How I Decluttered My Book Collection


For those of you who follow our Instagram stories, you might have seen and heard me talking about decluttering my book collection last month. Basically, I am working on our living room (more of a den really) right now because we just got a projector and screen instead of a TV (gave our old TV to my father-in-law) and we had a big wrap-around floating shelf installed in the room to house the projector as well as my book collection.

I promise, I’ll share photos soon! I know it’s kind of hard to picture. I feel like I’ve shown it quite a few times in progress on IG, but I get that not all of you watch that, so blog post coming soon with a room tour.

Anyway, after our new floating shelf was installed, I decided it might be smart to go through all our books and clean out anything that I didn’t want or need anymore. In general, I think I’m pretty good at decluttering our home. Like I’d give myself an overall B or B- (if decluttering was on my report card or something, ha), but my book collection is one thing I rarely clean out. I LOVE books. I love to read, I love audiobooks, I have a massive cookbook collection (as I’m sure you could have guessed). And as a gal who has three books published, I feel like it makes sense how much I love books and how many I would naturally have in my home. That being said, I think it never hurts to take a look at what you have and if you don’t need it or don’t really have a use for it, then donate it so someone else can enjoy it. So I decided to do this with our books before putting them up on the shelf.

I was SHOCKED when I ended up donating probably close to 30% of the books we owned. I still have a lot of books in our home, and certainly more than enough cookbooks for one person, but I couldn’t believe how much decluttering I actually ended up doing. Anything that you love (me—books) can be really hard to part with. So I thought I’d share the three criteria that kind of naturally arose as I worked to declutter my book collection, as maybe it will help some of you. I actually think these three criteria could apply to lots of different things, not just books. I kind of use these criteria like a ladder. If the book didn’t fall into the first category, did it the second? And if it didn’t really fit in any, then into the donate pile it went. Here were my criteria:

Resource

As I was digging through each of my books, I kept asking myself, “Do I use this often? Will I use this again?” No matter if it was a cookbook, a business book, or even a novel, I was trying to assess if the book was something I would actually get use of again or if it was just going to sit on a shelf and collect dust. For me, I have enough space in my home that I can hang on to some books I only use once in a while, or keep a novel that I plan to read again even if it’s not this year. (Also, obviously, any books I had recently gotten and I haven’t read yet, which is only like three or four). But if I really didn’t think I’d use the book again, then why not donate it and let it hopefully find use in a new home? I would say the vast majority of the books I kept fell into this category, probably like 80% or more.

Inspiration

In some ways, this isn’t totally different from being a resource, but in other ways it is. I found there were some books that I just felt kind of inspired by, just flipping through them. It might have been a cookbook with wildly fantastic photography and even though I don’t cook from the book ever I feel really inspired by the photos. Or it might have been an art book I found really inspirational in early college and I still feel really good when I flip through it. I choose to keep most of the books that made me feel this way because sometimes flipping through a book instead of scrolling the Internet just feels better when you’re feeling kind of blah, you know? And although I may have more books in this category than most, I’d still say it only made up about 10-15% of my collection.

Sentimental

I won’t lie, I am not the most sentimental person in the world—especially when it comes to objects or gifts. I never really realized this until I got married, but Trey will hold onto a gift MUCH longer than me, even if it’s something he doesn’t really find useful or have a place for, etc. I am sentimental in other ways, just not really about holding on to gifts. And of course there is no right or wrong answer here, but I will say I do think if you have a lot of things in your home that are taking up space that you only hold on to because they were gifts, well, you might evaluate that some. If you don’t need the space, that’s one thing. But I always feel so much better when I declutter our home a little; I just feel lighter. Also, I don’t love the idea of someone feeling like they have to hold on to an item I gave them simply because I gave it to them. If it doesn’t suit you after a while, it’s OK to move on. If it’s a homemade gift of some kind that may be taking up space or maybe has gotten damaged, here’s a tip: Take a photo of it and save the photo instead of the object.

Anyway, this one is the trickiest one, I think. And I did indeed hang on to a few books because they were gifts or they meant something to me beyond just the content of the book. But not very many, probably less than 5% of my collection. I had a few books that had been gifts that I ended up donating, and although I felt a little bit of guilt I also thought about how long I had kept the book. Also, just because I was now choosing to donate it, that didn’t mean I did not appreciate the thought and the effort of the person who gave me the book.

Those were the three criteria that helped me declutter my book collection the most. The only other things I noticed was I had a few books that were damaged (usually either water damage or had been really chewed up by our dog) and I also had a few duplicate books and that was easy to just donate one and keep the other. Have any of you been spring cleaning or decluttering lately? I’d love to hear your thoughts or if you have decluttering criteria you go by. xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo by: Janae Hardy.
  • I am such a hoarder, I always keep everything because they have such a sentimental value to me! I should probably declutter my life and go through everything I don’t need anymore. It sounds like you have a lot of amazing books, and the projector sounds amazing! Cant wait for the room tour post! xx

    https://zoe-ware.blogspot.ca

    • Items being sentimental (books or otherwise) is probably the top reason I keep things that I really don’t want or use anymore. The struggle is real!

  • I’m struggling with the word “declutter” when applied to a collection of books. Books don’t seem to be clutter to be sorted through…they are living, breathing embodiments of the universe. “Edit” is a good word. We can all use a nice, thorough editing once in a while.

