How to Declutter Books and Spruce Up Your Bookshelf

By Marilyn Syarto


Even in this digital day and age, it still pains many people to hear that the monarch of minimalism, Marie Kondo, says we should only have 30 books in our homes. We’re all for decluttering books, but paring down to three dozen books seems extreme. Or does it?


According to the World Economic Forum, the average number of books that the average household in the United States has is about 114. So tossing around 80 books doesn’t seem all that bad, especially if it’ll clear your home of dust bunnies and potentially moldy paper. Or perhaps you’re simply trying to clear out space for new knick-knacks or pieces of furniture.


Thankfully, there’s a method to looking at your book collection and determining which ones you’re ready to part ways with. Our guide will walk you through the entire process, from knowing when it’s time to declutter books, how to get started cleaning house, and what to do with the books that no longer spark your interest.

pile of books on floor

When to Declutter Books

You might be spring cleaning and have the sudden urge to clean out your book stack. Or perhaps you need a little nudge to get started. Here are a few telltale signs that it’s time to declutter your book collection:

  • As we mentioned above, dust bunnies love to gather around books. If you’re vacuuming and dusting off your shelved or piled books (and magazines), it’s a sign you need to declutter.
  • Your books won’t open because they are damaged from humidity and mold.
  • Your Kindle account is in constant use and you read more digital books on your devices than you do physical books.
  • Your TBR (to be read) pile is growing and you know you won’t put a dent in it any time soon.
  • You keep putting books into boxes and then storing them in your basement or attic just in case you “need” a book in the future.
  • You need the space and you’re tripping over your books!


How to Declutter Books

Before we dive into the steps of decluttering your books, let's preface the three general questions to ask yourself as you go through each book in your library: 

  • Will you read the book again? If yes, keep it…if no, get rid of it.
  • If you haven’t read it, will you ever read it in your lifetime? If yes, keep it…if no, get rid of it.
  • Does it hold sentimental value? If yes, keep it…if no, get rid of it.


Keep these questions in mind, but the answers may be too vague to help you sort through your books. Here’s what to do if you are serious about getting out from living knee-deep in paperbacks and hardcovers.


Step 1: Find Home Library Inspiration

Before you toss even one book into a box, begin the process by finding some beautiful home libraries that you want to mimic. Flip through your favorite home magazines or browse Pinterest and Instagram. This will motivate you to start the task and you’ll be able to envision the lovely result.


Step 2: Prep for Your Purge

It’s not hard to prep for the task of decluttering books. You need a few boxes, a chunk of a day that you’ll be uninterrupted, and quiet so you can think clearly about each book. You will need at least three sturdy boxes:

  1. A box for books you want to donate or sell.
  2. A box for books you want to give to friends or family as gifts.
  3. A box for books to toss.


Keep some floor space open to place the books you decide to keep. You can corral them in one spot before deciding how you'd like to arrange your newly-decluttered bookshelves.


Step 3: Pull Them All

Gather all of your books from all over your home. If that’s simply too physically overwhelming, then go room by room, though that can take much longer. But if you're serious about the task of decluttering books, it's important to take all the books off the shelf and look at each one. If you keep the books on the shelves and take each book one by one, the process can take too long and you may abandon the project.


Step 4: Go Through Every Book

Imagine having to go through an entire building to cull through books! That’s the job of librarians, and according to Atkins Bookshelf, here’s how they do it: CREW, which stands for Continuous Review Evaluation and Weeding. Within CREW is the MUSTIE methodology. Here’s how to adapt CREW and MUSTIE to your own home library when deciding how to declutter your books: 

  • Misleading: Is the book misleading because it’s outdated? If the info in the book is old, you may not need that book anymore and it might not be helpful to others, either. These can most likely go in the toss box.
  • Ugly: If the book is beyond repair, why keep it? It may be unreadable if the pages are falling out or if the spine is far too damaged. In this case, throw the book in the toss pile.
  • Superseded: Is there a new edition of the book with more relevant information? If so…toss!
  • Trivial: Is the book worth the space on your bookshelf? Is there any merit to keeping it? Do you have any obligation to keep it taking up space? No? If it’s still in good condition, put it in the donate or sell box or the box designated for giving to family or friends.
  • Irrelevant: Does the book’s content support your current interests, needs, or lifestyle? For example, keeping books on how to train a puppy may not be relevant anymore as your pup has matured. Give irrelevant reads to someone who could use them or donate them.
  • Elsewhere: Is the info in the book extremely unique or is it readily available online or from a book at the public library you can temporarily use? If the book’s information can be found elsewhere for you, donate it or sell it!


Think Like Marie Kondo

Hold each book and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If not, toss it. If it does, keep it. Simple as that. (It may help with those books you’re undecided about keeping.) P.S. When you decide to eliminate a book, hold it in your hands and thank it before you toss it in the box—it’ll lessen the guilt!


Step 5: Design Your Shelves

Now that you have your “keep” pile of books, make your library look and function extra special. Here are a few ideas:

  • Stack some of your books in a pyramid form to add visual interest to your bookcase.
  • Organize your books by subject matter or alphabetically by title or author.
  • Separate hardcover from softcover, which can streamline the appearance of your books.
  • Arrange books of the same height together.
  • Create zones on your shelves—the options are limitless but can include a zone for TBR books, books that changed your life, books you frequently use, fiction or nonfiction, etc.
  • Arrange your books by color to create a harmonious rainbow of books. The result is pleasing to the eye and adds personality to the room.
several book pages splayed out on table

Photo via Thea


What to Do With Decluttered Books

Now, you’ve got boxes of books you want out of your home. What should you do with them? Here are a few ideas:


DIY

What would be a Hometalk guide without a little DIY? There are plenty of ways to repurpose books that would otherwise sit on a shelf unread. Repurpose meaningful book pages into wall art or ornaments, or paint books to fit in with your home decor and use as accents around the home.


Donate

Whether you have a pile of children’s books or adult books to donate, you can always drop them off at your local donation center. Or, spread the gifts beyond Goodwill and see if any local preschools, safe houses, family shelters, prisons, and libraries are in need of gently used books. Visit Brightly.com for a treasure trove of resources that need your books now.


Share With Friends

You can gift a friend a book that you know they’ll love. Clean the book to make sure it’s beautiful and presentable with no ink or pencil marks, and remove any sticky notes you may have used in the book during your time reading it.


It’s a lovely gesture to give someone who is grieving, for example, a book that helped you get through a loss. Or, perhaps, children’s books that your now-grown children once loved that you’d like to pass on to a friend with little ones.


Little Free Libraries

If you want to find a local Little Free Library (a free neighborhood book exchange) to donate a few books to, head to LittleFreeLibrary.org and type in your town. Keep your eyes open, there may be one in your neighborhood!


Sell

Two of the best places to sell gently used books are eBay and BookScouter. If you have rare books, you can always have them appraised by a local auction house. You can use online sources, such as Sotheby’s, to find out if your book is worth more (or less) than you think.


Show us your newly decluttered home library! Tell us what you did with your books—did you use Marie Kondo’s method or another way to thin out the books?

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