No-one likes to bid farewell to books. But unless you have a home with ever-expanding wall, there comes a point when your stock of books exceeds the space available.
But how many of you shy away from making that ultimate decision to let go of a book?
A columnist in one of the UK national newspapers once confessed that she felt unable to give any of her books away.
About to move house she was faced with the prospect of finding space for her collection of roughly 10,000 books in a property half the size of her current abode. Such was her reluctance to part with any of them she even pondered farming her son out to his grandparents because that would give her another 150 feet of shelving.
Too Precious To Lose?
I can’t give away unread stuff, obviously, but I can’t give away the things I’ve read either. They all carry memories — of the places I read them (all of Austen one glorious fortnight with an equally bookish friend at the end of university), the people who gave them to me, the long-gone second-hand shops I found them in …
She has my sympathy.
I too have books that are precious because of the story of how they were bought or acquired.
Take my copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery as an example.
I acquired this in 1993 as part of a prize from The Economist . It’s moved home three times and it’s covered in greasy dabs but it’s seen me through many large family Christmas lunches so there’s no way I’m giving that one away.
I’m just as reluctant to let go of my copy of Germinal by Emile Zola. It’s not simply that it’s my favourite title from his Rougon Macquart series but the fact that buying it became an international quest.
I’d taken it on holiday to South Africa. One hundred pages from the end I accidentally drenched it in sun tan cream. Desperate to know what happened I began a search in every bookshop in every town we visited. I found a second hand copy eventually, just a few days before we were due to fly home. Every time I look at the book I’m taken back to that holiday and that quest.
I used to keep most of my books even if they had no special memories or provenance.
I’d finish a novel, think “I might want to read this again” and shove it back on the shelf.
Did I ever go back and re-read? Hardly ever in fact. The only ones to get a second look-in were those that could be loosely described as classics. The rest just gathered dust.
The few attempts I made at a clear out usually resulted in me creating a pile to give away and my husband removing at least half of them because “I might want to read that”.
But that was in the days when I had only a modest collection of unread books. Once I started blogging, that collection exploded.
A few months ago I shared with you the strategy I’m adopting to bring a semblance of order to my piles of unread books. As much as I love having masses of books, I do need to scale back so I can actually get in the storage room where all of these are stacked.
There’s no big cull in the offing. I’m not taking drastic action and sweeping aside whole shelves. I’m just being more pragmatic.
That stack of books I thought I might re-read, is now about half its previous size.
I’m also being very disciplined with myself whenever I finish reading a book. Unless I am absolutely certain I will re-read it, it goes straight into a bag of books to try and sell via Ziffit.com or donate to family, friends or charity. Very rarely do I now keep the copy once I’m done reading it.
It was tough doing this at first. I had several false starts where I put a book into the bag only to take it out again the next day. It’s possible I suppose that I’ll experience some moments of regret in the future when I discover a book I fancy re-reading is one I no longer have. But I can’t see that being a major problem; I can always borrow it from the library.
The books I’ve kept are primarily classics. They are books that I think are ultra special. I suppose if I was a devotee of Marie Kondo I’d say they are the books that “spark joy” every time I look at them and read them. The ones I’ve given away might be perfectly good reads, it’s just that they are not special enough to warrant space on my shelves or on my floor.
Is this a familiar picture?
Every shelf in every bookcase in your home is stuffed with unread books.
There are books on tables and on the floor.
Every conceivable space is occupied by books you have not yet read. They’re becoming a source of much grumbling by your nearest and dearest.
And yet each week you end up buying more. That TBR list is becoming a monster.
You’ve tried hiding the books, pretending that if you can’t see them, that they don’t exist. But when you trip over them at every turn, you know no can no longer stay in denial.
You occasionally talk about tackling this ogre. But you don’t really know how.
If this does sound familiar, then you are certainly not alone. Virtually every book blogger I follow has – at some point- grumbled about the overwhelming size of their TBR.
The good news? You can do something about this.
9 strategies to help you slay that TBR monster
1 Reframe the issue
My TBR currently stands at 314. I occasionally moan about this on the blog. But if I’m being completely honest with myself – and with you – that’s just for show.
Because deep down I count that stack as a blessing not a curse. It means I have a personalised library at my fingertips, always open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Only thing I don’t like? Tripping over the piles around the house ….
So, as much as I love my library, I do want to scale it back to a more manageable number. I’m not going to get stressed out about it. I’m just going to be more pragmatic.
To reframe the issue, challenge yourself to answer this question:
Is your TBR is a source of tribulation or a source of delight?
Switching to a more positive mindset could help you approach the next steps with more optimism.
2. Measure the beast
You can’t tackle the TBR issue until you know exactly the scale of your task.
That means you have to do a count of every unread book you have in your house/apartment/caravan/yurt. You’ll be using this number later.
Pull out every unread book in your home. Pile them all up on the floor or the table.
Count them all.
You might be surprised the total isn’t higher. (I doubt it since books seem to have a habit of lurking in dark corners, hiding down the back of the sofa. ) But you might also be horrified because never in your wildest dreams did you realise you had THAT many.
It doesn’t matter what your total is; what does matter is that you’ve done the tally.
Before you put them all back in their original homes you must:
A. Make a note of this number and the date you did the count. This is now your baseline
B. Take a photo of this stack. It’s a physical reminder of the scale of your challenge
3 Time to stocktake
Think of yourself as the owner of a bookshop. As a good business person you know it’s important to have a realistic view of four elements.
