If there are two things I truly hoard, it’s clothes and books. Last month, I shared my tips for cleaning out your closet, so today I thought I’d share a challenging problem in any booklover’s problem – how to pare down your bookshelf.
Right now, Reg and I have about 3.5 bookshelves around our house, only one of which is his. I’m actually pretty proud that I manged to get it down to that few. And while my switch to mostly e-books last year means I’m not adding books nearly as frequently, it’s still tough for me to convince myself to get rid of a beloved fantasy series or a fantastic history novel.
For this post, I’m going to move away some from the Marie Kondo method, because honestly, deciding whether to keep a book or not goes a bit beyond “does it bring me joy?”
Here are some helpful criteria for deciding books to keep:
1. Will I read this book in the future?
This is the most obvious one. If you are a true book addict, most likely you have a few favorites that you pick up over-and-over again. While purchasing these on e-book isn’t a bad idea, it’s also fair to say that because the’re getting frequently use, they actually deserve room on your shelf.
2. Do I need this book as a reference?
This isn’t a huge chunk of my bookshelf because #theinternet, but I have some books that are truly helpful for my job, such as the AP Manual of Style. If you’re a student, of course you need your textbooks (although do a serious purge of those once you’re done with the class).
3. Does this book have sentimental value?
I feel like this question is the biggest trap, because it’s easy to look at an entire shelf of books and say “They ALL have sentimental value!” Try and have more scrutiny than that. Widdle it down to five or ten true favorites. This might be a book signed by a favorite author or one that your partner gave to you on a third date. Make these the books that you really want to have for the rest of your life.
4. Is this book a conversation-starter with guests?
Since a few of our bookshelves are out front-and-center in the livingroom, they’re often a great topic for guests to bring up when they come over. This might include a beloved coffee table book or two, which is perfect for those three minutes you abandon guests to go to the bathroom (or pour more wine), or a book that you know everyone has to comment on. You wouldn’t believe how many people point out my Murakami Wind Up Bird Chronicles.
5. Does it bring me joy?
Okay, I know that I said this wasn’t going to be the Kondo-method driven, but this is still a great question to ask yourself. Some books just don’t check off any of the previous boxes, and yet you absolutely love to see them on your bookshelf. And other books DO check off one of the previous boxes and yet you really don’t care to keep them. Be ruthless about purging, but also trust your gut. If you really love something, even for no easy-to-define reason at all, keep it.
Here are some helpful criteria for deciding books to purge:
6. Was this book too aspirational?
As a lit-person, I willingly admit that this happens to me. Three years ago I bought Infinate Jest, made it about 200 pages in, and haven’t touched it since. The reality is, I’m probably never going to read it, and if I decided in ten years that I want to, I can just purchase it again. Not the end of the world, but better to donate it than having it cluttering up the shelf for decades.
7. Do you have a friend who would love this book?
Instead of constantly telling friends, “You have to buy such-and-such book,” just give it to them! If it will bring them more joy to read it than it will to you sitting unread on your shelf, it’s a great excuse to put it to better use.
8. Did you love this book before but maybe not anymore?
Our tastes change. I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series for most of my teens, but I’m extremely unlikely to pick them up at the age of 26. They were worth keeping for about a decade but not anymore, and that’s totally okay. Just like with clothes, accept that your tastes change as time passes, and what matters most is having a bookshelf that reflects your interests now.
9. Would I get rid of this book before instead of taking it on a cross-country move?
This is also how I finished my clothing purge post, but I feel like it’s almost a better one for books because book boxes are ridiculously heavy. They’re a true pain to bring with you up a few flights of stairs. So pretend you’re moving across the country, and really ask yourself if you would bring these books with you. If the answer is no, then scrap it.
Are you a book hoarder like me? How often do you purge your shelves and what are your tricks?