Declutter the Reading List

Can you give me advice or do a blog post on organizing books and maybe some guidelines on what to keep or pitch. I LOVE my books, and I’m paralyzed emotionally when I have to decide what to do with them. Some are dear friends, others represent guilt that I “should” read them. Some are gifts or suggested reading. Help! -L

Whenever I clean out and organize something that is optional and has an emotional aspect to it, like books or clothing or sentimental items, I use a reliable technique to help me decide what to keep:

The gut check.

It’s so easy. All you have to do is look at something and see how it makes you feel. If your initial reaction is sadness or guilt or indifference, you don’t keep it. If it makes you feel glad, you keep it. Simple, yes, but effective.

I won’t tell someone how many books they should keep. That’s a personal decision that you have to make peace with on your own. I do want to talk about reading lists though, because sometimes those book collections carry a lot of feelings of obligation.

My six-year-old daughter is learning to read, and I want her to like all of her books, so occasionally I go through them with her.

“Do you want to keep Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors?”

“No. Too grouchy.”

“What about this book on kindness?”

“No. Not silly enough.”

There are thousands of children’s books available. I wouldn’t dream of making her read a book she doesn’t like when we can find one that she will love instead. My main priority at this point is to make reading fun for her. So when I look at her and think about finding books for her that she will like, I want to do the same for me.

I really believe your reading list should reflect your current interests. It’s a reading list, not another to-do list.

There is so much more to read now than ever before. Most of it is “news,” but I use that term lightly, and most of it is optional. Unless it’s for your job, you get to pick what you read, and you should choose well so that you enjoy the time you spend on it. Suggestions are just that—merely suggestions, and not obligations. They go on the list of “Books I’m Thinking About Reading.”

I do the same with my blog reading. When I see a new post pop up that I get excited about, I read it. If I often notice with a gut check that I just want to finish it or “mark it as read,” then it’s time for me to unsubscribe. The blog may still be good, but my interests have changed, and it’s time for me to move on to make room for new interests.

Perhaps you have a few books that no longer interest you that you could give away. Or maybe you need to spend a few minutes cleaning out your blog reader to free up extra minutes in your day. Mainly, cross anything off your list that you feel like you’re “supposed to read” but that doesn’t interest you.

Have you updated your reading list lately?

clear the clutter

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I have de-cluttered my books. I have to keep a few as I am studying but I have even de-cluttered my ebooks.
    It means the books that really matter I can find and those I never read don’t take up space
    Samantha´s last post…Clean Air

  2. “It’s a reading list, not another to-do list.” Thanks for this reminder. The last thing I want is to feel obligated to read when I love it so much.
    Steph´s last post…The Worst Chore Ever

  3. It’s a great idea to make sure your current reading list (and bookcase) reflect your current interests. I have learnt how to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it after a few chapters, rather than feeling obliged to finish it. And I feel compelled to read ANY words that are around me, so I try to make sure all reading material around the house and at work is what I really want to read!
    Kim @ Extra Organised´s last post…Two-month all-season packing

  4. Books used to always be the hardest thing to declutter, but it has gotten easier for me since I started telling myself:
    1. Let the library store most of your books for you.

    2. If you are sorry you decluttered it later, you can get another.

    Especially the library has helped me let go of books. With the internet, it is so easy to request a title to be sent to my “home” library. They email me when it arrives, and I have five days to pick it up. I can renew books from my computer, too. Wonderful!
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Cerebral Homemaking Part 3: Lofty Thinking — About Vision, Philosophy, and the G Word

    • Joyfulmomof6 says:

      I second that, Lori, to let the library store books for me!
      I rarely buy a book that I haven’t first checked out from the library first or gotten through interlibrary loan.

      And not many people know that if your library doesn’t have book, they will often buy it for you because they have earmarked a certain amount of funds for patron purchase requests. Often the funds go unused because no one requests anything. Our librarian told me that years ago, and it has been a wonderful way to be able to read more books that our library doesn’t have that we needed for homeschooling.

    • Me too! I only buy books that the library aren’t going to buy or hold on to, and that I’m probably going to read several times (or have already read several times!). The boy’s books get purged regularly when he grows out of them – they were mostly from charity shops anyway, so it feels nicely like recycling to put them back in the system.

  5. very timely for me as we just moved into a new home and I’m working on getting my bookcases set up. I’m struggling with the reality that some of my favorite books are not my ‘prettiest’ books. So do I use the ones with pretty spines or the ones that are my dear friends?

