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

Organize Books Challenge
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

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5 Questions To Ask Yourself When Decluttering Books

5 questions to ask yourself when you declutter 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!

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Before & After Of Bookshelf Decluttering Project

Before

Before

Before After

Stephanie sent in these photos of her recent book decluttering project.

She had more books than would fit on her bookshelf, and winnowed it down to a smaller number so everything fit onto the shelves and also straightened up the books.

It looks great Stephanie!

bookshelf decluttering project

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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.

Top 13 places to donate used books
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.

top 10 places to sell books for cash
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 for ideas.

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?

declutter 365
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!

Some links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase a product through them I receive a small commission which helps me provide this information to you for free, plus support my family. My integrity and your satisfaction are very important to me so I only recommend products I would purchase myself, and that I believe would benefit you. To learn more please see my disclosure statement.


Related Pages You May Enjoy

Getting Clutter Free 15 Minutes At A Time Hall Of Fame

Free Printable July Declutter Calendar With Daily 15 Minute Missions

Go From Get Rid Of Book Clutter Mission To Home Page

Comments for What To Do With Decluttered Books

Click here to add your own comments

I keep lists of what I've read and what I plan to read
by: Anonymous

I was interested in what you had to say re decluttering books, as I did this only yesterday. I keep a record of the books I read, mainly because I have discovered I have read 3 books twice, and didn't remember!!! So with the list I read 40 books last year in operation it is easy. I read them, and I get rid of them. I have a stall at the local market so they go on the shelf for somebody else to enjoy. BUT yesterday I discovered I actually had doubled up on a few! So I have listed what I have read and what is waiting to be read, so that when I go to a book sale or market I don't have to wonder what is at home!! It was quite exciting for me to do, and now have to do the recipe books!!!

my test for what books to buy (or keep) - 40 page test
by: Anonymous

This test was presented to me a long time ago and often helps me decide if I want to purchase a book or not; but it can help decided whether a book is worth keeping or not.

Here it is.....The 40 Page Test

Read page 40 of the book and see if you are interested with what is going on. By page 40 the characters should be developed and the plot well on its way, but not too far in to give away the ending. If it has you interested it may be worth buying/keeping to read later.

Libraries eventually declutter their books too
by: Debbie

In decluttering it is frequently recommended to get rid of your personal copy and read the library's. Just so everyone knows the library declutters also. Books that are outdated, dust collectors, damaged, old looking are weeded out. Because of tax laws publishers keep inventories small and will only reprint when demand dictates. Just something to keep in mind while decluttering those special books. Yes, you may be able to find used, but some books go up dramatically in price.

6. Another use for the book
by: Anonymous

Do you have an art or mixed media project you can use the book for?

Books to cull
by: Anonymous

I read by topic. Recently I read about 15 books about different religions in the world. I needed to get rid of some. The branch library near me had their funding drastically cut and I gave all my religion books. They were delighted because they only had 3 religion books in their collection.

Donating Books
by: K.S.

My mother had a bookcase full of mass-market hardcover books. Our helpers packed them up for us and took them to add to her church's library. They were most appreciated.

Out of print books
by: Anonymous

The only problem with decluttering books that are available at the library is that at some time they do get rid of books too. If there is a particular older book that you enjoy the day will come when it may not be available at the library. I know because it has happened to me. Luckily most used books can be bought online, but sometimes at a hefty price.

purging books
by: Anam Cara

This is extremely hard to do. But I would like to suggest a caveat to the last question: can I get it from the library if I want to read it again later. Library inventories change. They also can't keep everything! If you really like it, hold on to it. It might not be there next time you want it.

I am guilty of having several copies of some books because I loan them to people and then don't get them back. There is a non-fiction book I would currently like to loan to someone, but I only have one copy as the other has "disappeared." I have thought about buying another, but it is out of print and the available copies are over $50. So I just try to share what is in the book rather than the book itself.

Extra copies
by: Anonymous

Alright. 2nd copies: I no longer lend or share any book that I really care about unless I have a second copy. If you love a book enough to share it, then keep a copy for yourself or to share with others. Personally, I keep 3 or 4 so that I can share without worrying whether I will be able to enjoy it again in the future. I like to share, and one of my favorites went from Las Vegas, to New York, to Norway, to France, Africa before we lost track. If you truly love a book, and wish to both keep and share, extra copies are not a waste, they are essential!

What a find!
by: Patricia

I planned to declutter books today, and this article appeared on Pinterest.

I am moving from a large house to a small apartment. I currently have fourteen book cases full. I found a used book store that is coming tomorrow to determine if they want to buy any. Therefore, decluttering today is a must.

I will use these five points as I pick and choose. I am allowing myself to keep three to four book cases. That means ten must go.

It was comforting to read your comments about books and reading. They could have come out of my mouth, word for word. I fear we are a dying breed, but until then...

Another idea to ask yourself
by: Jean Ann

Here's another question to ask yourself when considering how to declutter books in your house: Can I get it on my iPad (tablet, Kindle, even my iPhone...) to read as I want? I have reduced book clutter tremendously by relying on my iPad. If it is fiction, I order it from iBooks and have it in my purse, immediately available whenever I find I have a few minutes.

While it is true that libraries can't keep every book because they have to make room for new books, books online can literally be available forever! Google has an entire department dedicated to putting every book ever written on line, including ancient texts and joke books, and I bet the book you want is already available.

I was the original book-lover, not only happily reading several books at a time, but already stacking up books I wanted to read next. Every cabinet, bookcase, drawer and surface had books on or in it - books I'd read, books I was reading and books I was going to read. I am amazed how easily I transferred that love to my books online because of the ease of having my books with me whenever I have my phone. Try it!

I'm not going to kid you - that doesn't mean I now have lots of empty shelves because of this. I think of it as just having more room for my craft supplies, but that's another story...

Old deceased family books
by: Becky

What do I do with a voracious amount of books that belonged to now deceased family members?

Old and out of date books
by: Anonymous

That won't work if like me you are also fascinated by history and the slice of the past that can be experienced by reading a book out of time. For example, I have a book about manners from several decades ago and it is quite interesting to note the societal changes reflected in rules of politeness. Also, I love to re-read my yellow-back Nancy Drews from the 70s and then read the same title in the blue cover of the 30s (when I can get my hands on them) because they are quite different.

Conclusion: I'm on a declutter my whole house warpath, but my books will be the last to go!

Getting rid of books
by: Anonymous

I have a lot of books that are: To Go To When Needed books. They are books about things to do or use when you have a medical problem like colds or headaches or other small problems and I have a lot of books on organizing and getting rid of clutter books. It is hard to decided which ones I should get rid of and which ones to keep.

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