How To Clear Out Your Book Collection

01/04/2015 Discussions, Reading 29

How To Clear Out Your Book CollectionRecently I embarked upon a task that puts Frodo’s little trip to Mordor to shame: a clear out. The reason? I’m finally becoming a grown-up and moving into a flat with my friend and my little sister, and from now on will be paying rent and council tax, doing a ‘big shop’ and collecting Tesco Clubcard points with the rest of the adults! Wahoo!

Whilst this is a pretty exciting life event, it has meant having to go through, cut down and pack up the twelve years worth of stuff I have accumulated since we moved into our current house. My book collection in particular has spread like some kind of contagious disease throughout my room over the years, to the point where I was having to stack them on the floor because there was simply no where else to put them.

Therefore, despite getting rid of books being a bookworm’s nightmare, I have had to part with a good number of them, and thought I would try and take some good out of it and write a (hopefully) helpful post on the matter for other people whose book collections have taken over their house.

So here are a few tips for other people about to take on this mammoth task! This is how to clear out your book collection:

  • Firstly, ask yourself these three questions:

– How long ago did I read it?

– How much did I enjoy it?

– Am I likely to read it again?

All of it really boils down to that last question, but the other two play a part.

The reason for the first question is that, if you only read the book a short time ago then you don’t know whether or not you will reread it (plus it seems a shame to get rid of a shiny new book!), whereas with older books you already know whether or not they have ever been reread. If they haven’t, then it’s fair to say you probably never will.

By the same token, there’s no point keeping books that you didn’t really like, hence the second question. I think everyone has read one of those books that they didn’t hate, and may have actually kind of enjoyed, but just didn’t have any huge feelings about. Those are exactly the kind of books that you really don’t need, and are actually the easiest to edit down because you probably have no particular emotions attached to that book, or that story. My ‘ideal book collection’ would be comprised only of books I absolutely love, so I think ‘how much did I enjoy it?’ is a pretty important question to ask when you inevitably find yourself dithering over the fate of a particular book.

And the last question? Well books are there to be read. As pretty as they look sitting on a shelf, they aren’t really fulfilling their purpose gathering dust. If you know you will never open that book again, then you may as well not have it. Someone else somewhere will probably enjoy it (or it can just clutter up their house instead!).

  • Be ruthless!

If you’re serious about cutting down your book collection, you’re going to have to get ruthless! So you loved that book when you were ten? Well are you going to read it again? If the answer is no then get rid of it!

My initial attempt at a clear out involved getting rid of about twelve books, but I quickly realised that I still had way too many. I had to start getting serious and be totally honest with myself about which books I really did want to keep, and which ones I wasn’t actually that bothered about.

However, I think one exception to the ‘ruthless rule’ is books with some kind of sentimental value. If a certain book was bought for you by a loved one or was a particular childhood favourite then obviously you should keep it, even if you won’t reread it. Another exception is if it is a particularly beautiful book, like a collector’s edition, or an illustrated edition that was basically bought for the purpose of looking nice. In that case it’s fulfilling its role!

  • Weed out books you don’t need anymore

A huge part of my collection was taken up with books that I bought for high school, college and university, and I’d imagine anyone else who has ever studied literature will have plenty too. Whilst I discovered some great books through my studies, there was a lot more that were an absolute chore to read, and as much of a smarty pants as I look with them sitting on my shelf, I really don’t need them anymore. This is a quick and easy way of getting rid of quite a lot of books before you even get to the hard part – sorting through your personal collection.

  • Be honest about your TBR pile

I am a book-buying addict (hence the need for a massive clear out!), and so have a fair few books that I have never read. However, in a lot of cases I found that I wasn’t particularly desperate to read them. Some I had bought purely because they were cheap, or on a whim, or because a friend insisted it was the best book ever and I should read it, even if it wasn’t actually my kind of thing. If a book has been sitting around on a shelf for a while and I haven’t got round to it, then surely I can’t be that bothered about it, and it seems pointless keeping these kinds of books when there are so many others that I do desperately want to read. Even though it seems a shame to get rid of an unread book, I think you need to ask yourself honestly whether or not you actually think you’ll ever read it, and if not, get rid of it.

  • Get rid of ‘unwanted books’ IMMEDIATELY!