    Knowing that the titles on my shelves reflect WHO I AM, I’m going to HAVE to go with my favorite books and then hope to make them look as nice as they can. Glad to read your input…. it’s helped clarify as I process through the mound of book boxes!!

  6. Books are definitely my weakness. I recently went through my books and was able to get rid of a couple boxes full – mainly novels that I don’t really need to keep. I have a lot of the classics, a lot of old text books that I can’t seem to part with, and then a lot of references too. But, after I got rid of those few novels that I didn’t really want to read again and again, I can’t seem to get rid of anymore! And honestly, I dream of a day when I can have a library…with a rolling ladder :-)
    Heather´s last post…Classical Conversations

  7. Katherine says:

    I don’t really have any trouble getting rid of books after I’ve read them. I just keep the ones I know I’ll want to either read again or recommend to someone else, which really isn’t that many. My main problem is the ones I haven’t read yet. I have a lot of mysteries (one of my favorite genres) that I inherited from my grandfather, but I just haven’t felt like reading a mystery in a few months. I don’t like that most of my books are things that I haven’t read and haven’t wanted to read lately, but I know that once I want to read another mystery it’ll be the only thing I want to read for quite a while, so I don’t want to get rid of them…

  8. My rule for actual books is that I won’t buy a book I haven’t read. I only want to own books that I know I will read many times and I don’t know if I’ll feel that way until after I’ve read it. My husband got me a Kindle this year. I never thought I would want one, but it’s been great. There are so many books I’ve wanted to read, that I was pretty sure I didn’t want to own, and now I can. Because the things I read are older, they’re not usually available at my library. But on Amazon, they’re free. And this allows me to take a chance on a book they I might not otherwise have tried.

    • Like you, I read mostly older books. I’m on the fence about getting a Kindle though. I so love the feel of holding the book in my hands. Has that bothered you at all? I love the idea of having all my books on a Kindle not taking up space in our rooms though I love just having them around too. Can you tell I’m undecided? lol

  9. I realized recently that I had become an “aspirational borrower” – that if someone told me they liked a book I got excited and would always say yes to an offer to borrow… and then often lost interest and lost track of what I owned vs had borrowed. So i’ve tried to move to keeping a list of books on my iphone, and just jot down the title and author and who recommended it, and leave the book with the person. And I agree with using the library and all their “hold” and online renewal features to save money and space. Especially for cookbooks- I have a weakness for them, but now try to test drive them by borrowing first. Only if I make 3 or more recipes I really like will I then borrow it.

  10. Well this is fitting. I had a bunch of blogs & websites on my RSS feed reader that I would just glance at the title then check “marked as read” then move on. So this past weekend i went through each & every blog on my feed reader & unsub’d from quite a few. Actually more than quite a few.
    Either those blogs no longer appealed to me or they had changed their original focus – but I had no sense of loyalty or obligation to keep reading them or pretending to be reading them.
    Same with books. I cut my losses quickly & constantly. If I don’t like a book I have started to read – then screw it – I’m not wasting or devoting any more of my time in finishing that book. There is no honor or parting gift for reading a crummy book from start to finish. When folks say they suffered through a book just so they can say they finished it always baffles & befuddles me.
    Case in point – we were on vacation & sititng at the hotel pool next to a lady who was reading a book or trying to read a book, but kept slamming it down then picking it back up again & again. I got to chatting with her & she told me she just hated the book she was reading as it was dull & dry. So I asked her why she kept reading it as it obviously was distressing her & bothering her & was making her relaxing vacation time a distressing thing. She said she just felt obligated to finish a book even if it meant ruining her vacation. What? huh? Crazy!

  11. I heartily agree that there are too many books in the world to waste time on bad ones! My problem is that I read a LOT, and I’ve found so many good ones. I did some serious purging in January, and got down to “only” 1100 books. But it’s been creeping up again as I hit local used bookstores.

    This week I went through my to-read list on Goodreads and deleted anything with less than 3.5 stars. (The virtual cleaning is so much easier!) Now I’m eyeballing the piles of books that are overflowing off my bookcases. My problem is that your gut check test does not work at all for me. Because all 1200ish of them make me happy! :)
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…Book Review: Marcus Samuelsson’s ‘Yes, Chef’

    • But see, the real goal isn’t about how many books you have, but that you’re really happy with what you have. It makes perfect sense to me that you would have a wall full of books and you love every one of them, and then you have less of something else that doesn’t interest you so much.

