How To Get Rid Of Book Clutter
Today's mission is to get rid of your book clutter. Normally I have these as fifteen minute missions but this is one where, depending on the number of books in your home, it might be better to think of it as breaking it down into multiple 15 minute missions.
I've devoted several days on the declutter calendar
to do this task. So no worries, it isn't like you're expected to get it all done today.
Instead it's kind of like the declutter paper piles mission
. You just keep attacking it, in 15 minute increments, until it is done. :)
Did You Learn Today's Mission And Say "NOOOOOOO! I Love My Books"? If So, Read This
This Declutter 365 mission is designed to be done during the Organize Books Challenge
here on the site, which is part of the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge.
That makes sense because the first step in organizing your books is, as always, to declutter the ones you do not need, want, or have room for.
But I know for many people that even the thought of decluttering books causes anxiety. There is a special relationship between people and their books, and I definitely don't want to diminish that emotional connection.
In fact, I completely understand it. I've already confessed on other pages of this site that books are one of my weaknesses. I love to read, and I love to have reference materials on hand.
I also completely understand the enjoyment of actually holding a book in my hands, feeling the paper under my fingertips, smelling that book smell.
Not that I don't also have ebooks and Kindle books (and yes, we'll deal with those digital books later this week!) but there is something special, in my opinion, about physical books.
So I hope seeing that I'm a kindred soul will help you read the rest of these "how to" instructions with an open mind and heart. You're on a journey to declutter your home and get it organized, and eventually you'll need to tackle this area.
So take a deep breath and read my advice, and the 5 questions to ask yourself when you take on the declutter books mission.
If I had to sum it up though, it
is that books are meant to be read
, not just collect dust. So if you don't read them and plan to read them, you need to let the go to someone who will read them.
The Process For Sorting & Purging Books
To do this mission first get your supplies ready. In this case those supplies are pretty simple. It is one (or more) boxes to hold the books you decide you want to declutter from your home.
Remember, books are heavy, so I suggest smaller boxes so you can actually pick them up without killing your back once they're full. I have found banker boxes, with handles, are great for this purpose if you've got them available.
You will be sorting books into several categories -- keep, and purge, and purge could be separated into books you want to donate versus those you want to sell. (Also, if you come across books you borrowed, you may want a stack for those that need to be returned to their rightful owner.)
For each of your books you will be asking yourself 5 questions, which I've listed below in the next section.
Please be aware that sometimes you need an initial purge, and then a few more rounds of sorting to get it winnowed down to the number of books you'll keep.
It is up to you to decide, now, before you begin, how many books you'll keep, at a maximum. I wouldn't limit yourself to a minimum though.
Instead of counting the number of books though it is really easier to think of it in terms of how much space you can devote in your home to books. For example, it may be that you limit yourself to as many books as you can fit on one or two bookshelves.
If after one purge you still have too many books to fit into this space you know you need to keep decluttering further, until you can fit everything onto those shelves.
Once you're ready to begin the actual decluttering process, see the five questions below that you should ask yourself.
Oh, and I've got a special article all about how to declutter cookbooks
that you can read if that is your type of book collection.Top photo courtesy of Saltygal
5 Questions To Ask Yourself When Decluttering Books
When you do this mission ask yourself these 5 question about each of the books you own. After first, you may find that this takes a while, but quickly you'll find your groove and can focus on the right question for each book and make decisions more quickly.
Question 1: Is This A Duplicate?
You only need, at the most, one copy of each book, so if you've got multiples these are no-brainers to declutter.
This goes for ebooks and Kindle books as well. If you've got an electronic copy you don't need to keep the paper version too, or vice-versa. Choose one or the other.
This also applies to things like dictionaries, for example, where they may not be the exact same dictionary, but if you've got multiples just keep the best one and the rest should be out of there!
Question 2: Is The Material In The Book Out Of Date, Or Still Current & Relevant?
This mainly applies to reference books, but also political and economics types of books. It also refers to old school textbooks.
No one needs to keep an atlas that is 30 years old and no longer accurately reflects the names of countries or other places, for example.
Similarly, the book about predictions for the presidential race which happened 20 years ago is not going to be very helpful anymore, or relevant.
Question 3: Have I Read This Before & Will I Read It Again?
This question can really be broken down into two parts, so I'll address each one separately.
Books You've Never Ever Read
If you've got books in your home that you have NEVER read, why are you keeping them?
Sure, it is OK to have a small number of books in your "planning to read for the first time category," as long as you actually are planning to read them. I mean, specifically, that you have plans to read them. Not a "one day when I'm not so busy" kind of plans, but plans like, "I am reading this book next, and then that one, and then I will read this one, and I've given myself a deadline."
However, if a book has languished on your bookshelf for years just gathering dust and you've had no actual inclination to read it by now, why is there? Perhaps it was a gift someone said you'd absolutely love, but it just didn't interest you, or you were at one point totally fascinated with a particular genre of book but that interest passed, and has not returned, before you even cracked the cover on one of them. Those are the types of books to get rid of from this category.
