A Guide to Decluttering Your Bookshelves as a Book Lover

A Guide to Decluttering Your Bookshelves as a Book Lover
ONCE UPON A TIME, I was that person who never, ever threw out a book.

It didn’t matter if it was a book I hated, that was falling apart, or that I’d owned for years never read. If it had pages, a spine, and a cover, on my shelf it went and stayed. I kept books on my shelves for the sake of owning “a lot of books.” And as someone who also doesn’t enjoy reading via kindle or audiobooks, I tended to amass a significant collection of paperbacks.

Books have held sentimental value, nostalgia, and personal identity for me over the years. For many years I was stuck in the mindset that, in order to be taken seriously as the avid reader and writer I am, I had to own a large collection of books and flaunt that knowledge. I filled my personal space with books I didn’t care about. As such, the room where I should feel the coziest and safest became a space full of pressure and guilt. Pressure to read books touted as classics, must-reads, and intellectual, and guilt from the books I picked up every three months, couldn’t get into, but put back on the shelf.


So, as I began my journey into minimalism, I knew I would eventually have to address my book situation. Throughout the past three years, I’ve periodically carried out small decluttering sessions…usually with the agenda to make room for new books. (Minimalism is going well for me, as you can see…) But I never sat down and intentionally thought about the why or how I was decluttering.

Recently, I discovered there is one thing that indicates whenever it may be time to rethink my collection and declutter some books, and that one thing is feeling overwhelmed. 

About a month ago, the itch to go through my possessions and remove items that no longer served a purpose heightened once more. Being ill recently means my cleaning habits are sorely lacking, and I quickly recognized I need even less “stuff” in my space to keep up with tidiness.

I took a look at the bookshelf and couple of cubicle nooks I use to store all of my books, saw the books spilling over onto the floor, piling on top of each other, and I was just done with it.

Not only did I want each book to have its proper place on a shelf and look tidy, but around this time my family was facing a possible move and I a) didn’t want to transport that many heavy boxes, and b) I wanted to get rid of my cubicle shelf, which equals even less storage space.

So, I sat down and began decluttering my beloved books (not including my childhood books already in storage or my vintage book collection).  In total, I decluttered 18 books out of my collection of 83. While it wasn’t as extensive a declutter as I’d hoped, that’s still about 20% of my collection; for someone who doesn’t make this a habit, I was happy with the number.

If you’re a book lover like me, you may be shaking your head in horror at the thought of getting rid of any precious books.

I get it.

But let’s say you are in a similar situation as me. Your beautiful book collection is overflowing. The bookshelves aren’t organized, losing their impressiveness and resorting to a sheer mess. You haven’t read 40% of the books on your shelf in the year since you bought them, and they keep piling up. You’re facing a need for change (feeling overwhelmed, converting to minimalism, getting ready to move, etc.) and your book collection is just one more cluttered space weighing on your mind.

So, how do you transition from the idea that you, as a book lover, have to work towards a Belle-esque library to minimizing and maintaining a manageable collection that works for you and your lifestyle?

1. Establish What WON’T Be Leaving Your Shelves

To set your mind at ease while decluttering books you love, determine which books are absolutely not leaving your collection and physically set them aside. For me, this was my vintage book collection, my collection of Jane Eyre novels, and sentimental books. Once I did this, I felt freer to move forward knowing my favorites were “safe.”

2. Go Through Your Never-Read Pile

My guess is you have at least 5 books in your physical to-be-read pile. I had quite a few more than 5. Not only did I have an actual TBR pile, I found books that I had forgotten I owned, books given as gifts, and books I picked up and abandoned too many times to count.

If those books have sat untouched for (and I’m being generous here) one year, it’s time to let them go. Here are two suggestions on how to do this:

— Take a picture of the covers or write down the titles in a notebook and then donate the books. If six months down the road you realize you are finally ready to read one, borrow from a friend or pick up a copy through a discount site such as ThriftBooks. But my guess is a month from now you won’t even remember that you donated those books.

