I’ve never been an avid book reader. I might read 10 books a year, on a good year. Although I’m not a big reader, I’m still a collector of books, which means I needed to figure out a way to sort through and deal with the emotions of decluttering books.
I especially love to collect cookbooks, fiction books, and some amazing business or self-development books. My husband also gets excited about collecting books.
We were sure we would have time to read these books “someday”, right? Or if we read them once, maybe we would read them again?
We knew we had a problem when we went to move homes for the second time, and there were boxes of books that had never been touched in the years they sat in our storage closet. That was when it was time to be honest with ourselves.
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Book clutter emotions
Getting rid of books is hard. I’ll be the first to admit it!
You see, when you get rid of books, it means admitting you will not be making the time to read or use the books you bought any longer. It means feeling guilt for the money spent on books never read or letting go of books you love but will honestly never use or read again.
Yet, think about it. If you have books sitting on a shelf, who is enjoying them? We had books sitting in boxes for years collecting dust! Books are meant to be read, not collecting dust!
Getting rid of books meant admitting I would never make the recipes I dreamed of making from my beloved collection of cookbooks or never making time to read the books I knew I would one day enjoy.
Getting rid of book clutter meant guilt and a feeling of defeat. It also meant letting go of dreams of one day making time for me, whether to relax or to make myself better.
Ridding myself of book clutter meant letting go of dollars spent but never using those dollars. I hated it.
If you feel any of these awful emotions, it is totally normal!
When I decided to declutter our books, it took some time. It might as well have been categorized up there with getting rid of sentimental clutter. It was an emotional drain, and it didn’t all happen in one decluttering session.
Here are the best strategies to declutter books:
First, remove all your books from the bookshelf. Yep, you heard me right. Take them all down!
We use a similar method when we declutter the closet. Books have been on your bookshelf for years. When they are on the bookshelf, it is easy to leave them there. Take them off, and they are one step closer to making it out of your home.
Touch each book in your collection. Flip through it. Be honest with yourself about your intentions with the book.
Then, start with the genre of books you care the least about emotionally. For me, this meant going through my fictional books. Then, move on to the next genre.
Going through all your books by category will make sifting through them easier. Have a box (or three) ready to put any unwanted books in there. I recommend smaller boxes. Books are heavy!
Create book storage solutions
Before you start going through all your book clutter, it is best to know what kind of storage space you are working with and your end goal.
Do you want to have only one shelf of books? An entire bookcase? An entire room? (I could never own that many books, but the key is finding the right balance for you!)
My husband and I needed only one bookshelf. Why? Well, because we are happy finding and borrowing books from the library. It is a more economical choice for us, and it helped cut down on the book storage.
I have a separate, smaller shelf, for cookbooks in my kitchen. I wanted the cookbooks to be easily accessible while cooking, and I didn’t want to have any overflow into other rooms.
My kids then have their own storage shelves. My oldest daughter is an avid book reader, so she has two dedicated shelves for her books. Those two shelves hold a few hundred children’s books! That’s ok. Books bring her joy, and as long as she wants the space for books, we will make the space for them. Does this mean less space for other things, like toys? Yes. She is perfectly ok with this.
Creating book storage solutions will making sorting and decluttering your books so much easier!
Questions to ask when sorting and purging books:
- Will I read this book?
- Why am I holding on to this book?
- Is this book outdated and no longer relevant?
- Is this book a duplicate?
- Have we outgrown this book?
- Could I get this book at the library if I ever wanted to read it again?
Find the right balance when you declutter books
Finding the right balance for the number of books you own is key. You have to find the perfect balance for you and your likes. If you reference books often, create more space for yourself. If you actually re-read books, create space for those.
You don’t have to count the number of books in your home and never go over that number. Find a reasonable balance that fits your home and your lifestyle. The thing it not to hold on to books only because you are scared to let them go. Hold on to books that bring you value and function.
Fictional book clutter
I feel like fictional books are a dime a dozen. There are some amazing ones out there, but they are usually very affordable and easy to come by. Therefore, I started with fiction books.
