24 April 2020

Managing My Book Collection the Painless Way

Culling books with Beth Fish ReadsI have a confession to make: I used to be a book hoarder. I found it painful to take books out of my house, even those I had read and didn't like; even those I knew I'd never read, ever; even those yellowed, falling-apart paperbacks from my undergrad days. Even, dare I admit, old textbooks!

Did you notice I said used to be a book hoarder? That's right. I'm a recovering bookaholic. In the last week I cut my book collection down by at least half. No more double-deep bookshelves. No more books on the floor or on the stairs. And, in fact, I even have one completely empty bookshelf!

Was it painful? Only a tiny bit. Was it easy? Actually it wasn't all that hard. Did I discover a life-changing trick? Why, yes I did. And I'm happy to share my process and discoveries with you.

Here is my guide to reformation and a tidy, uncluttered house.

First Steps

My initial approach to thinning my book collection was to follow some of my own advice from five years ago, which I provided in a post on culling books and another post on fine-tuning the process. In particular:

  • I gave away almost all ARCs older than 2 years
  • I gave away most of my books from high school and college, except beloved favorites and books with high sentimental value.
  • I gave away most of the books I've already read but didn't love enough to read again.
At the same time, I didn't bother with all the extra steps I used to take.
  • I haven't updated Library Thing or Libib or in years, and I don't really plan to look at either of those databases again.
  • I didn't look at my Calibre app or my Dropbox folders. Ebooks are for another day.
Key Mindset

I had to keep reminding myself that I was ridding my house of a replaceable commodity. As much as I love books and love having a book-filled house (on the shelves, please), it was important to remember that books are not a one-time deal.
Books are available at my local independent bookstore or at my local library.
Once I fully took that simple and obvious statement to heart, it was pretty easy to say good-bye to a lot of books, especially books I hadn't read since college.

Biggest Worry / Ultimate Goal

One of my biggest stumbling blocks was being afraid that I'd forget about books I wanted to read. As I was culling, I'd find myself saying (more than once), "Oh, yes, that book, I bet I'd love it. If I get rid of it, I'll never remember to read it."

That started me down the path of old habits, thinking I had to scan those books into Library Thing or start a spread sheet or create a list or table document. All were processes that were going to take time or brain power and that had to be maintained. I knew I was setting myself up for failure--yet again.
I needed something better, easier, quicker, and more useful.
Key Discovery

Culling books with Beth Fish ReadsMeanwhile, before packing up some of my ARCs and disintegrating, ancient paperbacks, I checked my library to see about availability in case I wanted to read (or reread) those titles. While I was on Overdrive I made a life-changing discovery.

Did you know Overdrive has a wish list? Do you know what that wish list is for?

Overdrive's wish list is for keeping track of the books you want to read. You simply search for a title or author. If your library has a copy of the book, you click on the book cover and then click on the "Add to my wish list" button. That's all there is to it.

When you view your wish list, you see the covers of the books you want to read, which ones are available to borrow right away, and which ones have a wait list (along with an estimated time you'll have to wait).

If you need to know more about a book, click on the cover, and you'll find the description. If the book is part of series, you'll also find a list of the other titles in the series.
Overdrive's wish list will hold 5000 titles.
The best part was there was no scanning bar codes, no adding tags to books, no typing in descriptions. And, of course, Overdrive understands readers don't want limits, we can keep a wish list of thousands of titles.

Putting It All Together

The vast majority of the books I culled went into bags and boxes without a second thought. As I said, however, some books evoked an in-between response: I wanted to make sure I didn't forget about them, but I wasn't sure I wanted them to take up bookshelf space. I set those books aside.

When I needed a break taking books out of the bookcases, dusting, sorting, bagging, and reshelving, I turned to that stack of books I put in limbo. I looked up the titles on Overdrive; if my library had a copy, I put it on my wish list and let it go. If my library did not have a copy, I made a final decision and put the book on a shelf or in a giveaway box.

Now my bookshelves are filled with books I loved and must keep forever, books I truly want to read, and new(ish) review copies I have every intention of reading, reviewing, or featuring on my blog or Instagram. My Overdrive wish list (easy to access via computer, tablet, or phone) is holding books I don't want to forget about.
I reached peace with my book collection.
I'll leave you with an interesting fact: You'll never guess how many books ended up on my wish list at the library. I was a bit shocked to see that despite giving away hundreds of books, only 64 (yes, you read that right) books are on my Overdrive wish list. I tried hard to be realistic about what I'll read as I slow down my work life, and I think I did a great job.

Hope I helped you come to terms with your own overflowing book shelves. Let me know!


Karen White 4/24/20, 7:39 AM  

VERY excited to learn about the Overdrive wish list. I do wonder what I'd do if my library doesn't have the book I'm interested in - which happens a lot because we have a relatively small library. I'm assuming you don't like to use Goodreads to keep track of books you want to read for some reason?

rhapsodyinbooks 4/24/20, 8:23 AM  

When we moved this year we did a huge amount of culling of books, and it was very painful, because you just know that you will want at least some of them again later! Alas, we reasoned that we couldn't afford the extra square footage just to store books that were "just in case" books! But of course we miss them anyway!

JoAnn 4/24/20, 8:52 AM  

Congratulations! I cut my book collection in half last fall when we sold our house... painful at times, but so necessary. The Overdrive wishlist was key for me, too.

