How To

How To Weed Your Bookshelves

Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Monday, January 11th.

This post originally ran November 19, 2015.

I have a lot of books.

What I don’t have is a lot of shelving.

This means that while I still have the compulsion (and often submit to it) to acquire new books, I don’t always have someplace to put them. This has recently gotten severely bad, and I have been trying to ease the weight on my shelves and stop making dents in my poor carpet. There are two ways to do it (and I have done both): all at once or in small bits.

All At Once

Set aside a weekend to be able to dedicate yourself to your books. Get a lot of reusable grocery bags (I would suggest not getting the ones from Costco). Select some good music or movie favorites that you won’t need to pay a lot of attention to, make sure you have snacks and libations (but NO DRUNK WEEDING), and know where your trouble spots are. For instance: I don’t have one space where all my books live. I have five bookshelves in three rooms with two different purposes. And then there are those random stacks in various places. Make sure you know where they all are so you don’t miss the ten graphic novels and three Bernstein biographies hanging out on the bottom level of your coffee table.

(Oh, is that just me?)

Start in the room with the fewest books. Look at what you have there. Are there any you think “why do I even have that?” Have you read any of them? Did you like the ones you read? Are you holding on to any for sentimental value or because you think “I’m definitely going to read this someday”? Start making stacks, buddy.

  1. Never gonna read it. Give someone else the chance to enjoy it.
  2. Read it and liked it. Would loan it to a friend.
  3. Read it and enjoyed it. But it doesn’t necessarily leave any kind of impression.
  4. Did I read that? What was it even about?
  5. I haven’t read it yet.
  6. I have to keep it. I can’t express why, but this book cannot leave my house.

When you’re looking at the ones you want to keep, you might be looking at them from two points of view: 1. you had an emotional attachment to that book and you don’t want it to leave your possession. 2. you love it because it’s a first edition/you’ve had it forever/it’s pretty. And all of these are perfectly acceptable. I repeat: it is okay to want to keep a book because it is pretty. I have full collections of mediocre novels because the covers are gorgeous and supple. And I accept that.

When you have made your stacks, label them (with a note, or different colored pens, or things sitting on your coffee table…something to make sure you recall which stack is which) and move on to the next space.

Once you have covered all of your book spaces, go back to the beginning. Take everything in stack/pile number 1 and put it in a bag. Don’t reconsider anything, we’re doing everything Malcolm Gladwell style, here. Do that in each area. Leave the bags by the door. Do the same thing for stacks 2, 3, and 4. You’ve read them, they’re done, they’ve left no lasting impression on you. Or not enough that they have made it into stack number 6.

We’ll get to stack 5 in a minute.

Depending on where you started, you should have a pretty good amount of books sitting at your front door. If it’s not already nighttime, give yourself a break. Take what you already have to your favorite used bookstore or friends of the library donation center, and have a look around.

Bask in your power to restrain yourself.

Who am I kidding? When you get back home, put your new books on stack number 5.

You now have two stacks in each room. Depending on how you organize your books, Return them to the shelves. I have my Read and Unread books on shelves in different rooms, but you might have a different method of order. Isn’t it great to have orderly shelves with space for cool bookends?


The Small Bits

After you’ve put your books back on the shelves with your new flying superhero and TARDIS bookends, you’re going to go cursorily through what you have left every week or so. (This is also what you’re going to do if you decide not to go at it full tilt.) Determine a central part of the house where you’re going to put your pulls. Mine is a bag central to all three rooms, that will go to my favorite used bookstore when it’s full.

Did you read anything off the shelf this week? How do you feel about letting it go? If your reaction is anything beyond “from my cold, dead hands” then it should go in the bag. Scan your Read books. Anything you think you could do without? In the bag. Move to your TBR shelf. Consider your options. Have your tastes changed? Do you have books that you were excited about five years ago that don’t hold that desire anymore? Are there books you were given as gifts that you’ve been holding onto out of some sense of obligation to the people who gave them to you? This isn’t the time for the Malcolm Gladwell quick decision method here. Which is why you are going to do this every week.

There is a 4.1 ratio of Unread to Read books in my house. So obviously, I go through The Small Bits a lot. This also means, of course, that I maintain a steady flow of bookstore trade and thus constantly have books coming back in. The key is to try to maintain just as steady a flow of books going out as coming in.


Do you have a preferred method of weeding your personal collection?