Do not – I repeat – DO NOT give yourself dithering time! A few books nearly sneaked their way back out of the discarded pile into my collection because I left them lying around too long and started to question my decisions. However you intend to dispose of them, do so as quickly as possible to prevent slips!

And as for what to do with your unwanted books, here’s a few suggestions:

  • Sell them

You could always turn your old books into some quick cash by selling them on Ebay, or to a second hand bookshop!

  • Give them to a friend/family member

If you know someone who might enjoy some of your old books, or say a friend or family member needs them for their studies then you could always just rehome them!

  • Donate them to charity

This is how I got rid of my old books. It’s so easy to just take them to a charity shop, or put them in a book bank, and you get to feel good about doing it! Alternatively you could donate them to a school or library.

So how about you? Have you recently cleared out your bookcase, or are you overdue for a book spring clean? What do you think of my tips, and do you have any of your own?

29 Responses to “How To Clear Out Your Book Collection”

  1. nordie

    There’s also Bookcrossing, which means you can get rid of your books whilst tracking where they go next. There is a side effect of that if there’s an active group near you you end up with more books than you started!

    Perhaps ask your local coffee shop if they want a bookshelf, where you can put your books for people to take away and leave their own if they are so inclined. Means you get to interact with the shop more, you go in there more (for nothing more than maintaining the shelves) and you might end up meeting more people that way.

    In Birmingham for instance we have shelves in 4 coffee shops, a pub and a cafe! All of which absorb books – I also give some to my beauty therapist for her salon clients

    • Laura

      I had never heard of Bookcrossing before, but it sounds like a great idea! And I like the idea of putting up a bookshelf in a local cafe! I will have to give that a go.

  2. Genesis @ GenGen's Book Blog

    You just motivated me to do a clear out with my books. All of your points are very valid. I am moving to a new house soon and…there are still lots of books that I know I won’t re-read and are VERY old. If I remember, I will do a blog post of when i do my clear out. It will be painful but let’s be ruthless!
    Check out my discussion post: Do you have too many books to read? Here, I talk about books I haven’t read, which are a lot and well, now with your post, I will be doing a clear out of some of them plus the old ones 😀

    • Laura

      I’m glad you’ve been motivated to have a book clear out! It’s kind of hard work, but it does feel good when you only have books that you really, really like left, and if you are moving too, it means there’s less to take with you. I still have about three huge boxes full, but it’s a lot less than I would have had.
      I will definitely check out your post, and best of luck with the clear out! 🙂

  3. Jacklin Updegraft

    Oh man this is so helpful. Especially the questions to ask yourself when cleaning your bookshelf! I already ask myself that last one and have a huge box of books that I plan on getting rid of! I have so many problems buying books at sales or used bookstores that I think I’ll read but have been sitting on my shelf for so long! Thank you for your wonderful insights!

    • Laura

      Glad this post was helpful! Buying cheap second hand books is part of my problem too, but I buy most of them on Ebay. I had a whole stack that I hadn’t read, and probably never would. Some I had even forgotten I had! Thanks for commenting.

  4. Meghan

    Although I completely understand the need (my husband has put me on a book buying ban due to the lack of shelving left) the idea of doing this makes me anxious! I totally need to, but I can’t. Maybe we should buy more shelves instead. 🙂 or maybe this will be a part of my summertime cleaning this year.

    • Laura

      I get what you mean about it making you anxious. I had been dreading doing it for ages, but I just knew I wouldn’t have room at my new place for them all, so I had to do it. I felt a lot better afterwards though! Although the idea of just buying more shelves sounds like a pretty good idea to me! 😀

    • Laura

      I think I have always been a bit sentimental about my books, so I had to be really ruthless. And you really do have to watch out for those sneaky books trying to get back onto the bookshelf! A few nearly made it!

  5. Terri @ Alexia's Books and Such...

    Very helpful post! Have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder for me to part with my books, even the ones that I know I’ll never reread. I keep meaning to list them for sale online, with the plan to donate them after a certain time period if they don’t sell. Just never seem to get around to it. *sigh* It’s not easy being a book hoarder! lol

    • Laura

      Being a book hoarder really is hard!
      I thought about selling some of my old books on Ebay too, but seen as I have a whole other pile of stuff that I have been meaning to list for ages (I’m not just a book hoarder – I’m also a general hoarder!) and haven’t done it, I decided just to donate them. I always tell myself I’ll get round to it, but I know I probably won’t!