I think I’ve only reread one fiction book ever (the last in the sequence of Twilight – don’t judge me!) I still have that book, and there is a very high likelihood I will read it again.
For all the other books in your collection that are either read or unread, pick a number to keep or space to take up, and don’t exceed that number or space. If you have this mindset, figuring out which books to keep and which ones to get rid of will be so much easier!
What’s the right number of books to keep? Well, that all depends. It depends on how often you read books and your storage space. I only read about ten books a year, so I kept ten books. That’s a years’ worth of reading I kept on my bookshelf.
Make sure to leave enough space for other genres of books too.
Non-fiction book clutter
Second to go in my decluttering mission were non-fiction books. We had a few (or shelves full)! We even had a few boxes full from a prior move and they never got unpacked.
Consider the following when sorting through and decluttering your non-fiction books:
*How often do you reference a book?
If it’s a book to learn a new skill but you have mastered it now, it may be time to let it go.
If it’s a book to learn a new skill but you haven’t picked it up in years with no intention to in the near future, it’s also time to let it go.
*How relevant is the book?
Have you outgrown that phase in your life? If it’s a book about pregnancy, and you have no plans of ever purposefully getting pregnant again, time to let it go.
*Do you know someone who could better benefit from the book?
I love giving away books, especially books that may be able to benefit someone else. Share non-fiction books with friends with an interest in the topic. Save your friend or family member money by gifting them something you already enjoyed.
Declutter kid books
This one is hard. Boy, do I get it! Those sweet memories of holding your little one, reading the same favorite book over and over again. It is hard to let that go.
Here’s the thing, your kids probably don’t want their old books for their kids. There, I said it.
We had boxes of old books from my husband’s childhood. It was sweet we were able to read them again, and we have probably a hundred of them on our shelf still. They are thin and they are getting used. However, I am not sure it was worth the trouble of saving all those boxes of books for thirty years.
As my kids get older, we will likely pass on most of the books in our collection. I don’t have the storage space or the desire to hold on to books for a few decades. I would rather give my kids the space to play and save the storage space for other items.
Pick your favorite one to three books once your kids outgrow them, and put them in a keepsake box. Don’t save them all. It creates a burden on your kids when they are grown.
If you are still too emotionally tied to books, give them to a family member who is expecting or a friend. Think about the space you are creating by letting go of these unnecessary books too. What else could go there? New, more advanced books? Baskets for more age-appropriate toys?
Sometimes knowing what you can have instead of clutter, makes it easier to let go of the emotional stuff!
Declutter Your Cookbooks
If you are a collector of cookbooks and love food, this may be a difficult category to conquer. I mean, cookbooks are useful! Why on earth would you get rid of them?!!!
I had cookbooks from my Grandmother’s church, my husband’s childhood church, vegan cookbooks (from that phase in my life when a desperate solution was needed for my digestive issues), and many other favorites I collected from used bookstores or asked for as a Christmas present over the years.
Thing is, if you are not using the cookbooks regularly, help them find a home where they will get used. I had friends experimenting with vegan cooking. It was a joy to give them my no longer used cookbooks and save them the money. I even marked my favorite recipes for them with notes!
How often do you use Pinterest for recipes now? I know I use it a lot! Honestly, with the internet, I really don’t need that many cookbooks, as much as I hate to admit it.
In all reality, I use two cookbooks more than anything else. I use the Joy of Cooking (classic cookbook I think should be in every home) and 100 Days of Real Food (easy recipes for everyday families). That’s it. While I still hold on to a handful more, I could probably survive on just these two cookbooks!
Put all your “keep” books back in their designated space
When you declutter your home, everything should have a designated space. For books, that means they should have a designated bookshelf or area to exist.
Make a rule. Once that area is full, something has to go. When you have control of a designated space, you essentially stop the overflow and the ongoing clutter.
Use your local library to help stop the inflow of new books, and if you buy new books, find a home for your old ones. There are people that will love your decluttered books. Keep them from collecting dust and help them find a home where they can be loved!
Decluttering books doesn’t have to be an impossible task! You can do it. Take your time, and be honest with yourself.
When you are done decluttering your books, check out these places where you can donate used books.