4 Steps to Decluttering Your Bookshelf

I vividly remember the moment when I fell in love with reading. I was seven and my parents had rented The Last of the Mohicans, which I had no interest in seeing. I didn’t know what to do with myself while it was on, but I was definitely not going to watch the movie.

4 Steps to Decluttering Your Bookshelf
Photo credit

Fortunately, I was blessed with a mom who not only got me a bookshelf, but stocked it with books she thought I’d enjoy (hurray for yard sales!). I pulled a book off the shelf and started reading. And have been reading, voraciously, since then.

So, naturally, I accumulated a lot of books over the years.

When I started to declutter my house, I was motivated by my goal of keeping a tidy house with minimal cleaning. So I went at the process with gusto.

Getting rid of kitchen gadgets was pretty easy. (Here’s what I kept.) As was removing items I didn’t wear from my wardrobe (I hated a lot of what I had). But when it came to books, I had a hard time.

There were so many, and they had so much valuable information inside. How could I choose what to get rid of?

But I knew I had to seriously thin my collection if I was going to achieve my goal of a clean house with minimal cleaning, so I got to work.

Today, I still have a fair amount of books, even in the bus, and a couple of boxes of them in storage, but it’s much less than I used to have. And it works for us.

If you’ve run into a similar problem in your decluttering journey, you might want to try these tips that helped me. And before you hyperventilate at the thought of getting rid of your books, just remember this one word: library. Alright, here we go:

1. Separate your favorites

Chances are, you’ll have a much easier time parting with the ones you’ve only read once and have never really gotten back to, than those that are dog-eared and highlighted because you’re constantly referring to them.

And, if you’re anything like the rest of us, only 20% (or less) of your books will fall into this category. So even if you just get rid of the ones that aren’t your favorites, you’ll make a huge dent.

2. Ditch the fiction

I love fiction, I really do, but I find that once I read a book, I’m not going back to it. I don’t mark it up like I do non-fiction and it usually just gathers dust on my shelf. And if there is a piece of fiction I want, I get it from the library in either physical, audio or e-format (more on that below).

Now, if you have a book that you read and re-read, keep it. This isn’t a test to see how much you can deprive yourself – you’re just trying to clear away the clutter from what matters most to you.

3. Go digital

Many books are now in digital format. And if you have a Kindle, or any device that you can put the Kindle app on, you can read many books in digital format.You can certainly replace most of your library with digital books, but that’s going to get expensive, so this is mainly for future book purchases.

I actually read most books in digital format now, especially fiction.

We have an Amazon Prime membership (get a free trial here), which means we can borrow Kindle books on Amazon. And most classic novels can be found on Kindle for the wonderful price of zero dollars.

I also use the Overdrive Media app on my phone and our Kindles, which allows me to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from my library. I actually use this method the most because it’s free.

4. Distribute them

I have some books in my collection that I really want to have handy when we live in a house again, but I don’t have space for in the bus right now. Because I don’t want them to just sit in a tote right now, I’m distributing them to friends who I know will use them.

For instance, my friend Tara is keeping my copy of Nourishing Traditions. I know she’ll take care of it and we’ve even made a recipe from it together at her house.

Yay relationship building!

And what do you do with those books you decide to get rid of? Give them away. Or sell them. Or trade them in.

Just do it quickly so you don’t find them back on your shelves.

Do you have any tips to share for decluttering your bookshelf?


  1. says

    I have struggled with what to do with my books for a long time now! I’ve successfully de-cluttered most of the rest of my house, but book…not so much. I have so many that I haven’t picked up in ages and I really need to send them on to a new home. Thanks for the encouragement and tips!

  2. says

    Terrific post! I have decluttered and decluttered but I still have too many books! I tried my own method for sizing down but now I will add yours. Thanks for the tips. My biggest tip-use the library. I do not buy anymore books unless I use them as a reference. If the library does not have it, I also go digital. I LOVE my kindle!

  3. Jen says

    What about kid books? I was a teacher so I have a ton of books (7 large containers full) that I want to share/keep for my toddler aged kids. How do I pick and choose? I’ve weeded out many already….Help!

  4. Julie says

    Jen, I had tons of pre-school books. I had six children and had run a preschool/day-care for years. When we moved, I was encouraging everyone to do some major dejunking. My youngest had grown out of the preschool books, so they all ganged up on me and put the pressure on to get rid of them. I did, and I’ve been sorry ever since, not that I dejunked, but that I didn’t keep the good ones. You know which ones they are. They are well made with quality binding and artwork. They have stories that your children want to read over and over again. They are the ones that, years from now, when your grandchildren come over, you’ll want to pull them out and say “This was one of your mom’s favorites”.

  5. says

    This is the hardest area of decluttering/minimal living for me. We love books but over time they can just be more clutter. I get most of my fiction from the library and buy cautiously now- great idea on sharing the books with friends!

  6. Judy says

    One of the best tips I’ve read is get rid of anything you won’t read again. But I struggle with getting rid of books with bookplates, i.e.: “this book belongs to….” or one that’s autographed, even if I know I don’t want to keep it.
    I could use a little encouragement or suggestions. I’m looking forward to investigating the “tiny library” that was installed last summer in the public garden down the street from my house.

  7. Simone Watt says

    I decluttered my books recently, after this post I’ll have another crack at it, I REALLY have my heart set on loosing a bookshelf. But I do love having books around for my daughter to discover, thats how we fall in love with them, like you said. So I try to only keep my particular favourites and those by literary giants that I suspect my daughter will love to find in a few years, clearing the rest away exposes the very best ones. Making my selections this way has made it more of an act of love than a chore.

  8. says

    This is definitely hard for me, too! I have found the same in terms of fiction vs. non-fiction…I read a lot of non-fiction and I highlight like crazy and enjoy referring back to those books, so I like to purchase hard copies. But I read some fiction as well, so I’m trying to focus on getting those from the library or digital copies. I recently started listening to audio books (for narrative/memoir type books), and I’ve been loving it! Not only does it not take up space on my shelf, but I can listen and do housework at the same time, so it makes cleaning way less tedious. :) Right now, I’m trying to get rid of a whole bunch of books and text books from college that are crowding our basement (no more “Maybe I’ll use these someday”!).

  9. Cindy says

    I’ve been working on separating my books this past year – fortunately, my husband built a library onto our house for me, so I have lots of shelf space. And I get to organize my books however I want to – whatever works for me. I’ve put the little kid books on the lower shelves for our grandkids and grand-nieces and nephews so they can get to them easily. I keep the books that are signed by the authors. I keep the books I can use in my university literacy classes separate, too. And I have a dedicated space for books that I read once and don’t feel I need to keep. My plan is to sell these on ebay or Amazon, perhaps later this summer.

    For those of you who have children’s books and don’t know what to do with them: contact your state or local reading organization and donate them. (You can find the state organizations through the International Reading Association at http://www.reading.org.) They try to support new teachers, and the new teachers are the ones with very little accumulation of books for their classroom libraries. You could also just take them to your local school to donate them, but try to target the new teachers if at all possible. They’re the ones who really need them.

  10. says

    I have too many books for me (not hundreds but a few dozen) so I need to build time into my schedule (even a few minutes here and there) to actually make a decision about each book. I heard Amazon has this thing where you can get digital copies (if available) of books you’ve purchased from Amazon through the years. That will help me replace some of my books and free them up to be given to friends, the library or a thrift shop.

Leave a Reply