Why You Should Declutter Your Books

A woman looking at a partially empty bookcase.

Writers and other avid readers have a tendency to accumulate large quantities of books in their personal collections. Instagram and YouTube feature “shelfies” and “shelf tours” from bibliophiles who’ve packed their bookcases with hundreds of volumes, some of which have gone unread for years.

Choosing to declutter your books may feel like it goes against your reader’s instincts. However, there are many benefits to purging books that are no longer providing any value to you.

In this post, I’ll make my case for why you should declutter your books. Then I’ll share a few tips for doing so. Here we go!

Why You Should Declutter Your Books

Especially considering the temptation to keep up with or outshine other people on social media, scaling back your book collection can be difficult. For many readers, the number of books you have on your shelves is a serious point of pride.

That said, taking the plunge and willingly letting go of some of your books can improve your life in many ways. Here are a few to consider.

1. It’s Good for Your Mental Health

In minimalist circles and among Marie Kondo devotees, it’s fairly common to hear claims that “stuff = stress”. However, they’re not the only ones encouraging people to declutter for the sake of their mental health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, extra stuff piled up around you house can increase stress, make it more difficult to focus, and impact your sleep habits. Even if all your books are neatly organized on shelves, overwhelming numbers of them can have negative side effects.

Paring your collection down to the essentials can help reduce your anxiety and improve your wellbeing. Particularly if you’re struggling with feelings of stress, an inability to focus, or insomnia, decluttering your books may be the remedy you need.

2. Having Fewer Books Makes Moving Much Easier

If you’re settled in your dream home and have no intention of ever leaving it, this may not apply to you. But I speak from experience when I say that moving house is much easier when you have fewer books.

I’ve lugged my personal library between four different apartments in five years. Packing up all my books and carrying them up and down flights of stairs has been one of the most difficult parts of the process every time.

I made major cuts to my book collection prior to my last move. While I still have enough that they made for quite a few hefty boxes, they were much more manageable than when I was packing my books into several large plastic tubs that each weighed as much as some of my heavier furniture.

3. You’ll Have an Excuse to Visit the Library

When I was in middle school and high school, I checked books out from the library all the time. As I entered my late teens, I started spending more money on growing my own book collection, and my visits to the library grew fewer and farther between.

It’s a shame, because libraries are such wonderful resources! Upon my last book purge, I made it a goal of mine to purchase fewer new books and go to the library more.

This is also helpful if you’re trying to save some money. Many local libraries are free to join, and have very generous lending policies. If there’s a book you want to read but you know you’re only going to enjoy it once and won’t ever crack it open again, borrow it instead of buying it.

4. Your Collection Will Be More Meaningful

I used to own books I didn’t even like. I was hanging on to them because I thought I needed a visible record of everything I’d ever read, when really what I needed was a quality collection of books that could provide me with actual value.

Having a lot of books is not nearly as important as having great books on hand. Why waste space on a physical reminder of a less-than-stellar reading experience?

Since decluttering my books, I can happily look at my shelves and feel proud of the books I own. Instead of a random assortment of novels and nonfiction I acquired for various classes or because I was lured in by a pretty cover, my collection feels like a more genuine reflection of who I am as a reader.

How to Declutter Your Books

Of course, decluttering your books is easier said than done. Having some guidelines in place can help you reach the point where your collection strikes the right balance between meaningful and minimal.

Here are a few I follow to help me decide what to keep and what to donate or sell:

  • Special copies stay. Signed copies, antique volumes, and (most) books given to me as gifts all stay on my shelves. These have a lot of sentimental and (in some cases) actual value.
  • Hang onto reference books – if you’re actually going to use them. I have a few books in my “reference section” that contain writing tips I periodically return to. However, I only keep books like these if I know I’m actually going to use them.
  • Keep books that taught you something. On a similar note, I’ve hung on to some books that have taught me something significant from a craft standpoint. These essentially become another kind of reference material. Less frequently, I might keep books that have taught me some kind of life lesson as well.
  • Preserve inspiration for when you’re running low. There are a fair number of books that have survived my decluttering sprees because they played a role in inspiring me to write. If I’m having a hard time mustering will to work on a project, these books often encourage me to keep trying.

As far as what to do with books you decide to declutter, I’m a big fan of reselling mine to used bookstores. You can often get store credit and use it to replace the books you’ve said goodbye to with ones that are a better fit.

Of course, donating them is also always an option.

Conclusion

For true book lovers, choosing to declutter your books is no small feat. It’s easy to feel like you “need” them, to let them pile up unread because you think you’ll get around to them someday, or to come to see your collection as a social media status symbol.

However, maintaining a well-curated and scaled-back book collection has many benefits, such as:

  1. Decluttering is good for your mental health.
  2. Fewer books makes it easier to pack up and move if you have to.
  3. You’ll have an excuse to visit the library.
  4. Your collection will be more meaningful.

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Featured Image Credit: Unsplash.

Molly Tyler
Molly Tyler

Molly received her B.A. in English in 2016, and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 2019. She now works full time writing blog posts and web copy for small businesses.

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