Do shelves crammed full of books drive you crazy? If you aren’t sure how to declutter books, here are three sure-fire methods to get you started.
A few years ago, I walked into my living room, tripping over toys on my way to the couch, and I had hit my breaking point. I just couldn’t take the mess anymore.
Not long afterward, I stumbled upon an article about minimalism, and I was instantly hooked. Right away, I jumped all in – decluttering my wardrobe, all the toys and everything else in my house.
Until I hit the books.
How do you declutter books? Seriously, I wasn’t sure how to decide what books to keep.
I’m a bookworm. Aren’t I supposed to keep them all?
Though many in the book community might think decluttering books is blasphemy, I disagree. What’s the point of having bookshelves full of books you don’t read? At what point do books just become decoration?
I’m not saying that everyone can only own 30 books or 300 books. How many books you own is a complete lifestyle choice. Yet, to be completely honest, most of us could stand to free up some shelf space.
Part of the point of minimalism is to only surround yourself with things you love. Why should books be any different?
If you are wanting to declutter your bookshelves but don’t know where to begin, you’re in the right place. I’ve read all the best (and worst) minimalism books out there. Let’s talk about how to declutter books. Here are three different methods of decluttering books I’ve found helpful.
Need more help? Be sure to check out my 15 tips for decluttering books!
Does It Spark Joy? – The Kon Mari Method
Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo took the world by storm with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her approach to decluttering takes massive effort but promises massive rewards.
How does it work?
According to the KonMari method for decluttering books, if you want to know how to decide what books to keep, all you have to do is ask one question.
Does it spark joy?
While some people will nitpick this question, many of you completely understand what Kondo is saying. When you hold this book in your hand, does it give you that warm feeling? Trust me, you’ll know it when you feel it.
For the nitty-gritty details on how to declutter books with the KonMari method, you’ll want to read her book (or watch the Netflix series). But here’s the gist.
How to Declutter Books with the KonMari Method
Step 1: Take every book you own and collect them in one space. It’s okay to do kids’ books and adult books separately.
Step 2: Pick up each book, one at a time, and ask yourself: Does it spark joy?
Step 3: If yes, then place the book in the keep pile. If no, then thank the book and place it in the go pile. (Donate, please!)
Step 4: Find a place for each book you are keeping. Every book should have a specific spot.
Pros of the KonMari Method
- You get massive results.
- You are only keeping books you love.
- Each book now has a specific place where it belongs.
Cons of the Konmari Method
- Too touchy-feeling for some.
- Many can’t grasp the Spark Joy question.
- Big project to do all the books at once.
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Does it fit? – The Container Theory
If you still want to declutter books but aren’t into Marie Kondo’s style, another great decluttering method comes from Dana K. White’s book, Decluttering at the Speed of Life. She calls it the container theory.
Instead of deciding how to cull books to get rid of as many as possible, White takes a much more practical approach. She wants you to fit the books you own into the shelf space you have.
Everyone’s situation is different. You might have a whole wall-to-wall library in your house, or you might only have room for one small bookshelf.
In the container theory, the space you have will dictate how many books you can own.
How to Declutter Books with the Container Theory
Step 1: Decide what space you have in your home for books. If you need another shelf, buy another shelf. But you have to outline your space limitations first. Include space for decorations like picture frames if desired.
Step 2: Begin removing books until every book you own fits comfortably in the space available. You need to be able to easily remove any book to read. No stacking books two deep or cramming your shelf so full you can’t pull one out.
Step 3: Follow your space limitations. If your shelves are full, then if you buy another book, you must get rid of something to make space.
Pros of the Container Theory
- You are only limited by your own physical space.
- You can do the method piecemeal – one shelf at a time if you want.
- It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing project.
Cons of the Container Theory
- You might not have the discipline to keep books in their assigned container.
- You’ll likely end up with more books than you need.
- Every time you purchase a book, you’ll have to decide what to replace.
Does it Belong? – The Curated Library Method
While I love both the Kon Mari Method and the Container Theory and have used both in my own decluttering projects, I’ve come up with my own variation on how to declutter books.
I call it the Curated Library Method.
When I chose what books to keep in my home, I think of myself as a librarian whose job is to curate my collection.
Does this book belong in the library I want to build?
Think about it. What books you own say something about you. We’ve all met the person with the leatherbound library. And the one with the aspirational library of books we know they’ll never actually read.
Ask yourself, what kind of library do I want?
Not the library you should own, but the actual library that is perfect for you. There’s no wrong answer here. You need to be willing to be true to yourself and realize what books belong in the Library of You.
For my curated library, I’ve developed a set of questions to ask myself when I decide which books to declutter.
My Curated Library Questions
Question 1: Will I ever read or reread this book?
Question 2: Will I ever loan this book out for someone else to read?
Question 3: Am I giving this book a good life?
Question 4: Do I want my kids to read this book at an age-appropriate time?
As a teenager, I read The Lensman Series by E. E. “Doc” Smith, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Battlefield: Earth by L. Ron Hubbard. My husband read the early works of Michael Crichton and John Grisham.
Because those are the books our parents had in the house. On a rainy day, picking up a battered paperback copy from your mom or dad’s library sounds like a pretty good idea.
Pros of the Curated Library Method
- Your decluttering is all about creating the perfect library for you.
- A mindset approach to decluttering books
Cons of the Curated Library Method
- You might be a terrible curator.
- You may not know what kind of library you want.
- Your curation might overflow the space you have available.
Conclusion – How to Declutter Books
Which method should you use?
That is completely up to you. Each has its pros and cons, and your personality will heavily determine which method speaks to you.
As a rule of thumb when deciding the best way to declutter books:
- If you ready for a big clear out and are in touch with your feelings, try the KonMari method.
- If you don’t have a lot of time, try the Container Theory.
- If you want a purposeful collection, try the Curated Library Method.
Or take pieces of each and create your own system. Remember, the purpose of decluttering books is to find contentment with both the quality and quantity of the books you own. It’s not about owning a specific number but about being happy with what you have.
What tips have helped you decide how to declutter books?