If you’re an avid reader you have likely read countless articles about all the wacky ways you can organize your bookshelf. I have tried countless arrangements. I’ve sorted my books alphabetically, by genre, and yes even by grouping them so my shelf looks like a rainbow. But what do you do when you not only need to switch up the positions of your books but give some away?

Even suggesting parting with some of your favorite works might make you want to run far away but it’s important to ask yourself when the last time you really cleansed your bookshelf was. This spring I have taken it upon myself to go through my current collection and give up the texts I know that I should not be clinging on to.

How to Pick Which Books Go 

If you want to refine your bookshelf, I’ve come up with a range of questions you should ask yourself about each work. This list might help you make up your mind about whether it’s time to let a book go. 

  1. Have you read it?
  2. If you haven’t read it, will you ever read it?
  3. When did you buy it?
  4. If you have read it, will you ever reread it?
  5. If you don’t reread, would you consider this book to be in your top thirty favorite works?

While these questions might not work for everyone I think it’s a good place to start. When cleansing your shelf it’s important to understand your own reading habits. 

I own over two hundred books and because of how much I read I have more than thirty novels that I couldn’t live without. The more you read, the more likely your collection will be larger, and that’s ok. If you don’t like to reread you might have an easier time parting with books than those who do.

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to reading but hopefully, these questions will make you ask yourself if you actually ever plan on reading a given book and if the answer is no, maybe it’s time to let it go.

I Have Decided to Give a Book Up. Now What?

Once you have chosen a section of your shelf to let go of, there are many options for what you can do with them.

  1. Give them to a friend or family member.
  2. Donate them to Goodwill, a local charity shop, or a thrift store.
  3. Give them to your library. (Some libraries don’t take used books but it doesn’t hurt to ask.)

There are lots of ways you can give up your books so that they can still be enjoyed by others. Only throw them away if they are in awful condition and it would be impossible for someone else to read it in the state it is in.

My Shelf is Cleansed. How Do I Keep it That Way?

Now that you have cleaned out your shelf and feel like a new person you may be asking yourself how do you keep it this way. Here are a few of my tips:

Get a Goodreads Account

I love Goodreads. I could go on and on about how much it helps keep my reading life together and organized. It is the perfect tool to keep track of not only what you own but also what you want to read. Goodreads allows you to sort books into different lists which you can use to take stock in what you own, how much you liked a book, and literally any other category you can think of (you can basically make book playlists).

The next time you decide to clean out your shelf and you’re asking yourself how long you have wanted to read a book, you can just go to the to-be-read section of your list. If it’s been over three years since you marked a book as to-be-read and you still haven’t picked it up, it’s probably time to give it away.

40% Rule

One rule that I try to follow (that in my weakest moments I ignore) is that I don’t buy new books when 40% of the books I own haven’t been read. The best way to keep your shelf clean is to not overwhelm it with new books that you may never read. I know how hard it is to go to Barnes & Noble and not buy up half the store, but purchasing new books when you have lots of unread novels at home can just lead to clutter and reading fatigue.

This is a rule that has worked for me but if you feel like the numbers don’t match with your preferences feel free to change it.

Organize Your Shelf Twice a Year

The best way to avoid a messy and overflowing book collection is to try and go through it twice a year. Some people might want to reexamine their shelf every month but those who aren’t as obsessed as me may want to consider repeating the cleansing process twice a year.

About Grace O’Mara

Grace O’Mara is an English major currently attending university in Boston, MA. As well as studying literature, she is working towards earning a minor in writing and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She grew up in Shanghai, China and Prague, Czech Republic and loves to travel. When she isn’t doing school work she spends all of her time reading, watching movies, buying vinyl, and thrifting.

View all posts by Grace O’Mara

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