How to Declutter Books

I was in a crowd last week and someone told me his current goal is organizing books. I had a simple question: are you trying to get rid of  books or organize them in place? He had an idea that his book situation was overwhelming. He wanted to make space, but he hadn’t thought through exactly how to declutter books.

How to Declutter Books

How to Declutter Books

Before you lift one book, review the SORT and Succeed system here. Without a clear Step 1: written goal, book lovers/information hoarders are going to get nowhere fast. If you can articulate exactly what the goal is, you’ll likely be able to make clear progress.

If they were someone else’s books, like your parents, you will likely have less attachment to them. But if they were YOUR books, whoa! You might need more guidance.

Since books represent our hopes and dreams, our aspirations and inner selves better than most other objects, they are especially hard to part with.

Your Step 1 written goal (in five words or less) might be:

  • fit all keepers onto shelves
  • reduce collection to one bookcase (or the bookcase or shelf count that is right for you)
  • pass kid books to grandkids
  • clear basement of books
  • toss college texts
  • get all books off floor
  • List/sell 5 valuable books

Ways to Organize Books after You Declutter Books

Teach the joys of e-books and e-books readers. You can own hundreds of books and never have to organize them.  Adjusting to an e-reader might not be a big deal, once you see how easy it is to access hundreds of books and do cool things like effortlessly increase the text size, read in a dark room, and look up unfamiliar words with just a tap.

If you have shelves, want shelves, or want more shelves, you can go high-end or frugal like Ivar IKEA shelves. As long as the shelves are sturdy, no more than 24″ wide, and secured to the wall for child safety, they can all be beautiful.

How to Organize a Small Home Without a Closet- after

How Long It Takes to Declutter Books

The best way to help you decide what to keep and what to divest is to get a moving estimate. LOL Books are heavy, and paying to pack, move, and unpack a mountain of books will cure many people (but not all) of their need for excessive book ownership.

Getting rid of books may take several weeks or months, depending on where you live, what books are in your collection, and your criteria for sending them to new homes.

Where to Send Decluttered Books

I’ve written another article on how to get rid of books.  Start here to get your mind comfortable with the ideas. Many people will be willing to part with books as long as they think the books are going to a better home. In other words, for them, passing books on is ok; recycling or trashing them is not.

How Do I Get Rid of Books


Set a baseline that books in bad shape, water damaged, pet damaged, bookworm infested (yes, they are real and we’ve seen them), or hopelessly outdated like tech manuals from 20 years ago can be destroyed. (Windows XP for Dummies, anyone?)

How to Declutter Books - 1


In most places, paperbacks can be recycled. Hardbacks go in the trash unless you are willing to take the extra step to either de-spine them or tear out the pages. Check with your local recycling center for guidance.

Collections of some books can go to historical societies, family collections, libraries (for their own collections or for fund raising sales), and school libraries. One of my clients recently donated a room of books to a Jane Austen society. Finding these places will take time and phone calls.

See if you have a bookseller in your area. They will often come to a home, assess a collection, and make an offer for a set of books. They often are cherry-picking rare books or books they know are likely to sell. They are unlikely to want your entire collection. Here in the Philly area, we have Baldwin’s Book Barn. 

There are still magical places that will accept your books and give you trade in credit, like Cathy’s Used Books in Havertown, PA. But even stores like these will not want every book you have to offer; they are accepting books for their audience, and they will only accept what sells.

An outfit called BetterWorld Books has dropoff bins throughout the country. They are basically a bookseller who has figured out how to lead with a mission statement and make money from selling the excess of books in the world. More power to them.

How to Declutter Books- BetterWorld Books bookdrop


Do you struggle with your plan to “organize books?” Have you decided if you are trying to part with some books, organize books in place, or both?

No matter when you found us, catch up with all of this month’s organizing articles here.