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A practical guide to decluttering books in 4 easy steps

What do your bookshelves say about you?

A bookcase filled with books you love can be a reflection of all the things that make you 'you' - your interests, hobbies, lifestyle and beliefs. But more often than not, our bookcases are overladen making it impossible to see the books we love as they’re hidden underneath, or behind, lots of less relevant books – like the chick lit fiction we read on holiday or last year's bestseller that we still haven't got round to reading. We’re all guilty of finishing a book and squeezing it onto the bookshelf without really thinking about whether it needs to stay in the house or be donated so that someone else can enjoy it.

Living room bookshelf

A cluttered home not only makes it difficult to find things when you need them, but it can also be a cause of overwhelm and stress. The good news is that a couple of hours spent decluttering books from your home is good for your well-being and it comes with the added benefit of making a bit of cash along the way!

What Marie Kondo DIDN'T say!

Marie Kondo laughing

Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo caused a stir a few years ago when she said that she had just 30 books on her bookshelf and this was a perfect amount. Many people misunderstood this as Marie saying you should only have 30 books in your home, I can assure you that this isn’t the case! This was the perfect amount for Marie but if your books are relevant to you and bring you joy, you can confidently keep as many books as you want.

“Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?” Marie Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up).

What role do books play in your life?

woman reading a book in bed

Before you start decluttering your books take a minute to think about how often you read, the types of books you enjoy and where they are kept in your home – it will help you prepare to make some decisions!

Some people value books for the knowledge they impart, for others, it’s entertainment or a chance to switch off and immerse yourself in a different time and place – reading is great for mindfulness and focusing on what you are doing at that particular moment in time.

It takes around 6 hours to read a typical 300-page novel (good reads poll) - that’s a big chunk of your free time! So before you sort through your books think about how reading fits alongside your other priorities as it may help you make decisions about which books you decide to keep.

Don't feel guilty about letting go of books you haven't read

Lots of my clients have books around their homes that have never been read. They gather in piles down the side of the bed or on windowsills as a reminder they’re waiting for you to pick them up!

books on windowsill

Marie Kondo believes that the best time to read a book is when it enters your life – you’ve either bought or been gifted the book for a reason, so your interest and reading intent are at a peak then. If you haven’t read the book it’s unlikely that you’re going to find time to read it as you may very well have collected more books in the meantime!

You may find that deciding to let some of these books go relieves some of the overwhelm you’re feeling and helps you to relax.. who knows, you may even find the time and space to pick up a book you love and read it! Read on for my tips on how to move on those unread books.

4 Steps for decluttering your books: Gather - Sort - Declutter - Organise

1. Gather

Set aside a couple of hours and a space to use - the best way to declutter your books is to take them all off the bookshelves and gather them in one place. Books get dusty so throw open the windows and grab a duster so you’re ready!

Taking all your books off bookcases (and collecting others from around the house) allows you to properly see the number of books you own and make informed decisions about which to keep or let go. If you just stand looking at a cluttered bookcase it’s much harder to make decisions.

scattered pile of books on floor

Top tip: Take care of the weight of the piles of books when moving them around the room.

2. Sort

Sort the books by genre so it makes it easier to see and compare what you have. Make separate piles for fiction, nonfiction, cookery, hobbies, academic books etc. If you have a favourite author or hobby you may want to create separate piles for these.

books piled up on floor

Take a minute to look at the piles to see what themes stand out (self-help – decluttering – novels – travel), is there much duplication? Take a moment to consider how this reflects the lifestyle you'd like to be living - a book shelf can be very revealing.

  • Are there any hobbies that you'd like to have more time to explore or activities that are no longer relevant?

  • Are there some books you’d read over others?

Top Tip: WARNING - avoid the temptation to start flicking/reading through each book. You’re aiming to understand your initial impression and make a decision based on that.

3. Declutter

The easiest way to work through your books is to look at one book at a time rather than trying to make decisions whilst looking at the whole pile of books.

Woman looking through recipes books

Starting with one pile pick up each book in turn and immediately ask yourself what it means to you and when you last looked at it.

If it’s a book you love or would read again put it to one side in your KEEP pile.

If it’s a book you don’t want, place it in a DISCARD pile.

That’s the easy part… what about all the books that you’re not quite sure about? I recommend asking yourself the following questions:

· Why haven’t I read it yet?

If it’s a book you haven’t read yet or started but never finished, ask yourself why this is. Is it likely that you are ever going to get around to reading it – if not it’s time to pass it on to someone who’ll read it.

· Is the information in it still current?

If it’s an academic book or travel book that you are keeping for reference ask yourself whether the information it contains is still relevant. Would you use the book or refer to the internet for that information?

· Would I use the book again?

Likewise, with cookery books, people tend to have a few favourites and then lots that they don’t use. Check to make sure the books are ones that you use before deciding to keep them.

· Am I sentimental about this book?

There may be some books you’ve previously kept due to sentimental reasons. Check to make sure you still feel this way and then keep them with confidence. Making space on your bookshelves will ensure that you keep these special books in good condition so you can continue to enjoy them.

It’s fine to let go of books that have been given as presents – the person buying the gift has bought it to show their love & appreciation for you - once you’ve received it with gratitude that purpose is complete. The very last thing they would have wanted would be for you to feel any burden from their gift. You really shouldn't feel any guilt in passing the book on to a charity shop and letting someone else have the joy of finding it.

4. Organise

Once you’ve selected the books that you are going to keep then decide how they are going to be displayed on your shelves so that you can enjoy and access them easily.

· Aim for a bookshelf that is 90% or less full - either with books or photos/ ornaments

· Store books where they are most likely to be used - cookery books in the kitchen if you have space. Work-related books can be stored in the study or on a separate shelf

· If there's a book you particularly love and you have space, try storing it facing outwards so you can enjoy the front cover.

· Arrange in the way that makes the most sense to you (genre, author, alphabetical, rainbow-themed) - if you're keeping the book you need to be able to find it when you want to read it.

Give your books a second life and make a bit of money

It’s great to know that the books you no longer need can have second life so the next step is to get them out of your house. I encourage my clients to use trade-in apps like Ziffit so they can make a bit of money as they declutter.

It’s super easy to download the app on your phone and quickly scan the barcodes of the books you’re discarding. You’ll find some books are worth 10p, others a £1 so aim for volume and it will soon mount up – as soon as you get over £5 in your basket you can package them up to be sent off with free postage! One recent client found the scanning quite addictive, waiting to see the value of each pile, she was delighted to get over £40 for the books she hadn’t even realised were sitting on her bookcase!

The lovely people at Ziffit have given me a code (ORGANISED15) which will add an extra 15% to your trade in value. The code is valid for one use per customer and is valid until 31st December 2022 so get scanning!

You can use the KonMari Method to sort and declutter any item around your home so once you’ve done your books have a go with your DVDs or games – who knows how much cash you might make from the things that have been hiding on your shelves!

I’m Sue, a professional home organiser and KonMari Master Consultant based in Hampshire.

I trained with Marie Kondo & the KonMari team to help busy people declutter, organise & simplify their homes so they can get on with the important job of enjoying life.

m: 07740 782575

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Sue Spencer KonMari Consultant
KonMari Master Consultant Badge

Hi, I'm Sue!

I love all things decluttering and home organisation and trained with Marie Kondo to be a KonMari Consultant after experiencing the benefits of tidying my own home using the KonMari Method.

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