Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from M.C. Starbuck of Living Tiny, Dreaming Big.
I love books. I love reading them. I love writing them.
I love just looking at them or holding them in my hands.
I even took a book with me on my first five dates with my husband in case he got boring.
And what better excuses to hoard books than an English degree and an occupation as an author?
I balked when I first heard Marie Kondo’s suggestion that 30 books is a good amount to own. I didn’t even think 100 was enough.
How many do I have now? If I counted correctly, I personally own 85 at the moment. That includes cookbooks, books I’ve written, my childhood Bible, and a Greek lexicon. It does not include the stack of 20 more books I’ve already read and am getting rid of. Either way, I no longer have 500… nor the weight that went along with them.
Throughout my process of downsizing books, I had four categories:
- Definitely Keep: books I would read in the next five years
- Not Right Now: books I’ve had interest in but aren’t on the top of my list
- Special Copies: books signed by the author, containing a note from a friend, or with comments and highlights of passages I want to remember
- Decorative Books: books that are beautiful and bring me joy when on display
The majority of the books I got rid of were from the Not Right Now category. After I read the Definitely Keep books, I was much quicker to get rid of them once I’d enjoyed the benefits of owning fewer books. I got rid of a few Special Copies as explained in the steps below.
8 Steps to Reading More While Owning Less
1. Calculate how many books you plan to read in the next three to five years. This allows you to make a realistic calculation of how many books you should keep.
When I first did this, I wanted to cry. It was the saddest realization that there’s no way possible for me to read all the books I want to read before I die. At the time, I read about 20 books a year. Even if I kept five years worth of reading, that would only be 100 books. Why was I keeping 500? At the rate I was reading, 500 books would have taken me 25 years! I would be a vastly different person by then, with different books on my Definitely Keep list.
2. Make a list of the books you most want to read right now. Since you can only read so many books in your lifetime, start with the ones you’re most excited about!
You probably already own some of them. Pull those aside and put them in your Definitely Keep pile. Check your Amazon cart, Kindle, or Audible for other books you might already own and want to read. The total number on this list should not be more than the number you realistically think you can read in the next five years, as determined by step one.
3. Create a pile of books you could easily and affordably buy again if you’d like. Examine the books not in your Definitely Keep pile. Look them up on Amazon to see if you could buy them again at a decent price later. Or see if your library has a copy. This makes parting with these books so much easier!
At this point, you can avoid giving away what I call Special Copies: old books from your grandma, signed copies, or pricey editions. For now, only get rid of books you can replace if you start to miss them. If you’re anything like me, in five years you will have found at least 50 new books you want to read. You will have long forgotten the ones you’re getting rid of now.
4. Keep a list of the books that are hardest to part with. I know it feels like you’re parting with your babies. This step is important for those of us who are still afraid we might be making a decision we would regret later.
What if it was gonna be my next favorite book? Or maybe a friend recommended it and you don’t want to let them down. You might want to give it a chance after you’ve finished your current stack of favorites.
These are your Not Right Now books. Remember, you aren’t completely ruling them out. But you aren’t going to allow them to take up precious space in your home. Add these books to your Amazon “save for later” or wish list so you can rest in knowing you won’t forget them once you’ve finished reading the books on your Definitely Keep books. Pack up your copies of these Not Right Now books, and get ready to remove them from your home.
5. Look for a used bookstore nearby and trade in your books. (If you don’t have a used bookstore, simply donate your Not Right Now books and move on to the next step.)
I hardly ever recommend selling items because it’s too much time and work and not enough reward. But stores like 2nd & Charles (previously Books-A-Million) make it easy. Simply take your books to their store. They will sort through your books while you browse rows and rows of bookshelves, then they’ll tell you how much money or store credit they will give you.
You could potentially trade five books you no longer want to read for one of the books that’s on your list to read in the next five years. Many used bookstores sell new books, too, and may give you full or partial credit towards those items. You don’t even have to spend the credit that day. Just go back after you find out what your book club is reading next. This helps you feel like you aren’t throwing away money.
I’ve gotten over $200 total in store credit just from books. It encourages me to get rid of books as I read them, too, because then I can use the credit from that book to put towards the next book on my list. Plus, a used bookstore is a great way for your beloved books to be cherished after you part with them! Even if they can’t sell them, they will usually donate them for you if you’d like to save the trouble of making another stop to drop them off somewhere else.
6. Take pictures of what makes your Special Copies special. Once you’ve seen how great getting rid of books can be, it’s time to get rid of some that you’ve already read and enjoyed. These books may have significant meaning to you but will still serve you better once they’re gone.
I kept some of my books through many rounds of decluttering simply because I wanted to remember one or two pages and the notes I made in the margins. I also kept books to loan to other people, but I realized I never actually loaned them out. I usually ended up just recommending the book or mailing them a new copy because they don’t live nearby.
Keeping a picture of the book helps solve both of those problems. You could even do that for a book that a friend or author wrote a note in for you. Once you’ve taken the pictures, it’s easier to let the books go. Pack them up so they’re ready to go on your next trip to drop off donations or do some trade-ins.
7. Give e-books and audiobooks a chance. If you already enjoy them, try using them even more.
When I moved to South Korea, I suddenly had a much smaller selection of English books available to me. That’s when I really gave the Kindle app and even Audible a fair chance. Does it replace my love for paperbacks? Nope! But it’s an additional way to enjoy books.
I realized I was “reading” so much online anyway through Facebook. The book lover in me would much rather spend that time reading a book even if it’s also on my phone. That simple change in my mentality helped me go from reading 23 books a year to 46! I learned to love the experience of reading on Kindle in a different way. I didn’t believe my friend when she told me the same thing years ago! Don’t make the same mistake I did.
8. Utilize the library. Remember that place?! This is a great way to surround yourself with all the books and book lovers!
They probably won’t even look at you weird if you smell the books. You can donate your Not Right Now pile to them if you don’t have a used bookstore or if your books are in terrible shape. My library uses damaged books to make crafts for book lovers! While the library doesn’t pay you for them, they also don’t charge you to check out a book. They often have a great selection of audiobooks and access to e-books, if you want to try them out for free.
Life with Less Than 100 Books
It’s been over four years since I first started downsizing my book collection. I can hardly believe I haven’t regretted it one bit.
I’ve yet to have the desire to repurchase a single book I got rid of. I’m too busy enjoying books that are more relevant to me at this time in my life.
I no longer feel guilty about all the poor, neglected books I own that I’m not reading. By hoarding them, I was keeping others from reading them, too. Instead, I now have small, cozy stacks of books intentionally placed throughout my home on beautiful display. Otherwise, my books are limited to a few small shelves shared with my husband—instead of three large shelves just for me.
A few books are more inviting than hundreds calling my name. Reading is even more of a pleasure now. Along with the feeling of accomplishment from finishing a book, I have the excitement of choosing the next book I can’t wait to read… rather than one I simply feel obligated to read because it’s been on my shelf for years.
May your love of books also be increased by owning fewer of them.