If your cluttered bookshelves need a facelift, try these tips for decluttering books from a book blogger who’s also a minimalist.
First off, I’m not pulling a Marie Kondo and telling you that you can only own 40 books. Or even telling you that you need to declutter books. That’s completely up to you.
If you love the piles of books everywhere, then this article is not for you.
However, if you are feeling overwhelmed by your book collection, it’s probably time to declutter your books. If the struggle to pull a specific book out of an overstuffed shelf bothers you, then here are some tips for decluttering books.
Trust me, I’ve read all the best (and worst) minimalism books, so I know all the tricks. Here are 16 tips for decluttering books to help you decide what to keep and what to let go.
Tips for Decluttering Books: Before You Start
1. Look up pictures of gorgeous bookshelves and libraries and try to match that look.
My first tip is for you to find your why. Why do you want to declutter your books?
Do you feel like you are drowning in books? Do you need to downsize because you are moving?
I think a great place to start when decluttering books is to flip through magazines or Pinterest, looking at pictures of bookshelves. Find that look you are going for and use that out as inspiration.
When you struggle with the process of decluttering books, take a look at this picture and remind yourself what you are hoping to achieve.
2. Decide exactly how much shelf space you have first.
One of my best tips for decluttering books is to start with a plan. How much space do you have to dedicate to books?
Minimalist author Dana K. White calls this the container theory. First, you decide on the limiting factor – how big is your container. Once you know your container size, then you can only keep what will comfortably fit into the container.
If you choose your bookshelf space first, then you will be forced to declutter until you only have as much as you can fit in your space.
3. Choose where you will donate or sell discarded books.
Before you begin the process of decluttering books, have a plan ahead of time for what you are going to do with your discarded books. Are you going to donate them or sell them? If so, where? When do they collect donations?
4. Don’t think about the money you wasted buying the book.
Psychologically, one of the hardest parts of decluttering your possessions is realizing how much money was spent on the items. It’s tempting to say, I have to keep it because I don’t want my money to go to waste.
In fact, the money was already spent. It’s called a sunk cost. You already wasted it. Keeping the book doesn’t get it back.
If you have trouble with this, one of the most important tips for decluttering books is to change your mindset about what it means to declutter. Think of it as freeing up your space to make wiser choices in the future.
5. Live in the now not in the maybe.
Maybe someday I’ll read this book doesn’t cut it.
I call it the aspirational library. Someday, I’ll be the kind of person that reads biographies. Or classics. Or maybe someday I’ll reread my college textbooks.
It’s time to let go of you who you wish you were and fall in love with who you are. If you don’t like classics, that’s okay. Let them go.
If in the future, you decide you want to read the book, guess what. It won’t be hard to find. Just visit your local library or a bookstore.
Tips for Decluttering Books: The Process
6. Do it all at once with one big project.
While you can take the piece-meal a few books at a time approach, I suggest you opt for the big project.Go get all your books and pile them up. Sort through them all at once.
7. Take everything out of the bookshelf and add back your favorites first.
One of my favorite tips for decluttering books: Instead of deciding what to get rid of, decide which books will stay.
Choose your favorites first. Not only will this make your first decisions easier but also will fill your shelves with titles you adore.
8. Ask yourself, Will I ever read this or lend it out?
I am very much against the aspirational library. Or books just for decoration. I think books are meant to be read not just looked at. Maybe you disagree. If so, of all my tips for decluttering books, feel free to skip this one.
Will you honestly ever read this book? If you’ve already read it, will you ever read it again? Or would you lend it out to a friend? Or do you want your children to read it someday?
Really, it all boils down to the question: Do you actually need this book?
9. Don’t forget about decluttering your TBR.
You don’t want to spend the time decluttering all your books and achieving the perfect bookshelves, only to realize you forgot about the stack of books on your nightstand.
Wherever you keep your TBR stack, make sure you include them in your decluttering process. They won’t stay on your nightstand forever. Once you finish reading them (hopefully soon), they will need a place to call home.
10. Place books in a box and donate right away.
When you start decluttering your books, you want to have a box set aside specifically for donations. Once you’re finished going through all your books, make sure you donate the discarded ones right away.
Don’t let them linger in the corner of the room or the garage. Get them out of the house as soon as you can.
11. When you donate a book, imagine the second life it’s getting.
If you are having trouble choosing which books to donate, one of my tips for decluttering books is to picture the second life your book will be receiving.
Imagine the joy of the young mother shopping at the thrift store for her first read after having a baby. Or the college student who needs this book for their assigned reading. Or the person who will cherish this book and read it dozens of times.
12. Write a note and give it to a friend who would love the book.
If you want an alternative to donating your books, consider if you have a friend who would love the book. Not something they need to read, but something you think they will adore.
If so, consider adding a personal message in the front cover (or on a notecard if you don’t like writing in books) and gifting it to your friend. They will appreciate the thoughtful gesture, and you will have one less book in your house.
Tips for Decluttering Books: Maintainance
13. Try keeping a book journal instead of keeping the books themselves.
Once you finish decluttering books, your task becomes maintaining your freshly decluttered shelves. In the future instead of collecting books, consider keeping a journal instead. That way you can look back over what you have read, without feeling the need to actually possess the book.
14. Use the library.
Instead of buying books you want to read, use the library instead. Most people have access to a public library. And guess what? It’s free!
Another method I love is to borrow books I want to read from the library. Once I’ve read the book, I decide whether it deserves a place in my library.
15. Don’t allow yourself to buy any new books until you’ve read what you own.
How many unread books do you have in your bookshelf?
If that number is reaching unrealistic proportions, consider trying a book-buying ban. Force yourself to read from your own bookshelves.
This added layer of scrutiny will force you to stop overbuying books on impulse and think about the books you purchase in the future.
16. One in one out rule.
Finally, I’ll end on one of the classic tips for decluttering books. Once you reach the saturation point of books in your library, it’s time to follow the one in, one out rule. If you buy a new book, you need to get rid of an old one.
Yes, at some point you may want to add additional shelf space. But until then, you need to maintain what you have. Else, you’ll find yourself drowning in books all over again.
What tips for decluttering books do you have?