This 3-Step Process Will Help You Figure Out Which Books You No Longer Need

by Melissa Ragsdale
Cindy Prins/Stocksy

Moving is the perfect time for paring down and clearing out. And, since the heaviest parts of your move are probably your boxes of books, it's especially important that you clean out your bookshelf as you pack up. Trust me, you'll seriously thank yourself if you cut down your book collection before the big move.

But cleaning out your bookshelf is easier said than done. Books have an importance that goes beyond the typical object, and giving one away can sometimes feel like giving away a piece of your soul. Every book I've read feels like a close personal friend, and I have so many important memories attached to nearly every one on my shelf.

Then of course, there's the age-old conundrum of the books you've bought but haven't read yet. I certainly have had books sitting on my shelf for years, untouched. But the thought of giving them away is devastating. I paid money to take that book home with me!

Author and renowned organizing consultant Marie Kondo describes this feeling of attachment beautifully in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:

"The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past…The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. It is dangerous to ignore them or to discard them indiscriminately as if denying the choices we made…It is only when we face the things we own one by one and experience the emotions they evoke that we can truly appreciate our relationship with them."

"Relationship" is right. Getting rid of a book can definitely feel like breaking up with someone. Or, rather, it can feel like breaking up with yourself. So, what's a bookworm to do? Well, after moving across the country a few times now, I've refined my process for deciding which books I should keep and which books I can donate.

First thing's first, let's start with Kondo's advice: Take a look at each of your books, one by one, and evaluate your emotion. The "one by one" part is key— it's much easier to assess a book on its own than when you're looking at it as part of your shelf. Literally pick up each book and ask yourself: Is this a book that has had a profound impact on you? Are your feelings about this book important to bring with you into your new space? If the answer is "no," maybe that book doesn't belong in your "keep" pile.

The next question to ask yourself is: Is this a book that I'll ever read again? Be honest. If you're not going to read it again, what's the point of keeping it from the rest of the world to read? Why shouldn't you donate it or sell it, and give it a chance to reach another reader? Imagine that book on the shelves of your favorite used bookstore and picture another person picking it up and taking it home. Books deserve to be read.

OK, here's the hard part: Is this a book you will be able to get from the library, or is this particular copy important? It's really easy to end up keeping a book "just in case" you want to read it again. But here's a reminder: you can get so, so many books for free from the library, no matter where you are. If at some indeterminate point in the future you decide you do want to reread a book, you can check it out with your library card. There are definitely some books that are important to keep your own copy of—signed copies, books you read over and over again, meaningful gifts, rare finds. But if you're keeping a book just for the off-chance that you'll pick it up one day, remember that you can usually find another copy pretty easily if you want to, and the content will be exactly the same.

Now, here's the important final step: repeat this entire process. Move the books you've already decided to give away out of sight, and run through the whole thing again with the books that have remained in your keep pile. I've found that I often decide to nix more books the second and even third time around. I always feel less precious after the first round of sorting, and I'm able to think more clearly about whether it's worth the trouble to keep every book. It slowly becomes easier and easier, and now you have room for more new books.