To Cull or Not to Cull? – A Book Lover’s Dilemma

Like most book lovers, I own far too many books. Unlike most, I haven’t reduced their number in a very long time. In my teens, I went through a radical culling phase and gave away and sold a fair amount. Since then . . . I just kept on adding to the piles.

Some people only keep unread books and favourite books. That’s not a bad option, only I’ve got tons of favourite books and/or books I hope to read again someday in the future. Nonetheless, I’m sure I could find at least 500 I will never ever read again. Not because they were not good, but because life’s just too short and my TBR pile easily surpasses that number, which means I’m more likely to read something I haven’t read before.

Very courageous people cull books they haven’t even read yet. I find the idea of giving away an unread book even more painful than giving away a book I’ve read.

One thing I have been doing for a while, is putting books I really didn’t like in bags. That way, at least, they don’t clog up my shelves.

Given my reluctance to part with books, I thought it would be interesting to hear what others do.

Do you cull? And if so, what books do you give away/sell/chuck/donate . . .?

55 thoughts on “To Cull or Not to Cull? – A Book Lover’s Dilemma

  1. I don’t do a cull as such but have got into the habit when I finish a book to immediately put it into a bag to give away. Like you I have kept books I think I will re-read but last week i challenged myself whether I really would re-read some of them – and generally the answer was no. Plus I could always get a library copy if I really really wanted it.

    • That’s a good system too, BookerTalk. I’m slowly easing into something similar. My biggest issue really is that I wouldn’t find most books at local libraries or only in a German translation. The rereading is not that likely, let’s face it. There’s too much I still want to read for the first time.

        • Exactly. Since I’m a teenager I have to order most books I’m interested in anyway. I’ll find interesting new literary releases but even those need to be on some sort of lists, like Booker Prize it so. It definitely contributed to my overbuying.

  2. Well I tend to use the library quite a lot which helps to keep them down. These days I also get free or cheap Amazon kindle books of any that I physically own so then I don’t feel too bad about getting rid of the physical book, especially if I’ve already read it. I also consider how easy it is to obtain the book if I should want to read it in the future so that if it’s easily available, such as most classics, then I don’t mind getting rid of them. I’m left with rare books, expensive books, gifts and those that are attractive in some way….that’s still quite a lot though.

    • An interesting approach. It sounds very sensible. I’d love to see the collection of those you keep. I still prefer physical books to books on the kindle. Funny enough, I rather keep classics although I could easily replace them.

  3. I often think that the problem is not that I have too many books but not enough shelves. I would love to be in your position Caroline of keeping most of them but I have had to reduce numbers over the past year (can’t bear to call it a cull). I dream of having a house with a room or even rooms dedicated to books…

    • Space is an issue. I don’t have enough shelves either. I can’t keep them anymore, especially since both of my parents died shortly one after the other and both left me with huge collections. I would love to have a proper library. My mother’s books are mostly hardbacks, it would be lovely to be able to display them.

  4. I try to do a cull every now and again, usually once I’ve run out of shelf space and need to free some up. Even then, I still find it really difficult to part with any of the books that I enjoyed at the time of reading, mostly for nostalgic reasons as they can act as a reminder of various points in my life. The ones I let go usually find their way to the local charity shops or to friends who might enjoy them. It’s never easy, though – I hope you manage to find a solution that works for you.

  5. I have culled a lot recently. It was a project… I decided that some I will never reread and others I just gave away as I am not going to be able to read them all in one lifetime. It was actually a really good feeling. I have done the same as you and bought backlist books of authors I’ve liked. My tastes have changed, and it was time to clear out!!

    • I was so curious to know how you did it because I know from past discussions that you didn’t like to let go of books either. I’m really glad you say it felt good. I need to tell that to myself and then do it. Its definitely time. I also have a feeling I have far more than I can possible read, especially since there are so many new and interesting books coming out all the time.

      • I made a goal to read 48 books from the TBR pile last year (which I did) and have same goal this year. For some reason, this helped the adding-to syndrome and I’ve bought very few books this year–and the ones I bought were mostly for kindle.
        I started going through the books and of course found ones I didn’t remember owning/buying. Some no longer appealed. Some I started and said “what is this shit?” and out they went. The discarding process gathered steam. I found books by authors I tried previously but wasn’t crazy about. Out they went.
        Sometimes the subject matter didn’t appeal anymore.
        I had saved some books for a reread but mostly discarded them as in the recent clear out, as realistically, I won’t reread them (saved a couple). It just became easier and easier.

  6. It’s a terrible dilemma and I am facing a bg cull as we want to downsize. I suppose I need to be realistic about what I’ll read and re-read, but despite my best intentions four review copies arrived today. I think I will have to take drastic action…

    • I recently noticed five boxes of books in the cellar I’d been convinced Id already gotten rid of successfully. Was a bit of a shocker. Good luck to you as well with the culling. It is scary.