  6. Shannon @ The Tale Temptress

    Great post. I too could use a book purge. I have so many books they’re perched on surfaces in almost every room. It drives everyone else crazy. They’re trickling down the stairs, on the backs of all the toilets, etc…

    I did do a mini-purge a couple years ago and I had to just be ruthless with it like you said. I wanted to keep absolutely all of them but it did come down to… will I want to read this again? Sadly, even some books I liked didn’t fit that bill.

    Good post!

    Shannon @ The Tale Temptress

    • Laura

      My books were starting to take over too. I hadn’t had room on my bookshelf for years so they were just stacked on the floor, under the bed, on the desk…pretty much everywhere! It’s such a daunting task clearing them out though, but it’s definitely worth it when you’ve done it. Good luck with your book purge!

  7. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Excellent points. I have done several book purges over the years, basically upon moving (for obvious reasons). There are a few books I still regret letting go of, but mostly it’s good to have lightened up.

    • Laura

      There are a couple I kind of regret letting go of too, but not as much as I would have regretted getting rid of others, and I couldn’t keep them all! It does feel great when you have finished though.

  8. Sal

    All really good tips.

    Currently, my books are all neatly packed away in labeled boxes on my closet shelf. I’ve yet to get any new shelving (as the shelving I had has been adopted by vinyl records), and I actually have two or three dresser drawers filled with books.

    I can’t bear to get rid of them. For some reason, the idea of having a home library is incredibly appealing, and though, sure, I could buy books on a Kindle, it’s just not the same as an actual physical novel. Maybe I’ll feel differently at some point.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to be more active in giving books away. I’ve given books that I’ve enjoyed to friends who read, as I assume they’ll enjoy them. I hope they would pass them on if they don’t like them, but I’m certainly glad if they keep ’em as well. It’s always cool to buy a used book and see a dedication or little note in the front.

    Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be keeping your questions and tips in mind as I look through some of my books. It just feels like I’m picking away little pieces of my insides.

    • Laura

      I feel the same about Kindle books. Although they make practical sense (cheaper, don’t take up room etc.) they just aren’t the same! I buy a lot of second hand books too, and I really like when there are little notes, or someone has written their name in the front! It’s like the book has it’s own story aside from the one written in it.
      Giving books away to friends is a really good way of getting rid of some. It is hard to part with them though, but I do feel a lot better without all that clutter!

  9. Elizabeth

    Congrats on entering the adult world! Don’t add to your books, keep a list of what you want to read (I use goodreads) and use the library. Only if you cannot get it at the library or borrow from a friend, then buy it. I don’t have a book buying problem. One reason is because I moved 5 times in 7 years and had a lot of hardcovers to move, all of which were received as gifts. I have since gotten rid of almost all of them. I use the library, and recently have started buying for the Nook app, but only because I received over $200 in B & N GC. The main reason I don’t buy books is that I don’t re-read and I read really fast, about 4 books a week. No way could I afford that!

    • Laura

      Buying four books a week would definitely be expensive! Using the library is a great idea though. Until I moved I lived quite a way from a library but now there is one practically round the corner, so I will have to start using it! It will definitely save me money as well as space. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Jennifer @ Books That Hook

    I’ve given over 1000 books to our local library, but I still have half of a storage unit full of them and about 5 bookshelves in my house. I think the part of your post that struck a chord with me was how you should be realistic with the TBR. I know I will probably never get around to reading all these books I have, but I’m just not ready to part with them yet.

    • Laura

      Wow! It sounds like you do have a lot of books!
      Getting rid of books I hadn’t read yet was definitely the hardest, as I kept thinking about if I changed my mind and decided I did want to read them. Now that I have actually got rid of them though, I don’t regret any of my choices and I have a lot more room, so I think it is worth it. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Jennifer

    I have problem where I just can’t do this. I have books I keep to swap online but I was planning on getting rid of some books. Just not the ones I haven’t read. I have a massive bookcase, a wooden chest and one shelf in another bookcase (dvds boxsets are on the other two shelves) and also books stacked. It’s not my fault, really I work in a shop that sells cheap books. I have a problem…

    • Laura

      I’m bad enough for hoarding books just in general, so if I worked in a shop that sells cheap books I’d be even worse. I understand your problem, that’s for sure! And clearing out books is so hard. I just hate to be parted from them all 🙂

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