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How to declutter your bookcase

I read an interesting Dear Abby the other day. It was about books and being unable to let them go. I can relate to keeping books as I used to do this myself. Each time I finished a book I would place it on my shelf. I’m not sure when I started this or why I hung onto these books. I noticed I did it more with fiction, especially during a couple years when I read though many of the classics.

Unorganized books are clutter
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

DEAR ABBY: I love to read. I have kept every book I have read, so I probably have close to 600 books in my library, which is actually a small room, overflowing with books and nothing else.

Why do you think I can’t let go of them? I lend them out to only a select few, and I always make sure they are returned. I could do lovely things with this room if my books weren’t in the way, but I can’t seem to part with them. — BOOKWORM IN NEW YORK

DEAR BOOKWORM: It’s probably because your books have become an extension of yourself. Because you would like to do something else with the space they occupy, sort through them and keep only the most precious ones. If there are titles you would like to read again one day, do as many others are doing — read them on an e-reader.

Here are my thoughts based on my own experiences. I treated books like trophies of my reading conquests. Completing a book would earn it a place on my bookshelf. Of course all my unread books were there also, but now these completed books had special meaning. While reading each book I was transported to far off lands and went on wild adventures. Reading these books created memories almost as if I had actually been in the stories.

The attachment to these fond memories made it hard for me to get rid of the books from which the memories came. Luckily I don’t read as much as Bookworm, but I did have several shelves in our home dedicated to my books.

A second reason to keep them was that I always thought I might read them again one day. This is a common hoarder/clutterer mindset – that of “I might need/use/want it again someday.” When I thought about this, I realized two things.

First, based on the fact that I have only ever re-read one book in my entire collection, it was very unlikely that I would ever re-read my books.

Second, There are so many wonderful books in the world that I don’t have any reason to re-read books. Rather than re-reading an old book, my time would be better spent exploring a new book.

It took me several tries to declutter my book collection. During each round of decluttering I would part with a few books.

First my not-so-favorites.

Then the unread books that were on my shelf forever, but I knew didn’t interest me.

The last round was just before I moved when I knew I wouldn’t have room for books in my new apartment. I got rid of all but the few that were either sentimental or were part of a collection I had.

How to declutter your book collection

Here are three easy steps to declutter your book collection.

1. Pull all the books off the shelf. This gives you a clean canvas to work from and makes you commit to the effort of looking at each book and deciding if it should be placed back on the shelf.
2. Take each book one at a time and ask yourself this question: Will I read this book within the next 6 months?
3. If no, add to purge pile. If yes, place on the bookshelf.

One of the problems many people face is what to do with the books they are getting rid of. You have five options.

1. Donate them to Goodwill (or other charity of your choice)...or many local libraries take donations.
2. Sell them at a used bookstore. This will usually get you cash or credit for future book purchases.
3. Sell them on Amazon. Reserve this for high value books only, as it is time consuming and time is the enemy of decluttering.
4. Give them to a friend or family member.
5. Trash them. When the book is falling apart and too abused to sell or donate.

Some hoarders have a hard time parting with things due to their perceived value. If you feel like your books have a lot of value, the best thing to do is to take them to a used book store where you can get cash or credit for your used books. This is a very quick way to dispose of unwanted books while also getting a little something out of them. Just be sure to not cash in all that credit at one time. Buy only one book at a time and don’t buy more until you have finished it.

Also, a final note. I disagree with Abby’s suggestion to get your favorite books on an e-reader. I’m not anti-e-reader, and actually quite like my kindle. The problem is that cluttering up your e-reader is just as bad as cluttering your bookshelves. Many friends download free books to their kindles weekly and will never read all the books they have downloaded.

If you use an e-reader, be sure to remove completed books from the device so that it stays as clutter free as your bookshelves.

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