How to Pare Down Your Books

Books are seriously one of the hardest things to part with! Even if you’ve only ever read it once, having your books within reach keeps you tied to the thoughts and feelings they evoked, to the far-off, magical adventures they took you on, to the breathtaking or heart-wrenching stories they told. We hold onto books that were passed down from a loved one, or purchased at a tiny bookshop in Cairo, or read during a particularly good or bad time of our lives. We also hold onto books that were gifts, or from your college days, or have been on your “to read” list for a long time. The reality is that books also create clutter, take up a lot of space, are hard to move, and collect an amazing amount of dust. Paring down your books doesn’t mean getting rid of all of them—it just means you’ll keep some of them. Our guide will help you get going!

Where are all your books?
  • Are they all on a couple of bookshelves in the family room?
  • Or do you have books in many places—your nightstand, your home office, the guest room?
  • Do you have books in boxes that are stored in the garage, the basement, or a storage unit?
  • Write down all the places where your books are kept, so you can go down the list and check each area off as you declutter it.
Pare down one area at a time.

If you feel overwhelmed, give yourself some slack and do one area a day. Have a box ready for the books that will be given away.

Important: once you’ve filled a box for donations, tape it shut, mark it “Books to go”, and put it somewhere so you won’t see it constantly. Better yet, call Seattle Book Man right away for a free scheduled pick-up (this is a great Redmond-based company started by our neighbor’s two sons).

When going through each area’s books, ask yourself the following questions.

Questions for books you HAVE read:
  1. Did you like it?
  2. Would you read it again? Be honest with yourself.
  3. Does it have sentimental value?

Two or three “yes” answers is a keeper. If your answer is “no” to questions 1 and 3, the book can definitely go. If you liked a book but you wouldn’t read it again and it has no sentimental value, it can go. If you didn’t like it, but it somehow has sentimental value, then you’ll have to weigh that sentiment. Remember, the goal is to get rid of books.

Questions for books you HAVE NOT read:
  1. Why haven’t I read this?
  2. Will I really read this if I keep it? Again, be honest with yourself.
  3. Does it have sentimental value?

Give yourself permission to not read a book that is in your possession. It’s okay, really! You may have bought it or it was gifted to you years ago, and though it may have been of interest then, it may not be now. Guess what, someone else out there will want to read it! If you can’t answer why you haven’t read it, and you really can’t say if you ever will, it goes. If you haven’t read it and don’t plan to, but it has sentimental value, you’ll have to again weigh that sentiment. Consider taking a photo of the book—and maybe a special inscription inside—and then donating the book.

Books to definitely get rid of:
  • Outdated or unused reference books. Encyclopedia sets, old travel guides (will you really want to read Rick Steves’ Denmark hotel recommendations from 2009?), style guides, dictionaries, thesauruses, etc. If you haven’t used it in a year or more, it can go. Pro tip: Merriam-Webster has both its dictionary and thesaurus online.
  • Cookbooks you haven’t used in a year or more. If you have a cookbook with just a few recipes you regularly use, photocopy those pages and then say goodbye to the book itself.
  • Coffee table books. A few of these may looks cool or artsy on your coffee table or propped up on a bookshelf with a vase, but more than a few becomes dusty clutter. Choose up to five favorites and donate the rest.
  • College textbooks. Sure, keep a book that was signed by your favorite college professor. Otherwise, these books are likely outdated and should go.
  • Book version of an eBook you already have. If you’ve got a Kindle or Audible version of a book, there is no need for the hard copy (unless it was autographed by Anthony Bourdain at a special event you flew cross-country to attend).
Where to donate or sell books?

Remember, you should not keep books out of obligation, or guilt, or because you feel like you “should”. Your book collection is also not a 100% reflection of who you are, so don’t keep certain books because of an image or an aspiration. Keep the books that you love and that you want to enjoy again. The book itself is not the memory.


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