    • I think ‘edit’ is a great term! As a fellow book-lover (or maybe I should just say I love to read?) like you I get your discomfort. Also thanks for sharing the link below with all of us.

    • Yep, I’m constantly decluttering too… although my book collection was easily the hardest one for me. Which I guess is why it seemed fitting to share. But I could totally see other’s feeling the same way I do about my books about their shoe collection or other items that just tend to take on more meaning overtime or feel valuable even though we don’t use them. Idk. I think about how many items I own all the time. It sort of amazes me and sometimes makes we feel really guilty too. It’s one of those things I’m constantly reevaluating in my life.

    • I have a (pretty old now) Kindle and I use my library card a lot…. but I still end up with lots of books overtime. Ha!

      And yes, I feel like I clean out my closet at least 3-4 times a year. Somehow that’s always easier for me. I’m actually doing a challenge right now where I don’t buy any clothing, shoes, or accessories for 3 months. I’ll be done in March and I may extend the challenge longer as I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s given me new perspective on my wardrobe.

  • I’ve really enjoyed the steps I’ve taken in the KonMari process but I love books too much to follow through with some of her advice (Rip a page out of a book? Sacrilege!)

    I still have a whole full bookshelf to go through, but for the two I’ve done, I’ve noticed that

    1. Nonfiction I don’t feel the need to display. Biographies and some self help I prefer on a tablet.

    2. Sentimental books usually are well designed cooking, crafting, art or fiction books I really loved that make me happy to see on the shelf.

    3. I have been exchanging paperback classics I enjoyed in highschool/college for their nicer hardbound versions so I get extra joy displaying them and reading through them again.

    I need to declutter art and craft supplies and that is going to be a doozy!

    • I love these tips / things you are doing Laura! Thank you for taking the time to share. You’re #1 is so opposite mine (I’d say the majority of my collection is nonfiction, I tend to by fiction on my Kindle or borrow from the library but of course I have a few exceptions there too) so that’s interesting!

  • I’m a book hoarder! I love having a huge collection of books and the boyfriend is kind of the same way (although he’s highly organized by nature and tends to keep his collection a little more curated…….whatevs!). I hope one day to have a home where we can have an entire wall or room filled with our books! As for the sentimental value, I’m definitely guilty of that in books! When I was a teenager, I read a lot of mangas (Japanese comic books) and my grandfather (who raised me) was a big “financer” of these books! He would often drive me to the shopping mall, hand me 50$ (enough for 3 books plus taxes) and I would devour them in about one hour! I lost my grandfather when I was 16 years old. It devastated me as he was both a father and a best friend to me. I grew out of my manga needs and eventually stopped reading and collecting them altogether. But I still have my substantial collection which I packed up in boxes and stored at my mom’s when I moved in with the boyfriend. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of them and I do want to add them to my “library” when I finally have one. And who knows, maybe one day my step sons, nieces, goddaughter might be interested in reading mangas in their teens 😉

    • I am looking for some child friendly manga titles, as I am overwhelmed trying to go find out which ones are appropriate for my tween. She loves them, but i am clueless and some of them are…dicey, for lack of a better word to describe them. Not to mentioned, this creates, uh, friction between her and i (as i am clearly am trying to ruin her life, just for fun, ya know. 😉 )Do you have any pointers??
      Any book recommendations?

  • Great tips!! I can’t wait to see your finished space too 🙂 we have “a little library” just a few doors down from us and I appreciate our neighbors doing that so much. It has really helped keep my book collection in check and also branch out to books that I would never read and bonus it’s all free. So for every book you take you leave one of yours for someone else in the neighborhood (but we usually end up leaving a few more) I Have a huge weakness for kids books, cookbooks and home decor books so it’s been fun to be able to share with others the ones I am no longer really into.

  • I also love to collect books, and have a hard time (sometimes) getting rid of them. Have you heard of the Little Free Library? It’s a leave-a-book/take-a-book situation, and that helps me “donate” books sometimes, even though I’m still bringing a new one home. After seeing your IG stories though, I have decided I want to do a floating shelf like that in our dining room/library room, and I’m really looking forward to seeing your finished product! Also, is that huge built-in black bookshelf in your current house also? It’s amazing!

    –Halie
    http://pullenscozycorner.com

  • This is the hardest area for me to declutter (new author over here and Lit major!). Some books are easier to pass along to a friend than donate if you’re not going to re-read them in the future. Kon Mari definitely helped, but I hung on to many that I still want to read. I guess I need a system of setting one of these out to remind me to read and then donate this part of the shelf.

  • Emma, I really like your buckets/categories for helping yourself and others declutter books. My husband and I love books too. I would personally add one more bucket/category that I often find with customers and have found in our collection… Hobbies/Interests. It could fit into your original three outlined but specifically addresses a specific need. For example, this would consists of books on topics such as travel, photography, cars, architecture, design and history. My two cents. Thank you for your
    post! Sonia 😁

  • You know, I don’t consider myself overly sentimental either, and if it was something I was gifted but didn’t really care about too much, I don’t think it would be a problem for me to get rid of it. My problem is things I’ve inherited. I have a ton of book I inherited from my grandmother (who was born in 1912!), like fairy tale books from her childhood, or “war humor” books issued during WW2. The history geek in me refuse to give those up lol.

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