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How to Cull Your Books (Just Some of Them…Not All)

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Ann-Marie Cahill


Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

Call it culling your books, re-prioritising, downsizing, or even generously donating to fellow bibliophiles. Call it whatever you like, but nothing…NOTHING…will reduce the pain of giving away your books.

We recently re-organised our three-bedroom apartment to better accommodate our five-person family. It has been an arduous task, not helped by the desperate need to reduce our “STUFF” to make the best of our limited space. This included many side-eye glances at our ever-overflowing bookcases. *sigh*

This is not a new thing. We have all had to face this problem at some point in our lives. Whether it’s inspiration from the “Declutter Movement,” a need to spring clean, or even just a change of head-space with some good ol’ fashion mantras; you know it will happen. And I can tell you from harsh experience, the best way to face it is with a healthy dose of honesty. Face the facts and be honest with yourself.

spring clean your book shelves

One of the many over-flowing shelves to prompt The Great Cull of 2018 / Photo by A Cahill

FACT: There is Never a Good Time to Cull Your Book Collection

The motivator behind our “big cull” was to move all three kids into one bedroom. They are all pretty thrilled with this idea, which includes bunk beds, private ensuite, and a “book cave” under the loft bed. The kids range from four years old to 11 years old, so I thought I could make this job a lot easier by culling all the “baby” books.

No. Even with the motivation to move. Even with the change in age-groups. It has still been a nightmare to sit down and say goodbye to some of my books.

And to make it worse, just as I think I am motivated to ditch a few of my childhood books, the 11 year old comes up behind me and says, “ooooh! I haven’t read that!” While my heart sings at his enthusiasm for my dearly loved books, my head is screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING, WOMAN?!?”

FACT: There is No Hard-and-Fast Rule About Culling Your Books

Let’s start with culling just the baby books…But Mum! That’s my nostalgic favourite!

Let’s start with culling just the cardboard books…But Mum! Here’s an article about how these help young readers learn how to read independently!

Fine, let’s start with Self-Help books that clearly never helped…But maybe I simply didn’t give them a chance. I should really try again.

Yes. I am weak. I am a book hoarder.

FACT: You CAN Cull Your Books…If You Are Honest With Yourself

If you have read this far and realised you are as desperate as me, then I have good news for you. THERE IS HOPE. I have genuinely started culling my books. I have created space and I can honestly say there is room in the new study for the kids to do their homework comfortably.


  1. Be honest with your “classics”: I have a Little Golden Book Collection from when I was four years old. Some of the stories in there are beautiful and nostalgic; some of them are indicative of the times when they were written *cringe*. There is a long debate on whether to censor/delete socially inappropriate writing, and while I am usually against censoring, these Golden Books are going out. They are not Classics; they are nostalgic, and there are better options available for keeping the nostalgia alive.
  2. Be honest with your “share with the kids” collection: Our kids love reading with us. We read a range of modern to aged classics. But let’s be honest—no matter how many times I have tried to read The Secret Garden with them, it is of no interest to my kids. I mean, even I struggle with the opening chapter…and I love scene-setting period classics. If you really want to keep the book for yourself, then do so. But don’t hold on to the book just in case your kids want to read it later. That’s what a library is for.
  3. Be honest with your reading schedule: I want to read more books. I need to read more books. But I am not going to be reading all of my wishlists this year. And there are certain books I will not be reading again. Make a list of that book pile. Now highlight which books you think you will read in the next six months. All the other books can now be offered to friends to read, or a local “street-library”…I cleared 12 books off my bedside table INSTANTLY! Hallelujah to the Book Gods!!
  4. Be honest with your books: I used to hate ereaders. I love the feel of a hardcover book. I love the smell of the pages. And there are certain books I am never removing from my collection…but …I finally agree there are certain books that can be read on an ereader. And if I was honest with my books (and myself), I probably wouldn’t have this culling problem I am facing now. If there is a new book you are aching to read, consider buying it on ereader first. If you fall in love with it, then buy the physical version (I know plenty of authors who will love this too). Sidenote: There are some books that should ONLY be read in physical format, e.g. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Now that’s a beautiful story built around the inclusion of art as part of the storytelling. You simply cannot capture the magic of the illustrations in an e-reader; you need to feel the pages, flick them like an old silent movie story. *sigh* See, I’m honest. Hugo is a keeper.

I am not exaggerating when I say culling my book collection is emotionally exhausting. It’s tough. I cried. Like, ugly cried. A lot. But it was necessary. Not only do we have more space to move around in, it’s now easier to find the books we want to read. If ever you need a reason to do something, “encouraging more reading” wins easily.

What tips do you have for culling your books? Or do you have even better ideas for making more space around your bookshelves?