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.
M. C. Starbuck is the author of Packrat to Clutter-Free. She blogs at Living Tiny, Dreaming Big where she provides simple ideas to make room for what matters most. You can also find her on Facebook.
My husband and I had a library with 11 full bookcases – floor to ceiling. When I retired we decided to live life on the road with very little space for anything beyond basic necessities. We donated 2,000 fiction titles to the college I retired from for a student book fair. The students loved it! Free books! The remaining 4,000+ titles we donated to a non-profit organization. It felt good.
Lea Ann says
I like your four categories… they’ve articulated what I had in the back of my mind when recently going through the books I own. I have too many books AND way too many library books! This past week, I had 25 books checked out (and according to the librarians, some people have out over 100!). I tend to put a hold on any book someone recommends or one I want to buy but am unsure of. I first check the library (I use a browser extension called “Library Extension” and when I’m on amazon or goodreads.com, it will tell me if my local library has the book and if there are any available to check out.). Then I check “Hoopla” – an app that lets you check out four things (ebooks, audiobooks, or movies) a month. then I check Libby – which works with the library and has ebooks and audio books.
When I find books at home to give away, I do many things. I had a brand new book I took with me on a cruise (didn’t want to risk losing a library book) so I finished it and then donated it to the ship’s library. (side note: I mentioned it on social media and the author was thrilled her book was getting a new life on the ship!) Like another commenter, I will leave books places or check with nursing homes, etc. My town has many Little Libraries that always need fresh books.. they tend to have older, shabbier books in them so any newly added books are snatched up right away! I also list certain books on social media to see if any of my friends want them. I’ll set them aside or even mail them via media mail (if that is still a thing!) so that the books have a new home!
My next set of books is going to a local church that is having a booksale to raise funds. They’re accepting books and DVD’s.
It’s been awhile since I checked with bookstores that give you credit. I should do that! I also know there are apps that will buy books from you or tell you where you can sell back your books.
This post has me rethinking my books and getting rid of even more. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
Lea Ann says
I forgot to add a way that I am able to go through my library stack quickly. I read the first few pages or chapter and can tell quickly if I want to finish the book. I pared down my stack of 25 library books to 15 the other day by weeding out books I thought I wanted to read but really didn’t. Two books I was “ehh” about were ones I actually can’t wait to read! I also apply that method to the books I own that I’m unsure about.
I must admit e-books have been a real challenge for me. Reading from the screens strained my eyes and had me reconsider to use the zoom magnifier to read the bigger letters better. It has been a life saver and worked so well.
Thanks. Great post. I remember I have missed some of my books that I donated some years ago. My love for books haven’t lessen though and got me back to this bookseller near my house and I love to go there to browse and find some of those again, for a bargain. It is nice to have a place to go where you know they can be in storage for me.
I absolutely love this. Getting rid of books is actually where I stalled in the Marie Kondo process. This gives me concrete steps I can follow to get unstuck and release my books. Thank you!
Megan Starbuck says
Awww, this makes me so happy! Thank you for letting me know. I hope it goes well for you!
Tyler Johnson says
That’s a good idea to try and trade in some old books for new ones. I could see how that would be a good way to open up some space for new books and would help you get funds to buy some more. I’ll have to look some more into that so I can read new books more often.
Megan Starbuck says
I’m glad you found that helpful. Thanks for the comment. I hope you find a good bookstore to trade them at. I currently don’t have one nearby, and I really miss it!
In 2016, I moved abroad and packed up my entire life in a couple of suitcases. I consider myself an avid reader and knew I would want to take many of my books to help make my apartment feel like home. At the same time, I had to be practical when thinking about weight and charges for extra luggage. I ended up selecting mainly non-fiction books that I had annotated or wanted to reference in the future. With the books that I decided to get rid of, I first tried selling them at the local used bookstore. They were able to review my books and then ones that they didn’t want I donated or gave to friends. About once a year, I try to go through my stuff with the lens of moving abroad again. Is this an item that I would use or have sentimental attachment toward and would be willing to pay $200 extra to pay for additional luggage? Especially with most of the easily replaceable items such as books, cooking gadgets, and clothing, I rarely miss the item and generally feel a burden is lifted when I get rid of them.
M. C. Starbuck says
Oh, I love that idea, Michelle! That is a powerful thought to decide if it would be worth paying $200 to ship it over. Makes me want to consider what I’d pack into my 2 suitcases.
Patricia Devine says
Our collection of about 7,000 books had overflowed its space and after a period of decluttering I’m glad now to have everything back on the shelves where it belongs. My husband and I are no longer fiction readers so we gave away most of our fiction except for some classics, and we have bought text-only books on the Kindle for some years now. But our reference and art books – history, politics, biography, art, science, architecture, etc – get to stay as they are dipped into regularly. I’ve managed to get rid of about 2,000 books and keep a donation box permanently on the go for anything that proves a disappointment.
M. C. Starbuck says
Wow, that’s quite the collection…and a lot of books gotten rid of. Nice that you are putting them to use as well. Thank you for sharing your story! It’s always fascinating to hear how other people manage their possessions.