My arms were shaking from the weight of them – there must have been at least 35 books in all, each purchased for about a buck. I was (and honestly, still am) a huge book nerd, and the book drive was my favorite event of the year. As I glided along the aisles, I eagerly snatched up anything that caught my eye:
– Wuthering Heights! How can I even call myself a reader if I don’t own any Brontë?
– Ooh, a book about knitting! I mean, I’ve never actually touched the knitting needles in my closet. But I could be the kind of person who knits, right?
– The Da Vinci Code! I think I already have a copy at home, but maybe I’ll pick up another one… you know… just in case I want to lend it to someone.
Books had already taken over my bookshelves, and had started creeping into other areas of my room: the floor of my closet, crammed under my bed, in teetering Jenga-style towers on my desk. If I had to guess, I’d say I had somewhere between 300 and 400 of them.
After getting a job in a new city, I packed up all my books (and the rest of my crap, too) into a comically large moving truck – and then unpacked them all into a teeny tiny apartment with basically no storage. I spent hours trying to organize my mountains of stuff before a wave of overwhelm hit, and I collapsed onto the floor in a full-blown panic attack.
It was as though I was seeing the clutter for the first time in my life – and I didn’t like how it was weighing me down.
Decluttering my books seemed so much tougher for me than for most people that I talked to. As a sentimental sap, I had the urge to keep any book that brought back memories (so, basically any book that I’d ever read). But I had a strong sense that I should keep books I hadn’t read… you know… on the off chance I might want to read them one day.
It wasn’t easy, but within a year I was able to pare my collection down to about ten books. (Yep, you read that right – I could lift my entire library with one hand!) And it was thanks to these mindset hacks that I was able to process my emotional attachment and fears, reframe my thinking, and ultimately let them go.
1. Buying Books and Reading Books are Two Different Hobbies.
I’ve always been an avid reader, but I used to shop for books like I’d be finishing three of ’em a week. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.) There was something about the rush of choosing a new story to read: imagining the ways I’d expand my worldview, all the things I’d learn or feel… unfortunately, way too often the books ended up collecting dust on the shelf. If you’ve acquired more books than you can possibly read, ask yourself: do you buy most of your books to read them, or do you buy them for the sake of buying them?
2. You Don’t Have to Read Every Book you’ve Bought.
Give yourself permission to let go of books you haven’t read yet, or that you’ve abandoned partway through. Not finishing a book – or not reading it a second time – doesn’t make you a failure. It just means that it isn’t the right book for you right now. So if it’s been sitting on your shelf forever and yet you keep buying or reading other books instead of reaching for it, chances are you won’t actually miss it that much. Oh, and if one day you do want to read it, that’s what libraries are for!
3. It’s Okay to Only Read a Book Once – or Not Even Finish it.
I used to keep pretty much every book I ever read, thinking that I would read it again someday. But here’s the thing: not every book is going to be a favorite that you read a dozen times. So rather than trying to force yourself to read it again, or feeling a twinge of guilt every time you see it, pass it along to someone who’ll really enjoy it.
4. Sometimes we Grow Apart from Books.
Like with friendships, it’s okay to have adored a book in the past, and then drifted apart from it over time (lookin’ at you, Harry Potter!). As we grow and evolve, our relationship to our stuff will change – and that includes things like books we once loved, but that we just don’t connect to as much anymore. It’s totally normal, and allowing yourself to keep only the things that reflect who you are now can free up a ton of space in your home… and mind.
5. You Don’t Have to Remember Everything you Read.
We aren’t supposed to remember everything we read – that’s just not how our brains work. You don’t need to remember the details of a particular book for it to have shaped who you are today, and how you interact with the world. And even though you’ll probably never need to reference the information in that biography you’ve held onto for years – if you ever do, that’s what Google is for, right?
6. Your Books don’t Define your Self-Worth.
I used to dream of having a library in my home – or at least, a reading nook with floor to ceiling hardcovers. (Thanks, Beauty and the Beast!) Deep down, I think that some of my self-worth was tied to how well-read I was, and I felt the need to prove that to others by having a ton of books. Decluttering nearly all my books allowed me to get introspective about my self-worth and helped me detach my identity as a person from the stuff that I own.
And really, no book sale find could ever compete with that.
About the Author: Sara Brigz is a declutter coach and founder of Let That Sh*t Go, where she helps people get to the root cause of clutter, confront the emotions holding them back, and live a life they’re excited about. If you’re ready to find more calm at home, check out her free decluttering guide and say hi on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok!