarian? Do you practice proper book storage and cleaning techniques? Are you able to keep up with repairs any books might need? Are your books organized in a way that you can find exactly what you need when you need it? Consider letting go of books that you don’t feel compelled to take care of.
Gamify it. In this technique, have a friend pull a book off the shelf at random and tell you only one significant detail of the book such as the title or author’s name. You have to tell your friend all about the book. For fiction, you could provide a brief summary of the plot. For non-fiction, provide some facts within the book. If you can’t provide details, the book leaves your home. If you haven’t yet read the book, the friend puts it in a separate “to read” pile and comes back in a month or so. If you haven’t read the book by then, it goes.
Here are a few other Unclutterer articles about books that you might find helpful.
- An exercise in uncluttering: books and magazines
- I Murdered My Library: A Kindle Short review
- The challenge of letting go of books
- Bringing your bookshelves back to order
- Keeping book clutter off the bookshelf
- Books: To donate or not to donate?
Thanks for your great question Heather. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.
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