De-cluttering by the Book

November 9, 2009

A recent clutter clearing workshop participant admitted that her home was a repository of 1,000 of her husband’s books–many of them molding and scattered on the floor. Just before her husband died three years ago, he made her promise to pass the collection on to their son. Her unemployed son, however, lives in too small a house to keep them. His son is asthmatic and probably couldn’t tolerate the moldy books. Unwilling to put them in storage, she now lives with them unread and unappreciated.

Although extreme, this is one reason why unread books are kept. Perhaps you have reasons, too. Let’s take a moment and peek into your library.


First, is there enough shelf space in your home to house all your books comfortably, or are your excess books nested on tables, chairs, counters, and any other space that’s free? When you have excess books, you either don’t have enough shelf space or you have too many books.

One question you might ask yourself is “What was I thinking when I bought this book?” This might evoke a simple answer like “It’s a cookbook, and I love to cook!” or “Rembrandt is my favorite artist, and this book is a compilation of all his paintings.” That is all well and good, but have you read it or referred to it in the last six months? Perhaps not.

I suspect a bunch of your books are on your “To Be Read” list. I confess I have a few stacks of unread books myself, because I keep thinking I will read them someday. There might, however, be another reason. Could these books give you a false sense of security? Could they provide a sense of being knowledgeable about their subject matter, even though you may have only skimmed or browsed through them?

Of course, there is the old standby response, “I might need them some day.” When was the last time you needed them? If it’s been a while, then it may be time to define your criteria for keeping books. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Will I ever read this book? (Be honest!)
  • When will I make time to read this book?
  • Do I still find the subject matter interesting enough to take time to read it? I may have bought it three years ago.
  • Why do I need this book in my library?
  • How current is this book?

CB029637As strange as this may sound, and I am a booklover myself, books no longer are as treasured as they once were. If you need a particular book, you can buy it on Amazon, go to the library, or borrow it from a friend. And, more and more books are being published online.

This may give you permission to donate books you’ll never read, or have read and won’t read again. Consider giving them to your local library, to the Salvation Army or maybe even to students learning English. Another option is selling them on Amazon or at a local used book store.

Time is also an important point. Many of us are so busy these days that sitting in a sunroom with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in another is a rarity and usually doesn’t happen. Finding the time to read books may be limited to your two-week, once-a-year vacation, or when you’re sick, but well enough to read, or when you retire. That doesn’t sound like much time.

Let’s get real. If your books are collecting dust and you’re not reading them, they are CLUTTER. I heard the gasp out there in the ethers–yes, CLUTTER. Once over the shock, take time soon to prune your library collection. You’ll feel better, and the books you decide to keep will have some breathing room–finally! Start now de-cluttering by the book.

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