DISCUSSION: How to Purge Your Bookcases

At the beginning of September, I signed up for Amanda and Kelly’s challenge UNBREAKING THE SHELVES. One of the things we had to do was be brutally honest about the books that are in our TBR pile. Will we read them? Is there anywhere we can purge?

When I took a look around my home library and its close-to-1000 books, I realized that I could purge. MAJORLY.

I thought back to the reasons I bought some of these books – garage sales, library sales, freebies, etc. There are some I bought thinking I’d read them, but now years have gone by and they’re still unread and I’m not finding myself with any motivation to read them anytime soon.

It was time for a purge.

Before I go into the details of how to purge the books in your home library, let’s talk about WHY we buy all these books. I think one of the reasons we accumulate so many books and never get rid of them is because it seems more socially acceptable to collect books. I mean, THEY’RE BOOKS! Reading! Learning! Why would we get rid of them?

BUT, collecting too many books that you’re not going to read is just another form of hoarding and soon your books will start to own you. Even if books are still good for you, unless you’re going to read them there’s no point in keeping them on your shelf.

Here are my criteria for purging books in my home library. If your to-be-read pile looks daunting, this will help you get that number down to a reasonable number!

  1. Look at the quality of the book. Did you buy it at a garage sale or library sale because it was cheap? Did you actually want to read it?
  2. Look at the spine of the book. Without reading the synopsis, can you say anything about the book – or even about the author?
  3. Think about how LONG a book has been on your shelf for. If it’s been years, can you still see yourself reading it? Can you think of someone else who might enjoy it?
  4. Think about the books that you’ve read – did you like them? Would you reread them again and again?
  5. Everyone loves his or her bookcases to look FULL. Go through one row of each shelf and remove just ONE book you know you’ll never read.

If you feel too much anxiety to actually pack up your books and bring them down to the library or the used bookstore immediately, maybe pack them up and put them away in a closet or the basement. Wait a few months – or a year! – and see what happens. Did you think about the books? Did you want to read any of them? Or did you forget about them? Like any other kind of clutter, if you’re not going to use it, get rid of it!

This entire post might be making you feel jittery, but I followed all these steps and culled about 200 books from my shelves. My TBR list still looks daunting, but now it feels more manageable because I actually want to read the books that are on it – I’m not feeling the obligation of reading a book just because I bought it.

Now, what happens AFTER we’ve purged the shelves? How can we be smart about what books we’re then adding to be read?

  1. If you’re not sure about a book, don’t buy it immediately. Borrow it from a friend or from your local library. If you like it, THEN buy it.
  2. Try restricting yourself to buying only books by your favourite authors or books to complete series that you’re reading.
  3. If you’re trying to save money, enter giveaways! There are plenty of blogs out there that host giveaways all the time. Like they say, you can’t win if you don’t enter!

It’s definitely hard to NOT buy any books, and it’s hard to get rid of books, but it CAN be done.

How do you purge books? Have you ever done a bookcase purge? 

© 2012, Reading In Winter. All rights reserved.


33 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: How to Purge Your Bookcases

  1. I don’t think my TBR is a problem in the way genuine hoarders have. I regularly give books away and don’t feel anxiety about parting with them. But just because I didn’t read a book within a specified time frame doesn’t mean I’m not going to read it ever and it’s a waste of money to buy it twice. I just want to read a lot of books so they need to be patient.

    There’s a bit difference between hoarding because of mental illness and collecting something.

    • That’s great that you can part with your books so easily. I think my issue has always been haphazardly buying books. I need to remind myself that tastes change and that I should only buy what I’m going to read within a few weeks.

      I hope your books stay patient! 🙂

  2. I recently went through my shelves and purged some books I either didn’t like or knew I’d never read again, but I didn’t even glance at the TBR pile. You’ve inspired me to take a second look!

  3. GOOD FOR YOU!!! Great advice, all around. It definitely can be done. I did it when I moved to Atlanta. Hubs was so proud. 🙂

  4. Good tips!! Bookcases purges can be so hard. I had to do a huge one before my son was born last year, because my books were overflowing the bookcases and we needed the space. It was hard, and I still get a little sad about it (I had never purged before that), but it was necessary. Le sigh.

    • They can be SO hard! But I have to ruthless and cruel. If it hasn’t been read in YEARS, I can get rid of it. Tastes change and there are a few genres on my shelf that I know I’ll never get around to reading.

      Good for you for purging!

  5. Also for 3- Look into things like Book Crossing, Paperback swap and similar services. You pay to send good condition books to someone, get credits to ask for books from someone else. I’ve started looking to see if a book I might part with has a waiting list, and list it if it does. Then no second guessing on getting rid of it.

