How I Keep My TBR Small in 8 Easy Steps

My TBR is currently 16 books. It takes up about 1/2 a shelf. This wouldn’t work for everyone and I’m not advocating it as the best way to own unread books, only that this is the best for me. In the spirit of ‘new year, new you,’ house moving, and upcoming spring cleaning, I’ve seen a lot of people doing some hardcore culling of their unread purchased books.

I have a few reasons to keep my TBR small, most of which I think are universal to those wanting to shrink TBRs:

  1. Cost: I’m a grad student with two little kids. While all our needs are met, not all of our wants fit into the budget. And that’s fine. But mostly books definitely fall into the “want” category.
  2. Stress: Even if I could buy all the books I want, it stresses me out to have stacks and stacks of books staring at me. It’s like a physical manifestation of my to-do list. Judging me for not having-done.
  3. Space: I have a family of 4 in a snug townhouse. We’re comfortable for space and have bookshelves in every room. But I don’t have unlimited space. While I may have plans to build a tiny house in the backyard as my reading/writing studio/library, which I can then hitch to the back of the car and take with me, that’s not now. So, once I fill up all the shelves, that’s all I get.

How I keep my TBR small

1. Stay out of bookstores

This includes Book Outlet. The way I wouldn’t take someone on a diet to a cake store, I’m not going to take myself to the bookstore regularly. I buy gifts from my local indie so I can still take part in supporting them, but I don’t take myself to the bookstore for me. I try to reward myself with reading time, rather than shopping time.

2. Don’t glut on ebooks.

While they take up essentially no space, the Amazon Daily Deals can be awesome or just clog up your ereader so you can’t see the books you actually want to read. In 2015 I made myself read all the ebooks I’d bought over a year and a half; I found that most of them weren’t books I enjoyed or even read most of the way through. I would have been better off going to the library for them.

3. Like diets, give yourself places where you are allowed to have a treat.

Overly strict food diets fail when they don’t allow for treats, and book diets are the same. Select a few times and places when you will let yourself buy a book. For me, the Friends of the Library sale, my birthday, and vacations are times when I let myself purchase a book or two. I’ve found it makes those one or two books far more special than if I were buying an armload each month.

4. Use the library like a bookstore

By this I mean, get your hoarding gathering urges out at the library. Clear a shelf in its entirety. Take home as many books as you can physically carry. Throw down that plastic (library) card like you’re in a movie shopping montage. These books won’t cost you and will have to leave your house in 2-3 weeks, so 

5. Audiobooks to help you get momentum going

Sometimes I find that starting books, even books I want to read, feels like a obstacle. I put on audiobooks to help me get started with the book and to keep reading when I have to do boring grown up things like fold laundry and make dinner. This also draws down my purchased books, allowing me to read them faster as I move between the physical book and the audio book.

6. DNF hard. 

You know that depressing math problem where you work out how many books you will likely in the rest of your life (i.e. not enough)? Well, think of that when you are slogging through a book. Do you really want this un-engaging book to be on your lifetime bibliography? If not, call time and move on!

7. Explore your library website for options like “pause.”

My library system uses BiblioCommons as the platform to access the catalog. BiblioCommons has a lot of bells and whistles, but my favorite is the ability to pause books that I have on hold. There’s an unnamed law of the universe out there that says ‘all your library holds will come in at the same time.’ “Pause” allows you to hold your place in line until you’re ready, while the holds line continues to move for the unpaused people. I use “pause” to give me space to read my own books when I would end up distracted by so many at the library that would be due back in a couple weeks. “Pause” helps me keep in with my holds, but sometimes I want breathing space to spend with my own books.

8. Don’t let books sit more than a year. 

My goal each December is to ensure that I’ve read all the books I purchased in the previous calendar year. So in 2017, I prioritized the last book I bought in 2016. This year I’ll work on finishing up my 2017 purchases. For me, this means when I read the book my reading tastes are still fairly similar to when I purchased the book, and my interest in the book hasn’t faded. Because I hold myself to this goal, I also don’t want to purchase too many unread books that will fill up my Nov/Dec reading.

Make your TBR whatever you want it to be. But if you find that your book purchasing doesn’t fit with some area of your life, try out some of my suggestions. For more on managing TBRs, check out 15 Tips for Tempering Book Buying Addiction or Breaking My Library Habit.

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