Decluttering your bookshelves isn’t easy when you’re a bibliophile. Here’s why it’s a good idea to unclutter your book collection, plus practical steps (and a bit of book collecting wisdom from Anne of Green Gables).
If you already know me from my other blog, you know decluttering is a passion of mine, and that I find beauty in a simple home.
There was a time, though, when I thought decluttering my books was impossible. Actually, I thought it was kind of wrong. I didn’t need to justify my overflowing bookshelves because books are inherently valuable. It’s a book, ergo, keep it.
But I was committed to going through every item I owned (my goal, even before Marie Kondo’s lovely book came out!) so I finally faced the books. And when I did, my thinking on the subject evolved. The big revelation was that just because a book has value doesn’t mean it has value or usefulness FOR ME. I narrowed my criteria for keeping books, and ended up getting rid of few dozen.
Not long after I began purging books, I came across this passage in Anne’s House of Dreams:
“‘Our library isn’t very extensive,’ said Anne, “but every book in it is a friend. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph.'” –Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery
“Ah!” I thought, “The perfect litmus test for my books! Are these books friends?” Now, unlike Anne I have kept a number of books that I haven’t read yet–books I’m waiting to “meet.” Once I do read them I’ll decide if we’re mere acquaintances or if we’re something more.
Also, that part about “the race of Joseph” is another way of saying kindred spirit. In Anne’s House of Dreams and the novels following, she uses that phrase to describe people (or in this case, books) who resonate with her.
Every book lover has an opportunity for deeper self knowledge–and more personalized bookshelves–if they’re willing to declutter. Figure out which of your books are your true friends, and part ways with the rest. Here’s how.
How to Declutter Your Bookshelves
Go through your books one box or shelf at a time. Handle each book and think carefully whether or not it needs to be part of your permanent collection. Your goal is to look at every book with fresh eyes and not take its shelf spot for granted.
Books to keep:
1. High-quality copies or editions of your favorite books.
These are your old friends! Keep the books you know you’ll return to for comfort and inspiration down the road.
2. Reference books you know you’ll use.
Books in this category are academic or informational. Keep your oft-used cookbooks, nature guides, health encyclopedias, and dictionaries. My husband is a teacher; he keeps books related to his field to use for lectures or research.
3. Quality books to build your children’s library.
Yes, you can and should take advantage of your public library, but it’s also nice to have a few favorite children’s books on hand that your kids will fall in love with as they grow up. If you don’t have kids, still curate a small collection of children’s books–either for your own enjoyment, or for nieces, nephews, and other young friends who may come to your home.
Books to purge:
1. Required reading from your college days.
If you’ve hung on to old textbooks or required course reading, it’s time to say goodbye! It might hurt to get rid of something that cost you a chunk of money (I’m looking at you, Norton anthology!). But if you’re not using it for your current job or continuing education there is simply no point to keeping it. Sell theses books if you can. And if not…just let them go.
2. Books that you’re unattached to.
Do you own books you haven’t actually read and can’t see yourself reading in the near future? Give them away. Don’t hang on to a book just because it’s a classic or a nice-looking copy or on a subject you feel you should learn more about. Purge it. If you get the urge to read it in the future, chances are the library will have it! (For peace of mind, you can keep list of books you might want to read one day, but don’t need to store.)
3. Books you have multiples of.
Do you have the complete works of an author in one volume, but also own copies of their individual works? Try to make a choice.
4. Topical books that no longer apply to you.
Some books are tailored for specific circumstances, issues, or stages of life. These include books on spiritual growth, self help, entrepreneurship, early motherhood–any number of topics. They’re usually most beneficial in particular seasons of life. So if a book no longer speaks to your situation, pass it on to someone else who may benefit.
5. Books you can find in the library.
The library is going to have most of what you need, most of the time! If it’s not in your county’s system, they can probably get it for you via interlibrary loan from another part of the state. I’ve requested some obscure ones, and so far my librarians have never come up short! When you come across books on your shelves that you don’t treasure, let the library “store” them for you. (Meaning, check out those titles when you want them again.)
Keeping your bookshelves clutter free for years to come
Set some book acquisition guidelines for yourself going forward. For me, I check out new releases (a.k.a. untested books) from the library instead of buying them.
I also shoot for a yearly once-over, where I reevaluate my collection. We have a finite amount of shelf space, so if the books become too crunched for comfort we know it’s time for another edit.
What clutter-free bookshelves can do for you
Here’s the cool thing about winnowing your book collection: all the ones you do keep are going to stand out like jewels. You’ve honed a well-curated collection of books that are meaningful and dear to you. Now your bookshelves are a better reflection of you.
Now you’re among true friends.