When I was younger, I used to think that spring cleaning was a myth my mom invented to force me to do a lot of housework every year. I still kind of think that, but the myth has stuck: every April I feel this weird itch to clean my house from top to bottom.
The cleaning part is easy, I just bust out the vacuum and go to town. The harder part is decluttering, specifically when it comes to my book collection. Because while I don’t really have an emotional attachment to all of those old dresses I toss out each year, books are another story.
Voracious readers will understand my pain. Despite my best efforts to not buy any more physical books, by the end of the year I usually have stacks of them piled up around my already-overcrowded bookshelves. But I’m once again cleaning house and that includes my book collection. Based on some hard-earned experience, here are a few tips for how to keep those bookshelves under control:
- Be Honest With Yourself
Are you really going to read that book your uncle gave you 10 years ago that you spilled coffee on once and is now all brown and sticky and kind of smells weird? Probably not. And do you really need that novel you read when you were fifteen that was maybe about witches and wasn’t very good but there’s a chance you might like it again in another 20 years? No. Look at your bookshelf and have a truly honest conversation with yourself about what should stay and what should go.
- Libraries are the Best Places on Earth
I do not understand why people aren’t just bursting into song about the joys of libraries as they walk down the streets. FREE. BOOKS. All you do is show up and you get rooms upon rooms of free books at your fingertips! Sure, you have to remember to return them, but my library lets you renew your haul digitally with a click of the mouse. And when I’m too lazy to walk the three blocks to the actual building (this happens more than I’d like to admit), I still have access to digital files that I can upload to my iPad. Libraries have saved me millions of dollars over the years, not to mention all the extra free space in my apartment.
- Toss Those Mass-Market Paperbacks
Any lover of genre fiction has stacks upon stacks of mass-market paperbacks lying around their house. It’s just so easy to pick up a title or two while in line at the grocery store or stuck at the airport. And while I always enjoy a quick romantic read, these easily-frayed paperbacks are not in it for the long haul. Plus, they’re an odd shape, and they don’t look so great stacked next to your hardcovers. Mass-market books are like the candy of literature: sweet and perfect in the moment, but it’s just not worth holding onto the wrapper. Keep the ones you cherish (I’m looking at you Bet Me), give the rest away to friends or even leave them in a box on the sidewalk. Let other people worry about where to store all those chunky little novels.
- Invest in e-books
I get it: some people love the smell and feel of a new book. But when you’re a serious reader, it just isn’t practical to only have physical books. I freaked out when I got my first Kindle, and bought about $400 worth of e-books in two days. That’s a whole other problem, but you get my point. E-books are a great way to hold onto titles for years and years without worrying about clutter or whether or not you’re going to have to carve a path to the bathroom made entirely of hardcovers.
- Turn Books into Decorations
I am not a big proponent of destroying books, even for art. But there’s no reason you can’t turn that stack of hardcovers into a makeshift side table, or stack some on your dresser and put a decorative candle holder on top. I have books tucked all over my house, arranged by colors or bookended by pretty glass bottles. Books can be the best way to decorate, in part because they always make me happy when I look at them. When I finally inherit those millions of dollars, I’m definitely buying this chair:
- Don’t Feel Too Guilty About that To-Be-Read Pile
There’s one pile I don’t touch that often and it’s my to-be-read pile. And sure, it’s probably the biggest pile in the room. But only really special books end up in that stack; those titles I’m dying to read that I just don’t have time for yet (because of all the other books I’m dying to read). I’ll decide whether or not to keep them after I give each book a shot, but for now, this pile stays.
Here are two on it right now that I swear I’m getting to soon:
Fire Touched: A Mercy Thompson Novel, Patricia Briggs (Ace Books, March 8)
I’ve read every Mercy Thompson book and I love, love, love them all. This is the latest of the nine novels, following the adventures of coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her soulmate Adam, the werewolf Alpha. The book came out last month and it’s been sitting on top of my bookshelf ever since. But this is one I will absolutely read (and probably keep!).
The Great Hunt: The Eurona Duology, Wendy Higgins (HarperTeen, March 8)
I’m a sucker for young adult fantasy retellings and for well-crafted love stories. I’ve only heard great things about Higgins’ latest, which is based on the Grimm Brothers’ Tale, “The Singing Bone.” This book promises brooding hunters, terrifying beasts and a deep romance that will have readers swooning. As soon as I finish my current read, I’m diving headfirst into The Great Hunt.