Books You've Read Once -- Will You Actually Read Them Again?
Then, there are the books you've read already. The question for those types of books is, are you going to read it again?
You've got to get this idea out of your mind that books show your intelligence, or that they make you look cool, or whatever status you feel like a book might give to you. Because really, ultimately, books are meant to be read.
If you have no desire to read a book again, out it should go. I mean, who wants to read a mystery again when you already know the plot twist at the end?
Then, be careful with yourself for the books you read once and think, one day I'll read that again. It is a slippery slope to just keeping every book if you're not careful, because "one day" is really not specific enough. Be realistic with your answer to this question.
I'll give you another question below (question 5) that can help you if you feel like you're headed down this slippery slope with this issue.
Question 4: Why Do I Want To Keep This Book?
If you've gotten all the way down to this question with a book, and haven't decided to part with it yet, you need to figure out what your motivation is for keeping it.
Because I'm not advocating getting rid of all your books I realize there are legitimate reasons to keep one, but you want to make sure you have one. :)
Don't Keep Books To Convey A Certain Status
I mentioned already that people keep books for lots of reasons. To the extent that keeping certain books around, such as classics, is about maintaining a certain perception or status you're trying to convey to others, please don't. You are special and smart and worth it whether you've got the books to prove it or not!
If you love the classics, and reread them all the time, by all means definitely keep them. But don't keep the classics which you detested reading in high school and haven't even considered cracking open to read, ever, since then, just because it looks good on your shelf.
Be Realistic About Your Books Real Monetary Value
Other possible emotional reasons someone might want to keep a book include that it is sentimental, and/or that it has a perceived financial value.
It is simple in this day and age to figure out if your book is actually worth something or not. There are all kinds of apps available that allow you to scan the ISBN number of the book and it will tell you exactly how much the book is worth.
I've used some of these apps. The monetary amounts are typically disheartening. That's because we tend to overestimate how much our books our worth, from a strictly cash money basis, because we paid so much more for them than they are worth now, used.
So using one of these apps can be eye opening, and help you just let go of book clutter if it is the perceived worth of these books that is holding you back.
Rare books are rare for a reason. There are not many first edition signed copies of things, for example, so likelihood is you don't have many of them. Not to say you should declutter any you do have. My point is just that you can keep the very few rare or high monetary value books you do have since you'll be getting rid of all the book clutter and have room for these very few books now!
Be Careful You're Keeping Books For The Right Sentimental Reasons
On the other hand, if we feel like no amount of money can replace the book, it is most likely because we're feeling sentimental about it.
The thing is, make sure the sentimentality is in the right place. There are books that are life changing, that you read over and over, and you feel like the characters are family members. Keep those books if you've got room for them!!!
Then, there is sentimentality that is more about the context in which you read the book, not the actual book itself. This is where the danger of sentimentality lies.
For example, do you remember reading that book in high school, a really great time in your life? When you look at the book you feel nostalgic for that time period.
But that isn't about the actual book. That is the context in which you used the item. Be careful, and ask yourself the question now about the actual book. Think about it -- did you enjoy the actual book, or did you actually detest reading the book and now don't even remember the plot very well?
In that situation get rid of the book. You're sentimental about something the book represents, and it is time to let the book go without losing the memories. Why? because books are meant to be read
, not be dust collectors.
Question 5: Could I Get This Book At The Library To Read Again?
Finally, the last question to ask yourself is whether you could actually read this book again if you really needed to or wanted to, without it actually staying in your home.
If the book is out of print, or hard to find, well, that is a consideration for keeping it. (You still don't have to, but it makes more rational sense to keep it then if it passed the cut with all the other questions.)
But if there are 4 copies at the library, and you have yet to reread your copy in the last several years despite your vague recollection that you enjoyed it and feel like eventually you'd like to reread it, let it go. If you do want to read it later you can easily get it, then, and not dust it for years to come in the mean time!
I know getting rid of book clutter can be daunting, so to inspire you, below I've shown some photos sent in by readers who've already taken on this mission to get you ready to do it yourself!
What To Do With Decluttered Books
Once you've decided which of your books to part with, you are probably wondering what to do with them.
I've got ideas!
As I mentioned above, you can sell some of them, such as at garage or yard sales, or to used book stores, for example.
In addition, you can donate your books. I personally favor this method, at least for books that aren't very valuable, so that I can just drop them off and get them into the hands of someone who will appreciate and read them.
If you don't know where to donate your books please check out my article of the Top 13 places to donate used books
You can also sell these books if you believe it will make you enough money to be worth your while. Here's my top 10 places to sell books for cash
In addition, send me your photos once you've done this mission, so I can help you celebrate lightening your bookshelves. You can submit them here
. The best photos will be featured here on the site.
A special thanks to a reader, Cindie, who sent in her photo, above, of a box of here decluttered books. She said, "Out the door!" Yay Cindie, great job!
Are You Ready To Declutter Your Home?
I hope seeing these pictures, and reading these instructions, has inspired you to declutter your books.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.
I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions
(eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars
and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!
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