One of my biggest book-lover dilemmas is that I cannot read my books as fast as I can add them (to my wish lists, to my kindle, to my shelf). Wanting to clear some space mentally and physically, I did a little Spring cleaning of my TBR pile.
For me, my TBR pile is more than just the books on my shelf, it’s also the overstuffed kindle, the library hold list, the Litsy (and LibraryThing and Goodreads) TBR list and the physical notes that I’ve made when someone has recommended a book. As a bit of a minimalist by nature, I find clutter of all kinds to be distracting and stressful. As a bookworm, I find a growing TBR pile to be inevitable.
Step One: Consolidate
Consolidating seemed like an easy first step, but proved to be remarkably complicated. So, I had to break this down into smaller steps.
First, I needed to get all the books in one place. I moved all the physical books I owned into a single room. My Kindle books were easier: I keep all my unread books on the device and delete them as I read, so that was already done. Finally, the wish lists, notes and tags. Here’s where things got a little crazy. I have electronic lists everywhere! On amazon I keep a wish list, I keep a TBR list on Litsy, my library’s website, on Audible and LibraryThing. Oh, and I have notes of books friends recommend. Notes. Plural. With the help of several open windows on my mac, I was ready for action.
Next, I got rid of all the duplicates. This alone took about 50 books off my lists. It was a bit laborious because, honestly, I never really found an efficient way to do it.
Step Two: Getting Real About my TBR
Even after dumping duplicates, I had over 300 books still on my TBR. Time to get real about which books in these piles I actually want to keep. I started with my wish list. I figured this would be the easy part, since I hadn’t actually bought the books, yet and might be less inclined to hold on to them for that reason. But, in reality, this was the largest trove. At first, I looked at every book and read the description and wondered why I had it on the list, and so on. Pretty quickly, I realized that this was going to get me absolutely nowhere fast. So, I reached way down and grabbed hold of my inner Marie Kondo. (She wrote The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, for those of you who haven’t heard of her. Her book is based on her Japanese heritage and encourages courageous decluttering keeping only those things that are in good repair and that bring you joy. Her principals about books are very close to the idea that if you are not reading the book at this very moment and enjoying it, it goes in the rubbish pile. Well, not quite – but close.) Here was my rule: does this book appeal to me RIGHT NOW? If not, just delete. My thinking is this: if it’s a great book for me to read, I’ll come across it again and read it when it is more appealing. For now, let’s just lighten the load.
Next stop: my kindle. I found that I could apply the same rule to these and delete those that are not currently appealing from my devise. This was the easiest group to cull, because, if I ever change my mind, –no worries — the book lives on the cloud in my collection. Onward and upward.
Finally, I got to my physical books. These were a little tougher for me. I do have some issues with the idea of sunk costs. Intellectually, I understand that the price of these books have already been paid, therefore it doesn’t actually cost me anything more to pass them along. But, practically, I have a bit of trouble with passing along books that I have bought but not read. There are some books on this stack that I’ve never read but continue to pass on every time I’m looking for something to read. So, away they went, most of them to the little free libraries in the neighborhood.
What was I left with? Along with a pretty darn good feeling of accomplishment, my TBR pile was now down to a total of 185 books! And, by looking through what I own, I know I’m excited about reading all of them.
Step Three: Making New Habits
As I was cleaning up my TBR I realized that I would have to make some changes moving forward in order to keep things organized and under control. Primarily, I needed three things: a better system for keeping track of books I may want to read; some book acquisition strategies; and motivation for reading down my newly trimmed TBR pile.
I have many bookish peeps who keep track of all of their books on the Goodreads app. Honestly, I’m not sure that it really matters which system is used, the important thing is that ONLY ONE is being used (lets just say I was using significantly more than one). Ultimately, I decided to keep things on an Amazon wish list to keep track for these reasons:
(1) Electronic lists are the way to go since they are easily accessible at home or on the go. Goodbye, paper lists.
(2) Amazon is a quick and easy reference to the publisher blurbs.
(3) Amazon’s wish list has a comment section which I can use to remind me who recommended a book or why; if my library has a copy that I can put on hold; or if I want to listen to the book on audio instead of reading a physical copy.
(4) Some of my recommendations come from online sources, that often link directly to the Amazon entry for a book, so all I have to do is hit a single button to add it once I read the description.
(5) And, I save the kindle edition of the book to my wish list, so that I can scroll through from time to time and can easily see if something I want to read is on sale!
Next, I needed to figure out how to decrease the number of books that I was purchasing but not immediately reading. Here are a few guidelines I’ve come up with for myself:
(1) Beware of one-click buying. I’m a sucker for the kindle deals that come out. And can easily fall prey to the one-click buying. So, I’m trying very hard not to check the daily deals. Instead, I can check my wish list and see if any of the books there are on sale. And, if a book is available at my library (even if there is a long hold list), I don’t buy it. Period. Finally, when I slip and get a little too excited about what seems like a great deal, I take advantage of Amazon’s return policy. Just bought three new under $4 books and regret it the next day? Return them. You have 7 days for late night click remorse.
(2) Use the Library! To keep my physical pile down to something manageable (and to make sure I actually want to read a book that I order or buy on a whim, I use the library. My new rule is that I will get a library book rather than purchase whenever possible. Especially for new books. And a correlated thing: if I don’t read the book when it comes in for me, I don’t add it back to any list. Again, it’ll come around later if it’s meant to be. It’s so much easier for me to bail on a library book that’s not really working or return one early that now that it’s in my hot little hands doesn’t quite feel as appealing as something else on my shelf.
(3) Buy locally! I read that local bookstores can stay in business if their customers buy 12 books per year. So, in my mind, I have 12 books to buy locally at full price each year and if I’m in a bookstore and want to buy one, I’ll do it!! I love these stores and when I’m paying full price, I’m not tempted to buy a book just because it’s a deal. Win-win all around.
Now that things are down to a manageable level, I’m excited to read the books I have. I enjoy having books in progress in lots of different formats (kindle, physical book, audiobook) and I’m making a more concerted effort to made sure that at least one or two books that I have going at any time are coming from Mount TBR. I’ve also set a goal for myself to read through 85 of these books this year. That may be a little ambitious considering my love for the latest thing on the shelf, but I can already (after just a few weeks) see that some of my strategies are working and I’m passing on some of the new, shiny books for the time being in favor of some of the great titles I have in my pile.