Recently, my wife and I presented at a Simplicity/Decluttering Workshop. We were excited to have 100+ people from every stage of life show up for our 90-minute conversation. It was wonderful in every regard. Special thanks to Journey Church in Gretna, NE for being our hosts. If you are interested in doing the same, you can find more information here.
As part of the workshop, Kim and I wanted to offer practical help in common problem areas (clothes, sentimental items, kids’ stuff, and books). And as part of the preparation, I asked Twitter for some help in addressing the specific topic of decluttering books.
I asked a simple question, “Have you significantly decluttered your book collection? If so, what was the most important step or decision you made in the process?”
Responses began flooding in almost immediately (they are, after all, a pretty sharp crew). The answers I received were experienced, helpful, and taken as a whole, quite comprehensive. In fact, the responses were so good, I decided to organize them and pass them on to a larger audience.
So then, if your book collection has become too cluttered, you’ll find help here. If you ever feel burdened by your books, you’ll find inspiration. Or if you are just looking to create some extra space in your home or office, you’ll find plenty of practical steps here to help you unclutter your book collection and finding more space in your home and life.
12 Helpful, Practical Steps to Decluttering Books
1. Decide to do it.
After all, just like everything else, it always starts with the decision to get started.
@joshua_becker Most important: deciding to do it. Here's my story: http://t.co/0KB1CmV72u
— heather andrews (@wildsheepchase) November 11, 2013
2. Realize books do not define you.
Books add value. They contribute to who you are. But they do not define who you are.
@joshua_becker also accepting that the books on my shelf (or lack of) don’t define me as a person.
— Hannah (@becomewhour) November 10, 2013
class=”twitter-tweet”>@joshua_becker Realizing my book collection did not define me as a person. Also admitting I was prob. not going to read most of them again.
— MicheleStitches (@MicheleStitches) November 10, 2013
3. Remove scarcity thinking.
@joshua_becker letting go of the “what if I need this in the future?” scarcity mindset– i.e. self-trust! Over 200 books sold/gone so far.
— Hannah (@becomewhour) November 10, 2013
4. Determine to make room for the new.
An optimistic point of view is advantageous in every endeavor.
@joshua_becker Removing books I’ve already read, makes room for books I have yet to read!
— Brian Knoblauch (@GLMotorSports) November 11, 2013
class=”twitter-tweet”>@joshua_becker My goal is to keep reading and learning, so I would usually choose new books anyway. — Jessica S. (@jessicaschreyer) November 11, 2013
5. Go digital.
The free Amazon Kindle App is available for almost every electronic device. There is no need to own an actual Kindle to use it.
Switching to kindle RT @joshua_becker: Have you significantly reduced/… your book collection? If so, what was the most important step..
— Foreign Geek (@ForeignGeek) November 12, 2013
@joshua_becker Anything available on Kindle went. I only kept OOP or coffee table books.
— Tina Lender (@TinaLender) November 10, 2013
6. Give yourself permission to keep your favorites.
Less is different than none. Identify your favorite books and keep them close. Find freedom in knowing all decisions are coming from you and nobody is forcing them on you.
@joshua_becker went from ~400 to 80 or so. Picked absolute favs to keep 1st. Let go of anything I owned for at least a year but never read.
— Adam Bouse (@adambouse) November 11, 2013
7. Set up reasonable boundaries for your collection.
Boundaries help us quickly delineate the “most important” from the “somewhat important.” They are helpful in countless other pursuits—use them to your advantage. Choose one and give it a try. You can always adjust later.
class=”twitter-tweet”> @joshua_becker I read a lot – iPad and hard copy – but keep very few. I have one bookcase and give away the rest. pic.twitter.com/8qs0ylhSPY — Sarah Labelle (@labelle_sarah) November 10, 2013
8. Remove unused or outdated reference books.
While the Internet may never entirely replace reference books for your line of work or personal preference, it can almost certainly prove to be an efficient replacement for many of your reference books (starting with a dictionary and thesaurus).
class=”twitter-tweet”> @joshua_becker (1) Will I read this again? (2) If it’s a reference book, do I actually use it or just go online? — Christy King (@SimpleWhiteRab) November 10, 2013
class=”twitter-tweet” data-conversation=”none” lang=”en”>@joshua_becker I ask how often I reference each book, how much info it contains, and if the book/info is available at the library/online. — Roman (@RomanAngeloS) November 12, 2013
class=”twitter-tweet”> @joshua_becker just 2 shelves left. My deciding factor: had I re-read/referred back in the last year or thought I would in the year to come — Thaddaeus Moody (@Thaddaeus_Moody) November 11, 2013
9. Remind yourself books are not the memory.
@joshua_becker Deciding to give away all the novels I read. “The book itself is not the memory.”
— Ezzentie (@Ezzentie) November 11, 2013
10. Give away books you do not intend to read again.
This step was, by far, the most common response to the question.
@joshua_becker yes. 1) made list of books to give away. 2) posted list on FB & Twitter. 3) Gave them away.
— Andrew Tatum (@andrewtatum) November 10, 2013
class=”twitter-tweet”>@joshua_becker I had to make peace with the idea that I don’t really read books more than once anymore. After that it was easy to pare down.
— Adie Lashley (@adielashley) November 10, 2013
11. Think of forwarding good books as an act of love.
I really do love this mindset and hope people find it helpful.
@joshua_becker Keeping a book that I didn’t cherish or regularly pick up & re-read meant I was keeping it from someone else. Share the love!
— Maggie Olson (@maggiebolson) November 11, 2013
12. If all else fails, choose to lend them out.
A proper bookkeeping system will be helpful if you are ever in the need to find the book again.
class=”twitter-tweet”>@joshua_becker I read it, then I lend or give it away.
— Rodrigo Afonseca (@rodrigoafonseca) November 11, 2013
For further reading, I recommend Breaking The Sentimental Attachment To Books.
And in closing, are there any important steps or decisions you would like to add that others might find helpful when decluttering their book collection?
I am old and due to mobility issues my world has shrunk a lot. I’m decluttering as much as I can. Due to becoming invisible as you age I find I’ve kept a lot of books to remind me that once I was regarded as intelligent and being someone worth listening to !
How foolish of me ! Today I’m donating all my beautiful Greek classics and my Russian literature collection. Hopefully someone will be thrilled to find them and will get as much joy from them in the future as I have in the past.
As a writer, I am sometimes concerned about relying on the internet for dictionary or thesaurus functions – because meanings are always changing, and it’s too easy to update the electronic source without keeping track of changes over time. As a Gen-Xer, the word “awesome” is a perfect example. Prior to the early ‘80s, this word was used only in the sense of: “the awesome power of water to carve the landscape.”
During the 80s, it was a very hip colloquialism that kids used to differentiate themselves from adults. Now, that meaning of it is fairly standard.
But one can’t write a story set in the 70’s with the modern usage of “awesome.” You’d probably use “groovy” or “far out.”
So, I guess I don’t entirely dismiss the value of holding on to outdated reference books.
Jem B. says
Lost count of all the books I’ve donated in more than a year. From five bookcases, I’m down to one. Still planning on getting rid of some from the remaining ones, though. Have gone back to e-books as sub for some books I gave away. Reasons: (1) Less stress in keeping a humongous collection, and, most importantly, (2) LESS TERMITES =). It wasn’t easy letting go at first but you’ll find it addictive along the way, eventually.
Alice Carroll says
I like that you mentioned that forwarding books is a good way to get rid of olds ones. I plan to buy a Christian fantasy children’s book for my son in order to jump start his faith development at a young age. Once he grows up, I’d like his books to still be useful for other kids.