- What items are in your shop.
- What is ‘selling’ well.
- Which items are slow moving.
- What items are unsuitable for sale because they’re damaged goods.
When you have a clear picture of what you have in your TBR ‘library’ you’ll be in a stronger position to:
- discover over-stocking ( ie duplicate or triplicate copies of the same book) and
- find ‘lost’ items: books you thought had disappeared entirely and
- unearth damaged books; those with loose pages or broken spines and
- avoid waste (how many times in the past have you bought a book only to discover you already had a copy at home).
Stocktaking your TBR library means you need to make a record all of your books. As a minimum you should document:
- book title and
- author name and
- date purchased/acquired.
You can use a spreadsheet or use a platform like Goodreads or Library Thing. The choice is yours.
I prefer to have my list in spreadsheet format because I want to record more than just the basics.
These are my additional columns.
- Date of publication.
- Nationality of the author.
- Date I read the book.
- Whether I finished it
- Category (for example crime, classic, book in translation).
- Notes about how I obtained this book (for example, was it a book club choice, a birthday gift, a review copy).
4. Set a goal
If you want to be successful at reducing your TBR, you need to set a goal. Without a goal you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of the project, it also gives you a way to determine if you are actually succeeding.
Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalised goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. So include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is stated only as “Reduce my TBR” how will you know when you have been successful?
The actual goal is your choice. Only you know what you can realistically achieve.
How do you decide on a realistic goal?
Think about it this way:
How many books do you read on average each year?
If your answer is 50 and you have 500 + plus books in your TBR that means you have 10 year’s worth of reading sitting in your home. And that’s without buying or acquiring a single new book. Maybe you’d be more comfortable with 5 year’s worth of books – so your goal is a 50% reduction.
Your goal could be framed as a percentage or as an absolute number reduction from the total you identified earlier.
Reduce my TBR by 10% by end of [year]
Reduce my TBR to [xx] books by end [year]
If you have a very ambitious target, you might find it more satisfying to think of your goal in multiple stages.
Reduce my TBR by 20% by [end 2022] – reach 5% reduction by [end 2021]
How do you achieve your goal?
By taking one step at a time.
individually, these strategies are not designed to get you to your ultimate goal. But collectively they will ensure you can make significant progress.
5. Remove your ‘slow moving goods’
Slow moving goods is how I describe books that you’ve had for a very long time. You keep promising yourself you will read them. But you never get around to it – there’s always something new catching your eye.
Now is the time to get real. If you haven’t read it in the last five years are you realistically going to read it within the next five years? I doubt it.
Here’s what you do.
Make a pile of all the unread books you’ve owned for longer than 5 years.
Examine them one by one. For each book, challenge yourself whether you will really read it in the next 5 years. You have be firm here. Try not to sit on the fence.
If the answer is clearly “NO”, then put the book in an OUT pile. You’re going to give these away to friends, relatives, charity shops, hospitals etc. Anyone who will take them. You could try to sell them (for example via eBay, or services like ziffit.com)
If the answer is “MAYBE” set the book aside for now. If you find you have a tower of books in the “maybe” category then I’d question whether you’re being rigorous enough. You probably the exercise again…..
You could easily adapt this to a different time frame. If you have a particularly large target you may need to be more ruthless and choose books older than 3 years for example.
6. Get off the fence
You’ve ended up with a pile of books you ‘maybe’ want to read. Tackling this pile should be your next step.
First pick a book. Read about 30 pages. Then decide whether it’s interested you enough to want to continue reading.
If no, then add it to your OUT pile
If YES then you can put it back on your sheIf.
Make a note of when you last assessed this book. If it’s still unread one year after that date, then it’s clearly not for you. Out it should go.
7. Dealing with new stock
You love reading. But you also love buying books. Unless you control the number of new items coming into your library you’re never going to slay the TBR monster.
Some bloggers take the drastic step of implementing a purchasing ban. No new books until their TBR is down to a manageable level.
I know that would never work for me. Maybe it won’t for you either.
But you could use a variation on that theme. As an example: for every five books you read from your TBR you allow yourself to buy one new book..
For those of a nervous disposition, yes you’re allowed a few treats to mark birthdays and other special occasions.
Remember though, that every new book that comes in needs to be added to your TBR spreadsheet or Goodreads list, noting the date purchased etc.
8. Read the books
Yes it really is that simple.
Books are meant to be read. They’re not ornaments. But then you knew that didn’t you?
So all you have to do is read the ones you haven’t read until now.
If you find it difficult to decide what to read next, there are multiple challenges in the blogosphere that can help you overcome indecision:
You’ll find a few of them here:
The start of a new year is always heralded by announcements of new challenges, so keep your eyes peeled. But of course you don’t have to wait for a new year before you start tackling that TBR monster.
If you’re not into challenges, you might enjoy using a TBR jar to select your next read. This is where you can unleash your creativity if that’s what rocks your boat. For an explanation of this take a look at the post on The Chic Site.
9. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Congratulations on working your way through all these strategies, But this is no time to rest on your laurels. You need to exercise constant vigilance if you don’t want to end up in the same mess again.
Set a date to do at least an annual ‘stocktake’
Keep challenging yourself with those books you labelled as ‘maybe’s’
What are you waiting for?
Time to get started
These are strategies I’m intending to use to reduce my TBR mountain.
What strategies have you used that you found successful?