Your Book Collection is a Special Kind of Clutter - Part 1

Wednesday Mar 29th, 2023


You might not like the idea of calling your book collection clutter because of the special connection many of us make to books. But when you consider the space books take up, the challenges they present when moving, and just the sheer number of volumes we amass, there really is no other word that better describes surplus books  than clutter.

Treating too many books like clutter can also help us apply some basic decluttering rules of thumb, too. For example, why not consider purging three books for every one you keep? The ratio of 3:1 is a good place to start, but for the avid collectors, it might have to be bumped up to 5:1 to really get ready to downsize. You're also going to want to gather containers into which you can sort your books. If you're packing to move, the keepers can do into sturdy bankers boxes with handles. They are the perfect size to prevent you from packing too heavy a box. Plastic totes are good for the books you will donate, and a recycling bin for those with no serviceable life left in them. More on disposal later.

But how to decide which books to purge? Consider the following five questions:

1. Is this a duplicate? This is an easy win since we don't need more than one copy of most books. Also consider duplicate versions of a book: if you have a physical copy and a digital version, perhaps its time to donate the hard copy in favour of the streamlined advantage just the e-book version. Consider, too, multiple books on the same topic. Do you really need more than one guidebook to North American wildflowers? Keep just the best, most comprehensive, or newest source of information and let the lesser go.

2. Is this book outdated or obsolete? Reference materials quickly become outdated, but so do books on economics, politics and social trends. Practically any book written on technology can be replaced by information found online. A 30-year old atlas, for example, is an easy decision to declutter. School text books are definitely in this category, too. 

3. Have I read this book before? Many of us have a surprising number of yet-unread books on our shelves. Perhaps they were gifts, or bargains, or well-intentioned purchases. Whatever the reason, the best way to deal with unread books is to assign an expiration date to them. Write the date on a post-it note and set the intention to read it or purge it by then. 

4. Why do I want to keep this book? A simple but effective question to ask ourselves whether the attachment we feel to a book is sentimental, status, or sale price. Many of us have books in our collection that were meaningful at a particular time in our lives and we keep the book as a sort of souvenir. Or maybe you like having the classics on your library shelves, and really good books feel like a bit of a status symbol. Perhaps you even have rare or collectible books in your collection. Regrettably the value for most used books is disappointingly low. Far better to gift a meaningful, classic or rare book to someone who will also appreciate it, especially if you write a special inscription to them explaining part of your love for the book. Who knows? You might give them more than just the gift of the individual book, but also the gift of loving to read. Win win!

5. Could I get this book at the library to read again? With the digitization of most libraries today, the chances are very good that you can borrow any book in your collection without ever leaving your home. You can borrow e-books from local libraries or reserve online to pick up at your convenience. Borrowing a book to reread rather than keeping a copy yourself is a terrific strategy for culling the classics from your collection. 

Decluttering your personal library is challenge that you don't want to leave until you're just about to move. With a bit of advance planning, it's a good rainy day activity and one that will fill you with a sense of accomplishment knowing others will benefit by your activity. 

Next time: Five Unlikely Places to Donate Surplus Books


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