      • vermontmommy says:

        I feel the same way. We have a lot of books but I don’t feel our house is cluttered with them. They all have are where they should be, they are read, they are loved and thus our collection.

        From time to time I do go through our books and donate. That being said I know we gather just as much new books each year as I get rid, if not more. We keep what we love. Books make our family happy.

      • I am so so so glad you feel that way, Rachel! I always feel guilty when I see posts about decluttering books, because I have the hardest time getting rid of mine.

        My whole family gets on my case because I’m not sentimental about anything except my books, but they are the only thing I truly care about keeping.

        I’m not going to feel guilty about it anymore! If I don’t care about a book, then I have no trouble donating it to someone who will like it, but the ones I keep are there because I love them!
        Jennie´s last post…When Everything Happens All at Once

  12. We recently went through our books and I put them all on amazon. Even after shipping we have made over $200 already!!! Some of the books were never read and look like new so I sold them as new!

  13. Excellent post! I have recently given myself “permission” to not finish a book if I’m not enjoying it. It was really hard to let go of the idea that you HAVE to finish once you start, but you’re absolutely right — there are way too many awesome books in the world to suffer through one you don’t like out of a sense of obligation.
    Kate @ Green Around the Edges´s last post…The Ultimate Car Toy

  14. I rarely make a list of books I “need” to read. I just have a collection of books that I can pick up anytime thanks to my Nook. That makes it SO much easier for me clutter wise.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I cannot destroy or trash a book. So once I retired and decluttered in earnest, I had a big problem. The solution came in finding different ways to dispose of the hundreds of books in the house….I found places to donate them that were not obvious, at least to me. School classrooms as well as their libraries…my children’s friends who were starting teaching careers were delighted to have free additions to their classrooms, Especially as they did the selecting…not me. Another place was the local woman’s shelter for both adult and children’s literature, etc. I now am committed to only keeping books to house in one tiny bookcase for my grand kids (their parents absolute favourites) and one rather small one in the den…my favourites. The same rule applies..if a new one comes in, one must leave. Like others, thank heaven for libraries and ebooks!

  16. This is one thing I rarely do (and I’m fine with that!). I love a lengthy TBR list. It makes me feel luxurious knowing there are so many great reads ahead of me.

    I’ll weed out books occasionally from our shelves, but mostly I just buy more (shelves and books). I consider it part of an author’s right and am happy, happy, happy to be buried in new finds and old favorites. :)
    Caroline Starr Rose´s last post…Blog Break Best Of: Week III

  17. Thank you for giving me permission to get rid of those books that I *should* read. :-) We have lots of work to do on this, including children’s books.
    Elizabeth@ReadySetSimplify´s last post…Menu Plan for the Week 7/15 – 7/21 (Last menu plan post for a while)

  18. In the past if my home was choking in books, I wouldn’t have considered them clutter. That’s the #1 biggest change I’ve had about possessions. I come from a family of book lovers. Whenever I moved I had more boxes of books than all other boxes of belongs combined (by far!). I chose an apartment so I could live next to the public library. I’m a librarian. I LOVE BOOKS! So please understand where I’m coming from when I say…

    Let the books go!

    I came to the same conclusion that Lori@IntheKitchen did:
    “1. Let the library store most of your books for you.
    2. If you are sorry you decluttered it later, you can get another.”

    Here’s my process:
    1. If it’s a book you’ve never read, ask yourself if you really want to read it. Be honest with yourself! If yes, make a date to start reading it (or, conversely if not read by X date, get rid of it). If you’re still not sure, check to see if your public library owns it. If they do, let your copy go knowing you can check it out of the library when you’re really interested. (Or purchase it again, if you regret releasing it.)

    2. If you’ve read it… even if you loved it… are you going to read it again? Really? If yes, then keep. If no, but you’re super attached and have the space, okay. If no, and you really don’t have the space, let it go. Check the library if that helps you say goodbye.

    Rachel, I loved this, “Mainly, cross anything off your list that you feel like you’re ‘supposed to read’ but that doesn’t interest you”. Finally giving myself permission to read what I WANTED TO READ rather than what I thought I SHOULD read, was a huge turning point for me.

    I’ve gone from about 17 boxes of books down to 3 the last time I moved. My goal is to partially fill one bookcase (so frames and other items can be displayed) and that defines the physical limitations of my book collection. If I want to add something new, something old will have to go.

