Reducing the space your books take up

by April_M

Strategies for keeping your book collection manageable. Good luck with that.

I’m a librarian and a bit of a geek. I’m also married to another avid reader. It’s hardly surprising, then, that our home is overflowing with books. Some years after we married we had a daughter, and even as a baby she had more books than you could shake a muslin square at. Now that she’s a preschooler her bookshelves are spilling over, too. In the best tradition of hypocrites everywhere I’ve compiled a few tips for anyone whose home, like mine, is likely to comprise of a maze of books some day soon. Who knows, I might manage to follow a few of them myself!

(photo by nomadic_lass on Flickr, used with thanks under Creative Commons licence).

How to choose what you keep.

The Hunger Games for books...

Imagine a world in which all your books fit nicely on the bookshelves. No, I can’t either, but it does happen in some homes! The first step towards this state is letting go of some of your books. In our home at least once a year we seem to go through our books and find those that we feel we can live without.  It doesn’t always work out too well. I found 5 last time, and I changed my mind about 3 of those. A better way might be to keep those that fit into a set of criteria. Yours might be different but here’s what mine would be. Books would need to fit at least one of these, preferably more.

1) Is it useful?

2) Is it beautiful?
3) Does it have sentimental value?
4) Will you (realistically) reread it?

Of course the 3rd of those is why we still have 2 copies of most of the ‘Harry Potter’ books. And most of the Pratchetts.  Note that monetary value isn’t on the list. If it’s a rare first edition, signed, illustrated by the author and so on then surely it fits into ‘beautiful’ and ‘sentimental’, and if not then pass it or sell it to someone for whom that’s true.

On the point of usefulness you can’t claim that it is if the information is not all of the following;

*Up to date (Information changes)
*Not easily available via another source (Is it all online now? Is this book in the library if you don’t use it very regularly? Is it, in fact, already at the end of its usefulness because you’ve taken in the information in it?).

*Something you actually use or find fun to read about, regularly.

Are you sure you'll ever use this?

...or is it essential information?


If you're going to keep a book it should be entertaining. Only you can tell if your guests will be delighted by your elegant loo roll creations or whether the space should be taken up by, say, the second volume instead.


Fewer books mean more space (for more books... Wait) but won’t that mean less to read? Not really, nowadays. There are many ways to obtain and read Ebooks, and though they have their doubters it’s one of many options for keeping down the clutter in your own home. It’s a good way to try new books and authors without increasing the pile by your bed, and if there are some classics you love to read then consider getting digital copies instead of paper next time they fall apart.

You don’t have to have a device just for Ebooks, though some of them are things of loveliness themselves, with e-Ink and light levels among other clever advances making for a great reading experience. Your computer can download Ebooks too, and if you have a smart phone then you can read them wherever you are, online or through a variety of clever apps. Ebooks can even open up a world of new authors to you, those who would never have come to your attention through the traditional printing press.

Another option is replacing a few with audiobooks. It’s perfectly possible to replace your excess book pile with an unsightly pile of CDs, but again you can download some really great audiobooks onto your computer, phone or MP3 player, fueling your need for story or information while you do other things with your hands.

Think outside the bookshelf.

 If you search online for terms like ‘Alternative book storage’ you’ll find some incredible ideas out there. If you really cannot bear to get rid of your books then think creatively. Find spaces that would be enhanced by books. Make them useful or beautiful or so unusual they at least make a great conversation piece. 

Shelves placed in among ceiling beams, books nestled into clever storage in stairs, up walls, under windows. Wherever there’s a space, and in many places you think there isn’t, some cunning and determination can make your lovely books into useful artwork. There's a great article here on Fantastically creative ways to display your treasures.

Much more useful than a mop cupboard.

Your Harry Potter complex will have to start elsewhere.
"Keep it modern"
"Keep it modern"

What now?

 So you presumable have a lovely pile of books that you’re rehoming. What do you do with them? All too often with the best intentions they sit in a pile ‘to go’ and then gradually become part of the problem again.

Anything that’s collectable or useful can go on Ebay, or if it’s rare or out of print try abebooks. If you have masses of paperbacks try car boot sales to sell them off cheaply to a new home. If there are so many that you can’t face selling them or don’t particularly need the money then phone local charity shops to see which will come and collect them - many will be extremely grateful and you’ll be supporting a good cause.

You could also perpetuate the problem for yourself and others by holding a book swapping party, in which everyone brings some books and takes some books, with any unclaimed going to charity.

 For many of us books are what makes a house into a home, but a book collection out of control is a problem even for the most devoted of us. Keeping the stash to a manageable size means different things to each of us, whether it’s fitting it all neatly on the bookshelves or just the right amount of overflow for you. Getting rid of those books that you no longer want or need though creates more space, both physically and mentally, for reading those you have and love as well as for investing in new ones.

Updated: 01/18/2014, April_M
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Mira on 07/07/2015

Book swapping parties are a great idea! I, too, have some books to give away. I'm thinking of giving some to a youth hostel :)

frankbeswick on 07/07/2015

There is joy to be found in giving them away. Over the weekend I won two books in a raffle. They were beginners' books in gardening, a subject in which I am quite experienced. So I gave them to a boy who had been hoping to win them.They would merely have adorned my shelves, but he could use them, and I enjoyed giving. Sometimes I donate books to a charity shop. As I buy second hand books, there is a good reason to sell to second hand shops.

blackspanielgallery on 07/06/2015

I have eliminated numerous books, some of which I worked on as a reviewer or ancillary writer. Keeping the first one seemed like a good idea, but they soon had a way of multiplying. How many calculus books can one person use?

NateB11 on 02/04/2014

I've got a bookcase pretty well-full of books, but clutter everywhere else. Good advice here for those of us who are readers and collectors of books. I have to admit, sometimes I really like to have a physical book in hand as opposed to reading online. But I might be better off with an e-reader so I can save space and have a handy collection of books wherever and whenever I want them.

April_M on 01/30/2014

Let me know if any of them work!

WriterArtist on 01/25/2014

I have a huge pile of books waiting to be sorted - I think I will try to use these ideas for creating space.

April_M on 01/25/2014

Dustytoes - some will take them yes, but be really careful about sending them anything that isn't current and/or useful, you're just passing the responsibility to dispose of them on, otherwise, speaking as an ex school librarian!

dustytoes on 01/25/2014

Libraries and schools will take your books too. I just unpacked a big box of old books that belonged to my kids. Some are keepers but many I plan to donate.

Kathleen on 01/23/2014

YES!! Have fun. It will bring back good memories!

April_M on 01/23/2014

7th guest is on itunes!

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