Simplify and Declutter your Book Collection

nothing seems cozier than a few books stacked on your bedside table
nothing seems cozier than a few books stacked on your bedside table

January is a good time for taking stock of one’s possessions and thinking about simplifying. This week’s focus? Books. Google “decluttering bookshelves” and skim the results and likely you’ll see multiple stories about the trauma of weeding through beloved book collections. Deciding which tomes must pass on to the library, used bookstore, or local charity is, indeed, often a fraught venture, full of emotional land mines. The fact is, most people love books. We love what they symbolize (knowledge!), we love how they look (cozy!), we love how they make us feel (literary!), we love how they make us appear (smart!), and maybe we love them for who gave them to us or who wrote them. We might even own multiple versions of the same book; after all, they have completely different covers, different fonts, and may serve different purposes, which practically makes them different books in the end (right?).

Or so I thought until my most recent move, when, after a seemingly endless number of trips up the stairs carrying heavy boxes, I stopped to rest my fatigued legs and burning arms, surveyed my new kingdom, and thought: 60% or more of these boxes are filled with books. Either I will never move again or some of these have to go. I’d flirted with the idea of seriously pruning my book collection in the past, but as an English major, I thought it would be sacrilege. But, armed with the information below, I said: this must be done.

stacking a few favourite books strategically creates a 'library flavour' without the neat for shelves and shelves of books
strategically stacking a few favourite books creates a ‘library flavour’ without the need for shelves and shelves of books

And in the end, it was really liberating. You can still love to read and love literature and not have a library of books. And moreover, all of the books on your shelves that you kept because they are “serious” and “meaningful” and “highbrow” but you’d never EVER read again? Out they go. I made my peace with the fact that while I’m an English major, I’ll also likely never read Judith Butler again, at least not for fun. To be honest, I kind of relished it. If every book you pull off your shelf represents a “should” in your life (what a person should own, should read, should think about), then consider yourself lucky to be ridding your life of a big pile of should. It’s a huge weight off your mental shoulders.

Because, while I love books, I love a lot of other things too – as, I’m sure, do you. And weeding your books will help you make room in your life and your mind for your other loves – don’t they all deserve space in the great bookshelf of your life?

TIPS AND TRICKS for downsizing your book collection:

1. HOW DO I SORT THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF? (hint: be ruthless!)


  1. Did I enjoy reading this book? If no, off it goes. Why keep anything you don’t like?
  2. Will I read this book again? If no, off it goes.
  3. Do I plan to actually read this book in the first place? If it has been on the shelf for more than a year with no action – off it goes.


  • used bookstore – perhaps a tidy profit is in your future
  • goodwill or charity – donate them to someone who can’t afford them but would love to cherish them
  • library – I borrow books from the library all the time; the least I can do is put a few more on the shelves. Note: most libraries prefer relatively new books in decent condition. Crap is not welcome.
  • church – churches often have fundraising events and can sell the books
  • work – perhaps some other poor literary sod might want them?
  • any other organization you think does great work and you’d like to support – perhaps your local theatre has a booksale, or the elementary school you always walk by, or the animal organization you’ve been hoping to support. Call them up! Find out!


  • rearrange those shelves: stack books both vertically and horizontally; add interesting vases, photographs, or favourite possessions to fill up the space and make it visually appealing.
  • take advantage of the space to show off your bookshelves: try wallpapering the back of the shelf in a unique patterned wallpaper or go the opposite route with something calming, like grass paper. Without a crush of books, the beauty of the paper will shine through.
  • create a ‘library flavour:’ you might find you don’t even need a bookshelf anymore – perhaps stacking a few select tomes on a table beside your favourite reading chair will suffice; or, you might downsize and stick one small bookshelf in a prominent corner of your living room. You’d be amazed how much a ‘taste’ of books can have the same homey, cozy effect as a backbreaking stack of shelves.


  • frequent the local library (basically I think this is the most important thing you can do);
  • borrow books from friends and share your books with them in return;
  • continue to pare down and try to avoid bringing new books into your life unless you know you’ll read them 8 times over or they are immensely meaningful to you;
  • take time to review, read, and really cherish the books that you’ve kept.
a collection of poems by John Keats – beloved and definitely worth keeping


2 responses to “Simplify and Declutter your Book Collection”

  1. Oh dear – you are SO right, Emily – I’ve been culling! The one thing I’d ask you to consider is the moratorium on buying books. As your aunt – who works in a bookstore AND a library – often says: I consider a book relatively cheap entertainment, a little more than a movie with popcorn, definitely much less than a manicure/pedicure (or: name your luxury of choice). So perhaps having a book budget while keeping the mindset of passing on/disposing is something to consider.


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