Take it Off: On Decluttering My Bookshelf

Is there anything worse than coming home from a library sale or used bookstore, going to shelve your beautiful new books, and finding that there isn’t space for them? We’ve all been there, and unless you’re a lucky duck who has room to add another bookshelf (or has no problem stacking your books on the floor, which, I mean, we’ve all been there), you’re going to have to get rid of some of the old books to make room for the new ones. Here’s the question: Do you get rid of books you’ve already read, or books from your TBR shelf?

A few weeks ago, a discussion on the Books on the Nightstand podcast got me thinking aboutΒ this very topic. I realized that I tend to have a much easier time getting rid of books I have read and didn’t care for than books I haven’t yet read. When it comes to books I have read, I enjoy having a curated shelf; it’s nice to look at my bookshelves and only see books I love (plus a few classics that I feel like I should keep so people will think I’m smart). To me, there’s no reason to hang onto that book I read five years ago and didn’t like. If there’s no chance in hell that I’ll ever re-read a book, I’m pretty okay with letting it go.

Unread books, on the other hand, are filled with so much promise! How can I get rid of a book that could become a favorite?! It doesn’t matter that I bought it for a dollar at a library sale; I was so pleased to find it, and I’m still dying to read it. So what if I’ve had it for three years and I rarely have time to read backlist? This is why more than a quarter of all the books in my apartment haven’t been read yet. They come in faster than I can read them, and they’re so hard to get rid of!

How do you approach culling your bookshelves? Which books are the first to go: Books you’ve read or books you haven’t?


27 thoughts on “Take it Off: On Decluttering My Bookshelf

  1. So agree with you…much easier to cull books I’ve already read! And – I’m “curating” a virtual library for a friend who runs a design site and I included a section of books called “See, I’m Smart”, which is exactly what you mentioned in your post…classics that many people haven’t actually read, but having them on their shelves makes them look smart…ha!

  2. I so rarely cull my bookshelves, because I can’t bear to part with any of them. If I do get rid of some, it’s more likely to be ones I’ve read but haven’t loved. It’s almost impossible to get rid of ones I haven’t read, even though I probably have enough to last me several years. I am a book hoarder. I have a problem. But, in my opinion, it’s a good problem – it could be much worse. πŸ™‚

    • I so wish I had that option! But living in a 650-square-foot apartment means I don’t have space for many bookshelves. (And really, I’m just thankful that this place is big enough for more than one bookshelf, unlike my last apartment!)

      I saw some quote on Tumblr the other day about how it’s not hoarding if it’s books πŸ˜‰

  3. It’s almost impossible for me to get rid of books I haven’t read because of the “what if” factor. What if one day I want to read something and I remember I got rid of it to make room for something else? NOO

  4. I am the same way! I love getting rid of books I’ve read (and aren’t faves) and substituting them with new books – full of the promise of a good read!

  5. When I donate my books I feel so much better about getting rid of them (even when they were books I really liked) because I know they are going to a new home to be read and enjoyed! Great tips πŸ™‚

  6. It’s even harder to get rid of books when you have kids who could like the books even if you didn’t like them. I keep saying to myself, “but what if Simon wants to read that one day!?” haha! We just need to hire a professional organizer!

  7. I’ve been furiously trying to cull my shelves the past couple of weeks and I find I have a tougher time ditching the books that I HAVE read than the ones I haven’t. Many of the ones I haven’t read I picked up at library sales on complete whim and haven’t heard anything about them. Yes, they have promise, but if I were to keep all of my unread books it would take me over a decade to get through them all. Just not gonna happen! That said, the books on my “read” shelf that are there are ones that I tend to have some type of connection to–I don’t have any issues ditching the ones that I didn’t like at all.

  8. Yup, I’m very similar. If I’ve had a book I haven’t read for years sitting there that I know I’m never going to read, I can get myself to let go of those too. Like if it was a thriller that seemed big and exciting at the time or something. I’m actually perusing bookshelves on craigslist right now haha so I’m putting off a cull.

  9. I used to have a harder time with this but having moved 12 times in my adult life means it’s gotten a lot easier. Unless it is a first edition and/or signed, if I’ve read it, it goes. If I want to read it again, I’ll get it at the library. ARCs almost always go and unread go after a year. Of course, once we’re in the new house, I may decide to keep everything!

  10. I love culling my shelves! I even shared how I went through my goodreads shelves last year. Physical shelves were hard for me the first time (it was much more overwhelming than GR!) but once I got into a groove, everything went. If it wasn’t something I was planning on reading, bought but hadn’t touched and was gathering dust, wouldn’t read again, etc it was out the door.

  11. I’m such a loyal patron of the library that I don’t even have enough books to cull! The last time I did so was when I moved from Illinois to Connecticut after college, and that was mostly old textbooks I *knew* I wouldn’t touch again. Right now, I’ve got empty spaces on my shelves that need filling! Send me some of your rejects. πŸ˜‰

  12. Now that I have way too many books, I don’t let anyone leave our house without a book. There are certain books I won’t part with, but for the most part I’m ok with giving them away to friends. And if a book ever comes up in conversation and I have it, I give it to that person. Or if I’m reading a book and it makes me think of someone.

  13. I’m with you completely! As I mentioned on your wardrobe post, I’ll be moving to a smaller apartment soon, so I’ve also been clearing out my shelves. I’ve gotten to where I’m only keeping books that I might consider if someone asked me what my favorite books are and it’s making me really happy. I think I could enjoy having a collection of only my very favorite books. But I’m not getting rid of any unread books. Instead, I’m trying to read through as many books that I own as possible, so I can start getting rid of the ones I don’t love.

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