  19. I have to admit to cheating when it comes to books: I don’t have any physically. My husband gave me a Nook for Christmas, and I read it constantly, and can download free books from my library web site. It is fantastic! Also, living in a small apartment, we really need the space, so not having to store books works for us!

  20. Great, simple advice! I’ve always wanted to have one of those two-story libraries with a sliding ladder around the perimeter. It’s nice to peruse a large collection and find something you’ve forgotten. But that doesn’t really suit my modern, simplified lifestyle. I don’t have that much time to peruse, and I definitely don’t need another thing to dust. :)
    Bridget´s last post…Temptation

  21. I love my Kindle but sometimes I think the freebies are my downfall. I have learned that, with Kindle books or library books, if I don’t totally love it within the first 75 pages or so, it’s ok to put it in the “stinker” file or take it back to the library unfinished. I don’t get extra points for finishing “stinkers”.

    • Hey, you can return Kindle books if you don’t like them, 7 days from time of purchase. Keeps me from stacking up too many that I don’t have time to read.

      • Nearly all of mine are freebies so I just need to learn to use my “DELETE”. ;0)

        • Heather says:

          With Kindle freebies I give myself 5 pages of the actual meat of the book. If I’m not wowed by it I move on. I’m pretty disillusioned by the quality of Kindle freebies…especially the ones with a list price of 0.99-2.99. But then, I can’t stand spelling and grammar errors and poor writing.

  22. This is a timely post for me. I’m decluttering in advance of a cross-country move. When I had the realtor over for home-staging advice she told me to lose the books! Mostly I have been hanging onto “should-reads.” This post is just the push I need to ditch the guilt!

  23. I never felt so good as I did when I sold all my “should-reads.” I never realized that I’d been stressing out over them every time I saw them on the shelves, knowing I had no interest in really reding them. Now I figure if I really want to read something I’ll grab it from the library.

  24. There’s always some guilt associated with getting rid of unread books. When I worked at my college’s library, my supervisor tossed books into the bin without a second thought. I remember this and try to have an objective attitude when weeding through everything. After all, most books which are “must reads” are also classics and therefore probably available as e-books for free. I find it is much easier to feel less guilty and less stressed about not reading a certain title when I have I have a digital copy since it does not serve as a physical reminder like a bound book does.

    Unfortunately, I still haven’t found a solution for my film theory and neuropsychology texts.

  25. My family, too, was a “book” family – my 91-year-old mom still has every book she ever owned since she was a teenager – I’ll cross that bridge when needed. Something I learned from organizer Peter Walsh – to have limits and boundaries on how-much-stuff is enough, so I have “one” bookshelf for books – that’s the limit. Over the years have been able to let so many go, even if it was Half-Price Books that recycled them and I didn’t make much money – I wasn’t the one who made that decision. My husband reads e-books all the time; I’m still having trouble with the emotional aspect of physically turning the pages vs enjoying the content. And, too, I’ve felt guilty not finishing a book I didn’t like – but thanks to this posting, that can be released, as well! Feels so good to have such validation.

  26. I solve this problem mostly by using the library. We love books, and the library is 1 block from our house, so it’s a no-commitment love!
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…Berrying

  27. I am constantly going through my library…giving away a lot of books to a small community lending library, putting others on Paperback Swap, keeping those I love. I keep autographed copies, first editions and resource/research books; the others go to a new home. I love finding books that will please other people; love giving them those books.
    However, I’m to the point that I only go into book stores a couple of times a year…just too enticing to buy books and I don’t need more books -smile-.
    Thrift stores…ah, just another name for book stores.
    Sandra at Thistle Cove Farm´s last post…Late for Church

  28. My reading list that stays most cluttered comes from online pieces – how right you are that most of it is optional, yet seems so required at the time. The best way I update that list (often kept on Evernote), is to go back every few weeks or so. If I’m still interested in the title/subject, it’s a read to keep. If not, it’s a read to delete.

    My home “reading list” are the actual books, stacked up on the floor next to my night stand. Can’t get rid of all the good books that fill up our bookshelves – I don’t consider them clutter (except for the worn-out, crinkled paperbacks). They are decor! Our house came with built-in-shelves, and we came loaded with books – such a cozy addition to our family room.
    Rhonda´s last post…I Highly Recommend This Office Away From Home

  29. Love the gut test. This is so timely. We have many, many books but strangely most of the books we read come from our libraries. We are fortunate to live within walking distance of two! Rachel I have to say I love your blog. I always come away feeling a bit uncluttered myself. Thank you!!

