A Guide to Decluttering Your Bookshelves

There are two kinds of book people: those who collect books and pile them up into great collections, and those who read them and pass them along. I used to be in the first category, and dreamed of having a large home library, but when I became a bookseller I found myself more frequently culling my own collection and putting it on the bookshop shelves. It was all too easy when sitting at home to see a book and suddenly I’d know which customer would really enjoy it. However there comes a time when all book collectors, for one reason or another, are forced to declutter and find new homes for their books.

If you’ve read this far, then this might be you, and I intend to lay out some advice.

The first step is to set a goal. What are you actually trying to achieve? Are you trying to get rid of everything? Or just reducing the footprint of your library to a single room or shelf? If only reducing the size of your collection, how much space do you have to fit everything in? Consider alternatives also - is this really about downsizing, or are you, for example, doing renovations and could move everything back in after a few months? These things will dictate how ruthless you are in the following stages.

Next, organize your books into categories. Find what works best for you, but depending on the collection it could be by subject, genre or author. What category is most important to you? Maybe you want to keep your cookbooks, but feel less inclined to keep your novels. Or maybe it is the other way around. Would keeping one category and decluttering the others meet your goal? Sorting into categories has a secondary advantage, in that before deciding what to declutter, you get a chance to handle each book and think about it as a book without the pressure of deciding whether it stays or goes.

The third step is to make three piles: one to keep, one you’re not sure about, and one to get rid of. Keep only the books you love or will read again in the ‘Keep’ pile. Put the ones you’re not sure about in the ‘Maybe’ pile, and set aside the ones you’re ready to part with in the ‘Donate/Sell’ pile. As you make these decisions, go through each book and look for things like bookmarks, bits of paper, notes from loved ones on the inside cover, or any damage/tears. Consider also if you actually own any books going in the discard pile as these would best be returned to their owner. 

Now sit on it. Depending on how long you’ve been collecting (or hoarding), there could be a lot of emotions around decluttering. Think about your goal again, and how many of your ‘Maybe’ pile you can keep. Or maybe your ‘Keep’ pile is too big - does the goal need to be re-evaluated? Is it realistic? What would it mean to you to discard some books and not others? One thing in particular to be mindful of is culling books related to a hobby that you’re not into now but might be cyclical - i.e. have you noticed you pick it up every few years? Don’t be afraid to sleep on these decisions. Box up the ‘Maybe’ and ‘Donate/Sell’ piles (separately), put them aside and think on it. 

The fifth step is deciding what to do with the books you don’t want. Consider first how much time and energy you have to put into this. For example, do you have the time, patience and skills to list some of the more niche books that hold value online? TradeMe and Facebook are good places for this. Perhaps, on the other hand, you want them all gone and are happy to donate them all in one go. There are plenty of op shops around that take books as donations (though some might be picky around things like encyclopedias and Readers Digest etc.…). 

Or you could bring them here to Atlantis Books. Most of you will be familiar with how we do things - but we take books either as donations, or more selectively for store credit. When it comes to store credit every book and situation is a little different and multiple things can influence the amount offered, from industry trends to what we currently have in stock. You can find out more about this on our FAQ page

Remember, done right, your decluttering means your books find new homes and will bring joy to other readers.