Why is it so hard to declutter books?

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If you’ve read my previous post, I’ve explored how to declutter your books, however, in that post I never fully explored why is it so darn hard to declutter books.

In this post, I wanted to explore why we (or myself in particular) struggle to declutter books and perhaps with identifying the “why’s” I could be better at executing the decluttering bit in future times. Hopefully.

Why is it so hard to declutter books?

And what to say to the excuses.

Sentimental value:

It’s normal to have books that hold sentimental value. Perhaps there’s an emotional attachment to the book due to someone gifting you that copy, reading it at a critical time in life, the content of the book… There are many reasons as to why a possession holds sentimental value. When faced with holding a book that possesses sentimental value, identify your “why” first. Why does this book hold sentimental value? Why do you want to own it? Once identifying that, ask yourself: does owning this book make me happy? Has this book serve its purpose (whether that purpose is, up to you)?

Decluttering possessions that hold sentimental value is the hardest as we most often have an emotional connection to it (either memories, evoking feelings, etc.). In saying that, it is okay to hold on or to pass on something that has sentimental value to you. Only you can make that choice.

The “but what if?” scenario:

But what if I need to refer to this book later? But what if I’ll read this and love it and want to keep it?

First, take a step back and be realistic with yourself, your goals, and your time. In this golden digital time of the internet, we have endless access to information and resources. Most often, we are able to access books more than once. Furthermore, our time is limited. Remember, plenty books are easily replaceable either via buying another copy (digital, hardcopy) or through a library (if you have access). And most often than not, you can replace the book if you ever do need to refer to it later. Your time and your space is limited.

Books are part of my identity!:

As a book lover, I know I love books and being surrounded by books. It’s so comforting to be surrounded by your favourite things. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. However, when it becomes overwhelming to the point it feels like clutter the feelings of warmth and happiness can start to blur. As a book lover, I want to be surrounded by books. However, it is important to remember this:

You are not defined by material items.

Whilst loving books is perfectly fine, owning many possessions doesn’t necessarily reflect the value or love you hold for something. If it is weighing you down, perhaps curate the space for your absolute favourites and thereby creating the extra specialness of the collection.

Exclusive editions:

I currently subscribe to a few book boxes where limited special exclusive editions are released. These editions are gorgeous and special (signed, author letter, exclusive art, etc.) and for me, it adds to the experience of the book. Over time, it’s easy to continuously hold on to these editions as they are exclusive and special, however, over time it can get overwhelming. Despite me not reading the book or even loving it, it’s harder for me to let go of these books as they are exclusive editions. What then? In this stance it’s important to know your priorities and your ‘whys’:

  • Why do you want to own exclusive editions?
  • Why do you want to own exclusive editions despite not loving the book itself?
  • Does owning this particular (although special/exclusive) edition bring you joy?
  • Can you use this space for something else you would love more?

I admit I really struggle with decluttering. I’m from the background where things were limited so that’s where my mindset on saving and holding on to things stem from. Consequently, it’s difficult for me to let go of things. Here, identifying and exploring the why’s may will help with navigating reasons as to when to hold on to something or when to let go of it. For me, this post is quite helpful as it reminds me that I want to curate my collection, space and time with my absolute favourite books.

Do you find it hard to declutter your books?

How do you declutter your books?

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Defining book clutter and the benefits of decluttering books

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There’s a common bookish saying “there’s no such thing as too many books” and I used to live by it. Used to. Why? Living in a small apartment and allocating certain spaces for books makes it hard to live by that statement because I am drowning in too many books! And whilst I love having too many books I can’t maintain owning too many books in my home!

First, let’s define “clutter”:

“Clutter” is defined to be a collection of many objects that are in a state of disorder (REF). Therefore, in regards to books, would “book clutter” be the state of having many messy book piles? Or am I just messy? Where’s the line between book clutter and not book clutter? Before joining Bookstagram, Book blogging, and BookTok, I was quite messy with my bookshelves and hardly ever organised my book spaces. Would that space count as book clutter?

