My Dear Fellow Book Lover,
Welcome! I hope the steps in this guide will help you on your journey.
I am a self-professed book nerd, and I’m guessing you are too. I’ve been toting too-heavy-to-carry-bags of books home from the library ever since I could read. I spent several late nights and early mornings poring over Faulkner, Hawthorne, and Woolf to earn my degree in English literature. I’m now a writer and a homeschool mom who teaches her children using literature based learning. I also scrimp time together between all my other obligations to read (and savor!) at least 4 books every month. And yes, I am that weirdo who goes into book shops just for the smell.
I’m also a huge minimalism advocate and love to have organized spaces. The two don’t seem to go together on the surface, but being a minimalist isn’t about sacrificing everything you love on the alter of echoing rooms. Minimalism is about creating more space in your life for actually enjoying what you do love, so it is a book-loving minimalist’s duty to ensure that her bookshelves are doing that as well.
Perhaps you need some help knowing which of your lovely books you should part ways with and which should stay. That’s what this minimalist book lover’s guide to decluttering your family’s home library is all about.
Know Your Why
Before you begin, do you know why you want to declutter your books?
Is it because you’ve run out of shelf space and don’t yet have your dream two-story, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling personal library?
Or perhaps it’s because your husband demands you clear some stacks and piles out of the house before his claustrophobia and dust allergy chokes him to death?
Maybe it’s because your shelves are bowing and you’re stubbing your toes on your random book piles.
What is your reason for decluttering your books?
If you can’t think of a good one, just close the browser and go read a book. Put the kettle on for some peppermint tea while you’re at it.
Still here? Okay! Now that you’ve defined exactly why you are in the need of a quick declutter, you can get down to business and get it done in 2 rounds.
Round 1: Sort Through the Books
For sorting books, piles are your friend. You will start by making piles, and assigning each book you own into one such pile.
The beauty of doing it this way is that at this point you won’t even be thinking about whether you will be giving the book up or not.
I like to use boxes for my piles so if I get interrupted they aren’t strewn throughout the house, or heaven-forbid, getting stepped on by my boys.
Here are the 8 piles of books you want to designate:
Pile 1: Books you absolutely love. They are your best friends and lovers of your soul. If they were gone today, you would truly mourn their loss, and actively seek replacements.
Pile 2: Books you haven’t read yet, but truly want to read soon.
Pile 3: Books you have already read and enjoyed, but aren’t your favorites. You would possibly like to read them again or share with someone else.
Pile 4: Books you have read, but didn’t really enjoy.
Pile 5: Books you haven’t read yet, but when you’re being honest with yourself you realize you probably won’t ever read these.
Pile 6: Children’s books (and curricula for homeschooling families) that you are keeping for younger children when they get older.
Pile 7: Books that are your children’s favorites (and for those homeschooling fams, any current school year’s curricula.)
Pile 8: This pile for all the books with damaged pages and spines that impair reading.
Once you have your pile areas designated, go through every book you own, assign each a pile, and place it where it belongs.
Round 2: Dealing With Your Book Piles
Now that you’ve sorted your books into the eight piles, the hard decisions of which books didn’t make the cut will be easier.
For your own sanity, try not to second-guess the decisions you made during round 1, or you’ll be here all day.
Here is what to do with every one of your piles:
Pile 8: (Yes, I know this is out of order. In this case, the last shall be first, and the first shall be second.) These are the broken and abused books, so badly disfigured and crippled it’s hard to know what message they are even trying to send. Repair them right now and sort them into one of the other 7 piles, or… make art out of their pages, recycle them, or hold a funeral and bury them in the backyard. I won’t judge your sentimentality. If you can’t take a minute to tape them back together now, then set them aside for the book reaper (recycle bin) before moving on to the other piles. I promise this is the hardest part, best to rip it off like a band-aid. If you loved the book, the internet is a great place to find a replacement cheaply.
Pile 1: Hug and sniff these treasures before lovingly placing them back on your shelves. You have been a lucky little book-nerd to have read and loved so many beautiful books in your life.
Pile 2: These are the books you are excited to read, some you may have even forgotten were on your shelf, but you were happy to clap eyes on them again. Put these unread books on a separate shelf (or area of a shelf) and give yourself the challenge to read from that shelf next, or else these titles may end up with pile 5. After I have a shelf like this I freeze any book buying habits before I make it through every book. Put one of these books on your nightstand right now so you can get started.
Pile 3: Let’s face it. You like these books, but they didn’t quite make the cut for pile 1, did they? A shared book is worth more than one sitting on your shelf that you may or may not read again. Do you know someone who would like to read them? Set the books aside for them. If not, start a new pile for a donation/sell bin.
Pile 4: There’s no such thing as a bad book. Every book is simply set out into the world on a journey to find it’s people. These books were clearly not meant for you. Put them in your donation/sell bin so serendipity can bring book and book-nerd together at last.
Pile 5: You were excited when you first met this book. The dust jacket was gleaming with possibility, the 2 for 1 special rang it’s promises into your little book-nerd heart, and you took a chance on what you thought would be a sure thing. Months or years later, these lovely little books are still hanging desperately to your shelf, hoping your eyes will soon devour their words. Put them in the donation/sell bin, knowing they can get back out there and win over someone more worthy of their stories.
Pile 6: Momma, you don’t need these books cramping your space when you’re not currently using them. However, it would be a shame to get rid of them when your younger children can use them later. Put these books in a plastic bin or two, label them, and shove them in the basement or garage. It will be like digging up lost treasure in a few years when your daughter begins to show an interest in castles just like her brother before her. Together you can unearth all-the-books on medieval history, knights, dragons, and castles you’ve saved back for her hoping this day would come.
Pile 7: Organize your children’s favorite books on shelves they have access to so they can continue to enjoy them and grow into raging book nerds too. And if you are a homeschool family, organize your current school year’s books, workbooks, and curriculum where you meet together for school.
What To Do After the Hard Decisions Have Been Made
What you should be left with is your favorite reads and the books you are excited to read for the first time organized on your shelves. You will also have little piles of books to pass on to others, and a box or two of books for donation/selling.
Take the books you’d like to pass on to your friends and family
(or share a pic with them in text) and ask them if they’d like to have them. If yes, give them to them. If not, add them to the donation bin. The books, not your friends and family.
There are several ways for you to get your donation/selling boxes taken care of, the important thing is that you do get them out of your house (and car! You know what you did).
Ways to Get Rid of Excess Books:
- Take a quick pic or two and post it on Facebook marketplace. You can give them away or ask for a modest price for the whole lot.
- Donate the books to a shelter, second-hand shop, or ask your local library if they accept book donations.
- Sell and ship them yourself using Amazon or eBay.
- Sit them on a busy street corner with a “free” sign for some lucky bibliophile to snatch up.
The important thing is that you’ve let them flap their hopeful leaves out in the winds of the world in search of a new reader.
Now that rounds 1 and 2 are complete and the leftover books are donated or sold, you are done!
You’ve fought against your very book-nerd nature and you now have won the space you need for new books… erm, I mean breathing space.
Congratulations on your decluttered bookshelves, friend!
What’s the one book on your shelf you’ll never part with?
In a comment could you answer this question: “What book have you owned the longest”?
For me, it’s a faded purple hardcover of Florence Barclay’s The Rosary. It’s now out of print and I’ve owned my own eBayed copy since high school after one of my teacher’s let me borrow her’s. I read it in a day and fell in love with the story. My copy has survived several book purgings and nine moves, I’ll never let it go.