Mae Travels 4/24/20, 9:21 AM  

We reduced our book collection a few years ago -- gave away or pulped a large quantity. We were motivated by having our attic painted and re-carpeted, meaning we had to box most of our books for a while. When I put them back on the shelves I alphabetized the fiction, which has been useful.

Since then, I have wanted to read exactly one book that was dumped -- and it was free or very cheap to acquire it as a kindle book.

So good luck to you and anyone who does this!

be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

(Diane) bookchickdi 4/24/20, 9:25 AM  

I reorganized my massive book collection last month. I sent books to my family members that I know they would enjoy- the person in line behind me at the post office machine must have been annoyed at all of my packages going out. I have lots that I will send photos to friends in the neighborhood in case they want to read them while they are stuck inside. The rest of my giveaways will have to wait until the Book Cellar reopens when I can donate them. Stay safe.

Molly 4/24/20, 9:40 AM  

I started using the Libby app about eighteen months ago (before my great book purge of 2019 where I gave away 17 sacks of books!) and I adore the wishlist feature. I also like that I can add custom lists for easier access to a title or author I'm in the mood to read.

Sometimes I think I was a little over-zealous in my biblio-downsizing. On more than one occasion I realized I no longer had the book I wanted to read. While I can (and do) borrow the ebook, I must confess the photos of my Kindle Paperwhite are not well-suited to Instagram posts. And I do miss take pictures of book hauls :)

Debra Eliotseats 4/24/20, 10:05 AM  

I can relate and while I appreciate your suggestions, I am still a book hoarder. I can say the only textbook I have is my massive Shakespeare one and I do pass on quite a few books to friends after reading. (I find it comforting to have books stacked around the house.) :) Be well!

bermudaonion 4/24/20, 11:17 AM  

I've been culling my books, too. It was kind of hard at first but it's rather liberating now. The problem now is where to take them. Our spare bedroom is full of stacks for different people and to donate.

sherry fundin 4/24/20, 1:41 PM  

i've been trying to cull my books too. it is sooooo hard to give up even one. i have thought of having mr wonderful build me a little library. not sure how many people would even use it, but i do have plenty of books to put in one. sounds like you are on the right track
and i appreciate any helpful hints
sherry @ fundinmental

Kay 4/24/20, 2:40 PM  

I've let go of the vast majority of my books in print. My Kindle has a lot, but that's how I mostly read these days. Good to know about the Overdrive wish list - don't think I knew about that. I kept one big bookcase with my most precious books - old ones from childhood and signed books by authors and the like. I'm satisfied with that. You wrote a good guide to 'letting go' here.

Vicki 4/24/20, 2:52 PM  

I did the same thing a little over a year ago when I moved from a 2400 sq. ft. house to one that is a little over 800 sq. ft. Now my collection will fit in a few bookshelves, not in a few rooms.

I knew about the Overdrive wish list and I'm glad you found it! It helps me keep track of books I really want to read.

Les in Oregon 4/24/20, 4:48 PM  

I did a major purge when we moved to Oregon three years ago, which felt rather liberating. Since then, I've very slowly added new books to my shelves, but for the most part, I'm either reading what I own or borrowing from the library. I should follow your example and give away almost all ARCs older than 2 years. One of my 2020 goals was to read one ARC (starting with the oldest) every month. I think I managed to do that in January. :)

Jackie McGuinness 4/25/20, 10:15 AM  

I was a book hoarder before e-books. Also downsizing made me get rid of most books. I almost never buy a book these days, we both do our reading from the library.
I do like buying cookbooks however and we do have a shelf of travel guides.

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! 4/25/20, 10:17 AM  

I enjoyed your story of culling and book removal. We went through this when we left our home on the peninsula for a year of travel as park volunteers. But I have to say I miss the presence of those books in my current home...

Lisbeth 4/26/20, 4:44 AM  

I understand fully, I have done the same. Earlier I moved every 3-4 years and did give away thousands of books since I felt I could not move them all over the world. As I have now moved to a flat, I really have no space.
My new routine is to keep most of the non-fiction books (which is about half now, I think). For the fiction books, I keep those I really love, and the rest (most of them actually) I give away.
As you say, the library has most books. I have noticed now, that when I have a smaller number of books (there are still around 5-600 books) I tend to them more. Dusting, cleaning, rearranging, and so on. I feel much lighter!

Elisabeth 4/26/20, 2:37 PM  

I, too am a reformed book hoarder. The best thing I have done moving forward is to make a few specific shelves where I keep the books I want to read. This way I don’t have to go hunting for them - they are all in one place. I also try very hard to only buy books that are special- I have become a library addict!

Katherine P 4/26/20, 6:37 PM  

Impressive! I'm good about not keeping books I've read and know I want reread but getting rid of books I haven't read is torture!

Daryl 4/27/20, 1:02 PM  

since you got me hooked on Audible i have worried less about wanting to re-read some book i donated ..i donate books to both hospices and my local NYC pubic library .. win win win

Tina 5/1/20, 10:56 AM  

Great tips. I did not know about Overdrive wish list so thank you for that. I have been keeping up with my lists on Goodreads, that has been working so far for me.

Before the virus was taking over our lives I had committed to dropping books off with my Bookcrossing label to see where they traveled. Alas, the books I have dropped off locally have not been entered as "found" and I think people don't want to pick up a book when they don't know where it's been. Grrr

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