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Has spending more time at home made you realize just how much stuff you have? As in too much? This enforced time at home we have had at home over the last year, as frustrating as it can be, is a great chance to do a lot of things you never usually have time for, like decluttering your home.
As a home organizer I naturally love to help with decluttering projects, especially those that seem very hard to get started, or are not even projects you are sure you want to undertake. Some are even quite controversial, like decluttering books.
Book lovers were outraged not so long ago when Marie Kondo, author of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing suggested that, sometimes, books can be nothing more than clutter.
This controversy was sparked when Kondo’s Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo suggested that, in order to have a neat and tidy home, you must part with any items, including books, that don’t spark joy when you hold them. In the show, Marie Kondo advised one woman to get rid of all of her books that she had already read or would never actually read. Book lovers across the Internet howled in pain and made their displeasure very well known across social media.
The idea that books can be clutter should be cleared from the home seems is a horrifying notion to lots of avid readers. Many book lovers can’t bear the idea of getting rid of even the most boring or badly written books.
While many of these readers just love books, some treat them as trophies to show off how well-read they are, or to project a certain image to those who visit their homes. To get rid of a book, some readers feel, is to lose a part of themselves.
But every book was – and is – created to be read. That is their purpose. You shouldn’t feel bad about passing on books that you will never read. If you feel guilty about getting rid of a book that no longer serves a purpose to you, give it away to someone else who would enjoy it.
Pass it along to a friend or donate it to an organization that can get it into the hands of someone who would otherwise have limited access to books. You don’t have to throw books away to declutter your home. By decluttering your bookshelves, you can give your old, stagnating books a new life!
When Does Book Clutter Become a Problem?
Many readers enjoy having an extensive collection of their favorite books in their homes. This is totally fine. Avid readers will probably have many more than 30 of them that “spark joy” in their personal libraries.
Having a collection of books can be a wonderful thing, as long as it is well organized and doesn’t overtake your living space. When books start getting in the way of being able to do other activities in your home, that is when you start to have a problem.
There is no specific magic number that will tell you when you have too many books. For someone who has the space to keep large bookshelves lining every wall of their home, even hundreds upon hundreds may be OK. However, someone else living in a small apartment may find themselves overwhelmed with just a couple dozen books strewn about.
It’s not uncommon for book lovers’ book collections to expand well beyond the limits of their bookshelves, eventually spreading to every square inch of available surface space. Once books start piling up in places other than your bookshelves, it is a good idea to begin thinning the herd.
Look around your home. Do you have stacks of books on tables, desks, or even piled up from the floor? Are you tripping over them, or finding it difficult to find space for other needed items? If so, it is time to find new homes for some of your books. And now is a great time to do so, while you are at home with extra time on your hands.
Deciding Which Books to Keep
Deciding which books deserve a permanent place in your personal library, and which books should be set free to be enjoyed by other readers, is a personal decision. You will want to keep any books that you will return to again and again, such as your favorite novels or certain nonfiction books related to your career. You will also likely have books that have sentimental value to you, such as certain books you received as a gift.
As tempting as it may be for some readers, you don’t need to keep every book you’ve ever read as a permanent shrine to your reading history. Do you really see yourself reading that same romance novel again and again, or will you reach for a different one next time the mood strikes? Are you going to return again and again to that mediocre pulp sci-fi novel, or would it get more use being passed along to another sci-fi fan?
If you have books that you know you will never reread (or even get around to reading for the first time) it is time to let them go so that they can be read and enjoyed by someone else.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to do this, and your pile of books to donate will never grow, it’s time to get help.
How to Get Rid of Unwanted Books
Once you have decided which books should go, for now seal them up in airtight storage boxes. But don’t plan on leaving things that way. There are plenty of ways to get rid of books that you no longer need, without sending them away to rot in the landfill, including all of these options:
Share Books Directly With Other Readers
If you have friends or family with similar reading interests as you, they will likely greatly appreciate any books you pass along to them when you are finished reading (which they can then pass along to someone else). Once they finish reading the book, this also gives you someone you can talk about the book (bonus)
Another option for easily getting your finished books into the hands of other readers is by stocking a Little Free Library in your neighborhood. If there are already Little Free Libraries in your neighborhood, simply stop by one and leave a book you are finished with. If there aren’t any in your community yet, consider building your own!
Donate Books for a Good Cause
Better World Books is an organization that accepts donated books, which are sold to raise money to support literacy projects around the world (items they receive in poor condition are recycled). They have drop boxes for book donations in many areas around the US and most local libraries also accept book donations. The donated books they receive are often sold at Friends of the Library type book sales, where the profits are reinvested into the library.
What to Do with Books in Poor Condition
If some of your books are too damaged to give away, donate, or sell, you can still keep them out of the landfill and give them new life. Damaged books can be recycled (look for organizations that accept books for recycling. They can’t be included in your curbside mix).
You may also be able to upcycle old books into craft projects. They can be used to make a variety of projects from picture frames and lamps to papier-mâché projects.
Reduce Book Clutter Before It Accumulates
Once you get the existing book clutter under control, there are a number of ways you can reduce it before it has a chance to re-accumulate in your home. While it is okay to still purchase the occasional special physical book, you should ask yourself if it is really a tome that you want to hold onto before you bring it home.
Before you purchase a new book, see if your local library has it available to borrow. You can save yourself a lot of money (and a lot of space) by borrowing the book you want to read from the local library. You are already paying for the library with your tax dollars anyway, so you might as well take advantage of the service.
If you have friends and family who are avid readers, consider borrowing books from them, or even trading books.
You may also want to consider switching to eBooks. eBooks take up much less space than their physical counterparts. They are also often cheaper than the print editions. Most local libraries also have digital collections available nowadays.
Digitize Your Reading History
If you are someone who likes to keep physical copies of every book you have read as a memento of your reading history, consider keeping track of which you have read in a different way. There are more efficient ways of keeping a record of what books you have read and enjoyed than keeping physical books lined up on a shelf collecting dust.
GoodReads.com is an excellent social network for book lovers. GoodReads lets you rate and review every book you have read and keep them on a digital shelf for you to revisit later. This website also allows you to discover new reading material that you will probably love based what you have already read and lets you connect with other readers with similar interests.
The Decluttered Book Lover
You can be a book lover, and still keep your home neat and tidy. You can keep a collection of your favorite books, while still removing book clutter from your home, or preventing excess books from piling up to begin with. Reading should be an enjoyable endeavor that brings you joy. Many people enjoy surrounding themselves with bookshelves filled with books, but too many can become smothering. Like everything in life, moderation is key.
Again, if you need help, I’m here. Book an organizing session here.