I want to differentiate “owning a messy book pile” from “book declutter”. As a book lover, there is a difference.

When does a book pile become “book clutter”?

Defining “book clutter”:

In this case, I refer the term “book clutter” to be the state where one owns books to the point of chaos, more specifically, when books take up too much of your physical space and/or mental space in a negative manner.

What counts as book clutter?
  • Books that no longer serve their purpose for you (no longer useful/needed, damaged, etc.)
  • Books that have no emotional connection to you and can be easily replaced or removed from your collection
  • When owning certain books give you anxiety or stress
Why should I declutter my books?

There are numerous benefits of decluttering books. Some benefits include the following:

Benefits of decluttering:

Reduce stress and anxiety

Studies noted a link between clutter and increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Therefore, there’s a possibility that greater clutter can lead to greater stress.

However, it’s also important to note that untidy environments are necessarily a bad thing. Research found that sometimes untidy environments can promote creativeness and innovation.

Different people have different perceptions of what clutter is. I find that it’s important to be aware of your own needs and wants in regards to your space and home. Having a sweet balance between untidy and order is important.

Help cleanse your mind

Building upon the previous point, a cluttered space can lead to a cluttered mind and can feel overwhelming when faced to address it. With less mental clutter to distract or occupy your time and energy, you can instead focus it on things that serve you purpose or bring you joy.

Simplify your living

By decluttering you can simplify your living, meaning living simply can result in being more accessible to your belongings, possessing less, and creating more space.

Clearing book clutter means less stuff and therefore less stuff to maintain and manage, and as a result, can give you more control in your life.

Sometimes it’s not practical owning mountains of unfinished, unread, and/or unloved books everywhere. Decluttering books can create more space. The positive aspect of creating more space enables you to curate and refine your bookshelf with books you really love and want.

Boost productivity and creativity

Clearing clutter can help with your focus by removing external stimuli, lessening visual distractions, and reducing decision fatigue.

Potentially save money

During and/or after the decluttering process can help you realise your spending habits and therefore adjust accordingly. You may be spending unnecessarily and realise that after seeing how many books you have accumulated versus how many of those books you’ve actually read. Decluttering can help you be more mindful of purchases.

Furthermore, you could potentially make money whilst decluttering by selling books.

Improve your health

Clearing your space can also lessen the dust and allergens in your space and therefore improve the overall air quality in the house.

Practising gratitude and mindfulness

Decluttering can be seen as a form of self-care. With less focus on the stuff, you can use your time on things that truly matter to you—ensuring your lifestyle is aligned with your values and priorities. Removing the unnecessary items in your life can give you more freedom and you may appreciate more of what you have (practising gratitude).

Again, I want to highlight that it is important to identify your own definition of clutter and your own wants and needs regarding your space. What May work for me may not work for someone else.

Anyway, I hope this post helps you with your journey of book decluttering or at least serves you with some information.

I write this post to help identify “book clutter” in my life and emphasis the benefits of decluttering so I can move it and declutter my space.

Do you declutter your books? Or, do you have any tips?

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  1. Roster, C. A., Ferrari, J. R., & Jurkat, M. P. (2016). The dark side of home: Assessing possession ‘clutter’ on subjective well-being. The Journal of Environmental Psychology, 46, pp. 32—41. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272494416300159
  2. Roster, C. A. & Ferrari, J. R. (2020). Does work stress lead to office clutter, and how? Mediating influences of emotional exhaustaion and indecision. North American Journal of Psychology, 22, 3, pp. 441—454. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518823041
  3. Ouellette, L. (2019). Spark Joy? Compulsory Happiness and the Feminist Politics of Decluttering. Culture Unbound, 11,3–4, pp. 534—550. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3384/cu.2000.1525.191108
  4. Burgess, A., Frost, R. O., Marani, C., Gabrielson, I. (2018). Imperfection, indecision, and hoarding. Current Psychology, 37, 445–453. Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12144-017-9695-4