How to Weed Books: A Guide

A new apartment, a new member of the family, an ever-alarming fire hazard, or just the desire to take stock of what’s exactly in those piles. As difficult (or unthinkable!) as the idea feels, there are good, important reasons for weeding your books.

It’s often difficult, we know. But whether by choice or necessity, the process doesn’t have to be traumatic. Reading Group Choices shares these strategies for de-cluttering your collection: how to decide what to put aside, and then how to make the break with your books!

Ways to Weed

First, there’s the question of what to keep — and what to give away. Daunted by the idea? Consider these tips…

Identify your available space.

Decide how much room you actually have for your books. Is it three tall bookcases, two nightstands, and one desk? Then use that space as a guideline or limit for what to keep. This approach may give you a visual container to work from, instead of the opposite… a mass of books that won’t seem to fit into any space.

Tips for weeding books

Invite a decision maker.

It can be scary to let go of books, but you don’t have to do it alone! A second opinion is valuable when weeding, especially when that person is not emotionally invested. You may own six copies of the first Little House volume (just in case…), but a trusted friend can help you see why three may be more than enough.

Divide and conquer.

Break down the collection into smaller categories, to make the task more manageable. Sci-fi, mystery. College texts, cookbooks. Focus on one genre at a time. Separate the to-be-read titles and determine how long they’ve been waiting: if more than one year, two, or three, and if they’re available at the library, then you’ll have the chance to find them again. Consider those gifts you received from well-meaning family and friends, the ones you never intended to keep. All are good candidates to begin the process.

And while you sort, remind yourself, as librarians do, that a book collection is a living organism.

Letting Books Go

Sorting is the first part, but making the physical break with your books is the second (and maybe harder) part. These approaches may help!

Tips for weeding booksOut of sight, out of mind.

Fill a box or two of potential books to weed and then store them in a place you seldom use: a basement, a high closet shelf, offsite storage. And then forget about them, or set a date at least several months in the future and write it on the box. When you come across or open the boxes later, ask yourself if you missed any of the titles. The extra time and distance may help make the break and remove the immediate emotions that often accompany letting go of objects we think we can’t live without.

Throw a party!

Take the books you’re getting rid of and host a picnic or party with friends and book lovers. Wrap up bundles of “surprise” books, write clues on the packaging and have fun challenging others to guess the titles or authors. And then give them away as prizes! It’s an enjoyable way to send your books off in style. And the presence of trusted friends can make the process more relaxed.

Walk down the Street.Little Free Library in Sandy Spring Georgia

Fortunately there are excellent options for giving new life to your books. Walk that box down to the nearest Little Free Library, where you can be sure other eager readers will find them (and share their own extra tomes in turn). You can do this a few books at a time, to lessen the shock. Also, check with your library and local bookstore, which may accept books for fundraising sales, and know that your books are contributing to a good cause. Or participate in a garage sale and enjoy personally putting your books into the hands of others, like a bookseller for a day!

Old Books, New Books

Paring down doesn’t have to be painful. It can be an opportunity to revisit and reflect on the reading experiences you’ve had. And once you pare down, you’ll be able to invite new, wonderful books into your space. Ready to weed? Enjoy!


Looking for more tips for you and your book group? Browse our advice posts here!