How to Declutter Books — The 3 Steps to Edit Down Your Library and Embrace More Minimalist Shelves

Give your bookshelf a much needed purge to start 2024 off on the right foot

A living room with a built in library
(Image credit: Jason Schmidt. Studio credit Delson or Sherman Architects pc)

Most avid readers tend to hold onto everything they've read. There's no doubt that books can hold sentimental value and it can be difficult to let go of your favorites, but a space can quickly become cluttered if you don't make the time for regular audits. 

Decluttering a bookshelf can be a daunting task to tackle, but in 2024 we're all about embracing our inner minimalist and decluttering those areas of our home we have been avoiding. For many of us, that pertains to our overcrowded bookcases. Shelves that are bursting at the seams are not an aesthetic we're willing to tolerate any longer in our modern living rooms

To help you conquer the task, we've spoken to some professional organizers who share their advice on how to tackle decluttering your book collection. Follow this three-step guide to achieve a beautifully ordered bookshelf and start 2024 off on the right foot. 

1. Take them all off the shelves

den library lighting scheme

(Image credit: Gachot / Nicole Franzen)

Whatever the project, knowing where to start decluttering is always the hardest part. 'The easiest way to start decluttering your books is by taking them all off the shelves,' says Amanda Wiss, Founder of NYC-based home organizing company Urban Clarity. This way you are forced to face the task and you can easily audit your entire collection. 

Once your shelves are clear you will have a better vision of the task you're facing. Seeing all your books on the floor and viewing the amount of space you could potentially have by cutting down will also work to motivate you during the task. If you're still finding it too overwhelming, tackle a small section at a time by decluttering a single shelf each day to make the project more manageable.

2. Make three piles

A living room with a built in shelf for books

(Image credit: Renato Navarro. Studio credit Ticiane Lima Arquitetura e Interiores)

Once you have all your books in front of you, it's time to start the culling process. 'Begin to sort into three piles,' says Amanda, 'definite, maybe, and donate'. The key to doing this effectively is not spending too much time deliberating over what to keep. 'Do this quickly, even if it means most of your books end up in the “maybe” pile,' advises Amanda.

During this process, you can also consider what you want from your bookshelf. Is it a practical place to store your favorite books or purely for aesthetics? 'Decide if you want your bookshelf to be filled with books, or have more of a decorative look to them,' notes Amanda. 'This will drastically change how many books you’ll fit on each shelf.' We love decorating bookshelves to create interesting focal points, so why not declutter your book collection and make space for other decor items among your shelves?

3. Ask, 'Why should I keep this book?'

A library with animal patterned rug and arm chairs

(Image credit: Douglas Friedman NICOLEHOLLIS)

Finally, it's time to tackle the 'maybe' pile, but instead of asking what you'll get rid of, ask yourself, 'Why should I keep this book?' Some books are easy to toss, but when you get down to the harder decisions this question will cut through the noise.

'It's always better to focus on why you're keeping a book,' says professional organizer Ben Soreff from House 2 Home Organizing. 'Often after reviewing in context it's pretty easy to let go of a book called 'How to use the very first iPhone!' he says. This decluttering tip will prove especially helpful when it comes to books that you've been holding onto for a long time. 

Now you can finally streamline your shelves for a bookcase that showcases your most worthy reads. Use this guide several times a year or wherever your collection grows out of control and we guarantee your space will look so much more organized. 

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Amy McArdle
News writer

Amy recently completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London, with experience writing for Women’s lifestyle publications across arts, culture, and beauty. She has a particular love for the minimalist aesthetic mixed with mid-century furniture, especially combining unique vintage finds with more modern pieces. Her previous work in luxury jewellery has given her a keen eye for beautiful things and clever design, that plays into her love of interiors. As a result, Amy will often be heard justifying homeware purchases as 'an investment', wise words to live by.