  6. Ahh, I don’t know if I could actually get rid of my books, I did give away some the last time I moved though..

    I have a little over 100 books on my shelf to read, it’s about half of them. I still really want to read them all. The weird thing is that I don’t actually buy that many books anymore, but they are still accumulating. I like entering giveaways and have been really lucky lately. I also have a hard time passing up books at yard sales/kijiji. I bought 7 books this week off of kijiji for $2 each, ALL books that I’m really interested in reading.

    Great tips though, maybe I’ll use them in the future 😛 But for now.. ❤ my books!

    • I love entering giveaways, too! I try to enter only the ones where I really, really want the book now. Then I cross my fingers!

      That’s awesome you got such a sale on Kijiji!

  7. We did this at around the same time, I recall, and I think we both definitely felt the better for it after! I have to do it again for this month, though I’m pretty sure in terms of physical books, I’m good. Ebooks on the other hand….

    Great post though! The tips are super practical.

  8. 1,000 BOOKS?! Ye gods! Thankfully, I don’t have this problem. At least, not quite as badly as you seem to. Your questions and tips are definitely useful and I really try my best to live by them. I’m the type of person who would much prefer to only have books on my shelf that I LOVE and plan to maybe reread again at some point in the future or plan on loaning to other people to read. Everything else, I purge. I do absolutely envy people who have full, beautiful bookcases, but it’s definitely preferable for my anxiety levels that I don’t overdo it. Excellent, really thoughtful post, Kristilyn!

    • The wishlist can grow so much, I find! It’s a great idea to declutter it once in a while — sometimes the books on the wishlist aren’t ones we want to read anymore.

  9. I have a really hard time getting rid of books I haven’t read yet, but did manage to cull about 50 books from my shelves recently. If I didn’t love it, it went into the donation pile! Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my TBR pile under control and catch up. *fingers crossed*

  10. My collection isn’t too out of hand (yet) so I haven’t had to do a purge, but I did manage to get rid of a bunch of manga from the days when I collected it, which wasn’t easy. Going to the library and trying not to buy books but definitely helps me keep my shelves under control 🙂
    I’m glad you found ways to purge your collection, I’m sure these tips will help others too!

    • Going to the library is GREAT! Of course, right now I’m trying to just read the books on my shelf to try and get my unread number down a bit. Actually, I love the library for new releases. Getting to read the book first is just like buying it!

  11. I really need to do this. But I feel like I don’t actually have that many books. I’m only pushing 250 (about 150 were lost in a garage flood, a.k.a. Great Flood of ’09) and I feel like that’s not really a lot. So…maybe I shouldn’t purge yet. 😉

    • I think a big reason to purge is when the amount of unread books you own GREATLY SURPASSES the amount of read books. For me, it was a HUGE ratio. It needed to be done. I hope you don’t get to the stage where you need to purge!

  12. Well. I always thought I owned a lot of books until I met you! (By the way, I’m super excited to see your bookshelves tomorrow! :))

    I haven’t actually counted my books, but I’d guestimate that I have around 150-200? I used to keep every.single.book but then a few moves, two across the country and one to adjacent province was when I started to be a little bit more picky about the books I own. I now do not keep books that I did not like or even *gasp* hated, and I have gotten rid of a lot of books that I’ve outgrown – for example – like the Candace Bushnell books (I used to own them ALL in HC) and I used to own quite a few of the Gossip Girl books, etc.

    I know I will never re-read most of the books I own, but to me, that’s no reason to get rid of it. I will keep an already read book for these reasons: I enjoyed or loved the book or I would recommend or loan it to someone else.

    But you’re right – it’s so easy to get wasteful and SO easy to spend money on books that you either aren’t going to read or aren’t even going to like. I’m bad for wanting to OWN the book even if I don’t know if I will like it or not.

    Anyway…great discussion! 🙂

    • I used to keep everything, too — well, everything I read — but now when I finish a book and realize that I hated it, I’m more likely to give it away, either to a friend or to the library (if they don’t have a copy). If I love a book, I want to keep it — even if I can’t get back to it for a reread.

      I think I’m getting better at not buying EVERYTHING. Or — looking for deals! I’m terrible for going to the bookstore and buying a new release that I know I need to buy (like Lisa Genova’s), rather than looking for a good price elsewhere.

  13. This is a great list for ideas on how to purge bookshelves. I’ve gotten my home library pretty much how I want it but I go through it again every few months just to make sure it doesn’t get too cluttered.

    Now the only shelves of mine that are too cluttered are on goodreads.

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  16. I need to do this really badly. I will (hopefully) be moving back home after law school at the end of July this year so I will have to pack up all of my book cases and boxes of books and move them to a new apartment so I am really trying to go through things now so it is not too much of a hassle then. But it is so hard for me to get rid of books that I have not read yet that I still think I want to read. I just have too many of them.

    • Well, when it comes time to purge, good luck to you! I know it can seem totally stressful to get rid of books that you haven’t read yet — I always ask myself how LONG it’s been on my shelf and to be honest on whether or not I’ll actually read it.

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My home is where my books are. - Ellen Thompson

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