— In addition/or, set a limit on how many unread books you can keep. Because I had a large pile of books, I set a limit of five I could keep in my TBR pile, not including any special editions/educational books. This helped me focus on what genres I truly cared to read and keep only the books I thought had a good chance of being read in the future.

3. Determine Your Reason & Set a Goal

Note your reasons for starting this decluttering process. Is it to keep your shelves organized? Minimize your possessions? Make a move easier? Or relieve some guilt of unread books? Whatever your reason, use that then to establish a decluttering goal. Maybe you want to clear one whole shelf space, get your books down to a certain number, or reduce your TBR pile. Keep this goal in the forefront of your mind (or on a sticky note on your shelves!) for when you have second thoughts while decluttering.

4. Find Your Books a Good Home

There are so many wonderful things you can do with books once you no longer have a use for them. Gift your books to friends or host a mystery book swap. Donate your books to a small thrift store or your local library. If you have a few books that are beyond repair, recycle them, either by taking them to an actual recycle center or using the pages for crafts, such as gift tags, wrapping paper, or framed art. Find a Little Free Library in your area and add a few books to the collection. There is always someone else out there who will adore that unloved book collecting dust on your shelf. If you can give the joy of reading to someone else, it makes the parting worth it.

5. Remember Quality Over Quantity

A common minimalist approach, though I don’t often see it applied to books. But if you’re looking to minimize your book collection, this is a perfect mindset to adopt! Remember, it doesn’t matter if you have 500 or 5 books; the amount you own does not determine your “level” as a book lover and reader. Keep a tight fist on the books you fiercely love and rethink the rest. As my collection has dwindled, I find I love looking at my shelves and immediately catching the titles of all of my favorite books. It helps me identify and be honest about what I like to read, makes it easier to recommend books to others, and as a sentimentalist, it provides a sense of comfort.

Keep this in mind: While minimalism is a lifestyle, the changes you make today don’t have to stay that way one, five, or ten years down the road. What suits you now alters with time, decluttering methods and rules included.

Minimizing my books now doesn’t mean I’ll never have a library like Belle’s…I mean, let’s be honest, a mansion with an entire wing dedicated to books is the dream. But for both physical and headspace right now, fewer books is the better option for me.

So, tell me: Do YOU think it’s time to declutter your personal library?
Also, I’m curious: Do you have a big or small book collection? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


  1. August 22, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    Love this post. I know I have books needing to go. This year I tried to make a goal of reading some that have been on my shelves for years. I have read a few of them but I do believe it is time to let go of a few. I love the idea of a mystery book swap party. What a great way to get together with your friends and share a common love of books.

  2. Little Grig
    August 22, 2019 / 3:49 pm

    I just bought a beautiful new book this week, and own a lot I haven’t read yet; BUT I have boxes of books in storage that I want to get out and seriously purge.
    I’ve saved so many books, including old college books, simply for the sake of “having a library,” and at this stage in life, I will be very happy to part ways with them. (Makes room to get more classics I actually want to read and reread…heh heh.) 😉

    • Sarah
      August 22, 2019 / 4:46 pm

      Oh, what new book did you get? I am all for buying new books!😉 I’m attempting to be more intentional with my book purchases so I can curb the mindless adding to my collection, though. I have so many boxes of books stored away, too… My goal is to deeply declutter them by the end of this year!

  3. August 24, 2019 / 10:20 pm

    I need to declutter my books even after going through that process once already this year. I have books I’ve been hanging onto out of guilt over not having read them yet. But I can’t bring myself to read them, though, because they’re triggers for me since my dad died. Your post helped me work through that guilt. I’m ready to donate them. Thank you ❤️

    • Sarah
      August 24, 2019 / 11:24 pm

      Aw, sweetie! I’m so glad this helped you.❤️ You are so amazing and brave.

  4. Lois Landrith
    August 29, 2019 / 4:03 pm

    I have a lot of books just can not seem to part with them.

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