  30. Another person with too many books.
    I emptied the shelves, then returned those I love.
    The others are in stacks. I now have rules for reading: 3 books from the stacks before one from the shelves or library. Sometimes those three leave the house soon after as I discover they really are rubbish, sometimes I discover a treasure.
    I have greatly reduced the quantity of books I buy, and I rely on the library to buy a lot more for me. (However, they discard books regularly, so if I love the book, I buy my own copy).
    Regarding blogs: I now have my favourites set up as bookmarks, with the folders headed with days of the week – it has greatly reduced the time I spend looking at blogs, and yet I don’t miss any of my favourites. And I cull every few months.

  31. I used to have tons of home decorating blogs in my Reader, and I cleaned every single one out when it got to the point that they were making me envious of all the things I don’t have rather than inspiring me to make my home nicer. Now the only blogs I have in my Reader on any topic (crafting, homeschooling, etc) are the ones that inspire and motivate me to do things for my family and home, and give me specific ideas. Congratulations – you made the cut!

  32. Listening to our ‘gut feeling’ is such an excellent advice Rachel!
    no matter if it is as regards picking a book, a blog or making a more serious decision. Apparently a University of London research team found that people who listened to their gut reactionwhen responding in a test of visual perception (eg. picking out an anomaly in a pattern of symbols) did better than those who were given more time to think about the answer. :)

  33. Cynthia Jo says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of downsizing on the to be read list. A lot I do want to read, but the problem is there are JUST TOO MANY! Makes my mind go nutty just looking at the ever growing pile. I also have a Kindle, which is full. The other day my husband wanted to loan a book to our pastor and noticed we had over 1400 books on our cloud! I know a lot have been deleted from our kindles, but going online to delete them from the cloud is such a pain since we have dial up. It takes forever! So I’m going through our book shelf today. Getting some for the library, some for the church library (thanks to my mother in law who used to own a Christian bookstore, but no thanks!) and some for the thrift stores. If they are worth anything I will resell through Amazon. Then I can use the giftcards for something we’ve been needing: a new camera!

  34. A number of years ago, I did finally reduce my library by about half. I discarded anything I thought I wouldn’t read again or which I felt was outdated (including reference books and dictionaries – I’m a translator and use the web more often than not, instead of specialist dictionaries these days). Then I moved to a smaller home and what had fit beautifully into my last home no longer fits so neatly in this one. Ah well.
    My present tactic, and now that books are much more easily available to me than they used to be (ironically and thanks to amazon!), I have to be fairly radical in what I buy. I have found I’ve become a lot pickier about what I do buy and even more so about what I keep – nowadays, forget the cost, if it wasn’t all that marvellous, I’ll pass the book on immediately. I’ve read that many books in some categories that most of the new ones that come out are a big yawn. If I’m really going to try something out, I’d rather get it on the Kindle app of my iPad where it won’t clutter my home any more. This way, my collection grows much more slowly, and in fact, with an additional raid now and again for the random gifted books or unsuccessful reads or outdated information, I seem to be able to keep some semblance of order… There are still one or two series I do collect but I reread them regularly, along with some favourite classics.
    (Another tactic I used was to consider that anything really famous or popular would easily be available to me if I wanted it, so I mostly only kept more obscure books that would be more difficult to find. If I had good libraries of English books nearby, I’d obviously get rid of a lot more.)
    MelD´s last post…F O U R !!!!

  35. Thanks for the inspiration and the sensible gut check suggestion. I donated 17 books to our local library yesterday. I always enjoy reading your blog.

  36. Donate books to the library. The dearly loved book can always be checked out to read again and donating to the library means that many will have the opportunity to read it.

  37. I know this could end up just being another list to some people, but organizing my books on Goodreads has been so helpful in helping me decide what books to keep, what books to get rid of, and what new books to buy / pick up from the library. Before I used to read whatever book was next in line, and I always felt like I needed to have blinders on for other books that might normally catch my eye. Now I’m able to scan my list and choose something that I’m actually in the mood for rather than feeling like I “have to” read that classic novel that has been sitting on my shelf staring at me since college when I’m really in the mood for something completely different.

  38. Kathleen says:

    Someone already mentioned it, but Paperbackswap is the best clutter reliever. Yes, I have an overstuffed shelf of books waiting to be swapped (in my guest room), but knowing I’m trading the old book for something new makes it easier to cull out my main bookshelf.