Columns > Published on March 14th, 2019

22 Unorthodox Methods For Tidying Your Book Collection

I picked up a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a bit. Most times when this happens, I don’t actually know how long the book’s been on the shelf. But this time, a few pages in, I found the original receipt stuffed inside.

Guys, I have a couple months to read it before I’ve owned it, unread, for a decade.

This means that my current methods of tidying up my book collection are not working. Because I shouldn’t have something unread for 10 years. I don’t even know if I’ll like it, and I’m carting it around for a decade? No less than 5 moves? Up and down stairs? Just so it can sit there and, what, mock me?

It’s time for a change. A rash, extreme, unwise change. Konmari is great and all. I think she's on the right track, looking to emotion rather than logic or concrete methods to get rid of stuff. But I need something a little more...stupid.

Here are some unorthodox methods for tidying your book collection.

1. U-Pay-It

Self-storage is one of the biggest scams in human history. And yes, human history has some pretty big scams, such as Yankee Candle and Airpods.

Start charging yourself for your book storage. Count up your books, and pay a buck a book to “store” them every month. Put the money towards something that sucks like student loans or car payments. Point being you can’t use it for pizza or booze or booze-scented Yankee Candles. Every book you get rid of gives you a little cash back. If it helps, feel free to take on the persona of a self-storage manager, which involves sitting at a card table in your garage next to a space heater while you smoke a cigar. 

2. Brutal Ranking

I had this great idea for arranging public library books that nobody gets on board with: Shelve the books from best to worst. That way, whenever someone comes in, they don’t have to go far to find something good. Or they can choose to work their way up, reading better books each time they stop in.

Unimaginative people always criticize this idea by asking who will decide which books are “best” based on which criteria. Stop living so rooted in harsh reality! Dream a little!

The good news is you can do this at home to help you with your book problem. Arrange your books from best to worst. Eliminate the worse half, third, whatever. Just make sure you decide how much to eliminate BEFORE you rank, otherwise you’ll be too kind.

3. Thunderdome

It’s March Madness!

Set up a bracket of all your books that matches them up in battles. Two books enter, one book leaves. Eliminate all except the Final [whatever number you choose, preferably beginning with an “F”].

4. Turn Around, Bright Eyes

There’s this method for cutting down your closet that involves turning all of your hangers backwards (so the hook faces you instead of the wall). When you wear something, you turn the hanger back the right way. After a preset time interval, you get rid of anything still on a backwards hanger as it’s obvious you never wear that stuff.

Turn your books around on your shelf. Give yourself a set amount of time to be looking for them. When you go looking for a title and find it, turn it around. Everything that’s not turned around, you probably didn’t miss, and it can go.

5. Call My Mom

My mom would secretly throw out handfuls of my toys when I was a kid. She figured I wouldn’t notice. Of course, she was totally wrong, and she had a kid who collected Spider-Man action figures all through junior high, but she meant well.

Call my mom to come over when you’re out and just chuck a couple books. Or tell whoever is the equivalent in your life to do that. If you don’t even know they’re gone, you didn’t need ‘em.

6. Catalog

Force yourself to catalog your entire collection. Use a spreadsheet, Goodreads, doesn’t matter. The point is, you’ll pick up some books that you won’t want to do the work of cataloguing. Which is a pretty good sign that you don’t want them all that much.

7. One In, One Out

A new book comes home? An old one’s got to go. It’s a system as simple as eating and pooping, which works. Mostly.

8. Write ‘Em Down

You remember your kids’ names, right?

Go away from home. To a coffee shop or something. Write down as many titles in your book collection as you can remember. These are your “Save” list. Hey, if they’re important, you’ll remember. You remember your kids’ names, right? Anything you couldn’t remember gets tossed.

9. Quiz Time

Have a loved one pick a book off the shelf, open to a random page and read aloud for 90 seconds. If you can’t identify the title or author, you don’t love it all that much. Pitch it. Go through your whole collection like this.

10. Hall Pass

Make a set of hall passes for your books. Pick a quantity. Make them nice. Get actual business cards printed. Slip a pass inside each and every book you intend to keep. Run out of passes? Any book without a hall pass gots to go.

Six months from now, make a new set of hall passes, remove the old ones and place the new ones inside every book you still intend to keep.

11. Books On Trial

Put on a suit. Set up a stand for your books. Start with one and put it on trial. Talk about why you’re keeping it. If the reason is “I intend to read it,” then you’d better be able to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you’re actually going to read it.

12. Books or…?

Count up your books. Let’s say you have an even 100. You must then eliminate 100 items from your home. The items you eliminate can be books or something else. So, if you eliminate 50 books, you have to eliminate 50 other items from your home. If you eliminate 90 books, then you only have to rid yourself of 10 items. If you can’t part with any of your books, you must get rid of 100 other items to make room.

13. Kitty Help

Look up your books on Worldcat. If 10 or more libraries have it in your country, it’s abundant, accessible, and you probably don’t need to hang onto it.

14. The Stripper Rule

If a book on your shelf can be had by simply stuffing a buck in Amazon’s “Available From These Sellers” G-string, lose it.

15. Ball And Chain

Pick up a book. It stays with you all day. Carry it everywhere. If you decide it’s not worth it, it’s a goner. Tomorrow, pick up the next book.

16. Apocalypse

Pretend you’re in an apocalyptic situation. You can use one vessel (box, bin, backpack, whatever) to save as many books as you can cram in. Which do you save and why? Actually pack this bag. Keep the titles that make the cut, chuck the rest.

17. Hernia City, U.S.A., Population: You

What’s the maximum amount of weight you can lift? It can be a one-rep max or an amount spread out over reps, but whatever that weight limit is, that’s your weight limit for books as well. Look up the weights on Amazon and either get shredded or get rid of some books.

18. Let God Sort Them Out

God’s probably got nothing better to do than help you sort out your overflowing book collection, a situation you caused for yourself.

Take a random handful of books, put them out on the porch. If they get rained on, wrecked, or stolen, God has spoken. If, in the morning, they’re untouched, welcome them back into the fold.

19. Calling All Total Nerds

Create a D&D-style campaign wherein the quest is to save your books. Do your best, save as many as you can, and deal with the real-life consequences.

20. G-G-G-G-Ghosts!

I won’t rest until one dictionary officially lists an alternate pronunciation of the word “ghost” as “g-g-g-g-g-ɡōst.”

Get a Ouija board. Whatever letter it navigates to first, get rid of a book with that letter starting out the title.

21. Cashnado

You know those booths where cash blows around and you try to collect it? Rent one of those bad boys, write the names of your books on slips of paper, and keep as many as you can collect in one minute.

22. Rogues’ Gallery

Line up your books, get one of these rad decision-making-coins and make like Two-Face.

As a last note, I put up a column about donating books a bit back, and if you're looking for some tips, look no further. 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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