  7. I used to be terrible at culling, but now I’m quite adept at it – seeing each book leaving the house as a victory (i.e. more space on the shelves for more!) When I moved into my tiny flat, I finally got all my books from my parents’ house – but had to get rid of a lot. I set myself the target of 200, but ended up culling around 350. It turned out to be much easier than I’d anticipated, and even rather fun!

    • I’m rather envious of your mindset! I hope it wll inspire me. I suppose it takes some getting used to. I’ve now decided I might start to tackle the shelves theme by theme, country by country etc. I can see how uncluttered space could be appealing.

  8. Sadly, I lost possession of a lot of books that I had acquired when young. Now, my wife and I mostly acquire ebooks. However, there was a middle period when ws obtained lots of books. We have hardly culled any, it just does nor feel right.

    • I’m happy I still have the books I loved as a teenager because they be the most important ones I’ve ever read. I’d be sad as well if I lost them. I agree, culling doesn’t feel right when you liked something or haven’t even read it yet. But I guess you don’t overbuy like some of us.

  9. This is a hard one. I once gave away around 50 books to my book club friends. I am thinking of doing that again, but it is hard. Books have taken over my house and sometimes I hate to look at them and want to give them away. At other times, I love them, I discover hidden treasures that I haven’t seen in a long time and I don’t want to part with any of them. It is hard.

    • I know how you feel. I think if I was in a book club it might be easier giving them away as I’d know someone would enjoy them. On the other hand, since I tend to get rid of those that didn’t work for me I might feel a bit bad. 🙂
      Funny enough, sometimes it’s even hard to give away books I didn’t enjoy so much.

  10. Pingback: Blogbummel September 2018 – buchpost

  11. What about a basket or table by your door? When visitors get ready to depart invite them to take a book!

    If you work around other people you could keep some that people could choose from by your desk.

    It can be a pleasure for unwanted books to find a new home.

    As for donating them to a library some people think that they are adding to a collection. Almost always the books go into a book sale pile.

    I get rid of books that I decide not to read since there is little joy in being weighed down by stacks of books that are never read. What a sad fate for a book!

    • These are lovely ideas but don’t work in my case. I work from home and our visitors have a tendency to bring their books and not take any with them. They’ve all adopted minimal living.
      It sad if a book doesn’t get read. I need to get over the loss of money aspect and just pass them in.

  12. Thanks for the word “to cull” with your question. The Oxford Duden dictionary, which I choose to check out the verb, says: a) to pick (pflücken), b) to select (auswählen) and c) select and kill (ausmerzen).
    Actually, I do pick or pick up books, I do select and collect some.
    I don not want to put books to the waste paper collection, rather give it to a second hand shop, to a charity or a public book shelve or board. I am happy to lend one out, to exchange it, or give it to someone.
    Your question reminds me to wipe the dust off some shelves and part of a couple of books. Some artists are transforming old books into artwork or sculptures.
    Good reading and best wishes.

    • Thanks fir the wishes.
      I would. Ever put books in the waste paper collection but I see other people do it. A few months ago, someone threw out their whole library. It was a marvelous collection. I had to pick a few for myself.
      It’s always good to dust off the shelves and sort them out. Only what then? I wish more people would like to take my books.
      Good reading to you too.

  13. I have more then I have room for, which I suppose is too many. I have started storing some in the attic, which is of course crazy, as if they are ever going to come back down from there. But I just can’t bring myself to just clear them all out. I sometimes look at what’s on the shelf and see things I haven’t read, or only read a bit of, or may never read, but some of those give a flavour to the whole that would be missing if it was all just “things I liked” or “books of a certain type”. The oddities and forgotten ones are nice to have as well.

    • I understand what you mean. I also just like to browse through the. Again, dip in and out or just enjoy discovering and rediscovering books. Some books remind me of phases in my life and so I hold o to those memories as well. Maybe crazy, but as you say, it flavors the whole. I’d never be a book minimalist fir minimalism’s same, only because they have taken over too much space.

  14. When I moved to the East Coast and back, I had to cull because I couldn’t stomach paying for all that weight. Once you get started it’s surprisingly easy and kind of freeing.That said, I have favorite books that I will never get rid of. It makes me happy to see them on the shelves.
    Last year I got really tough with myself and decided to not buy any books until I had whittled down the current collection. Now I see them piling up on my Kindle again and it’s making me feel a little guilty. But who can pass up books for $1.99?
    Every few months I’ll donate books I’m not fond of to the library. It helps to think that someone else might love them. Also, I have only reread one book!

    • Thanks for sharing, Carole. It’s so interesting how everyone goes about it in a different way, what you say sounds a lot like Guy’s approach. I suppose I just have to jump into it and get a bit more radical. I will never part with my favourites either. I still haven’t managed to properly cut down the acquisition. Like you I buy many cheap kindle books. It really is too tempting but I don’t real read them. I just don’t like reading fiction on the kindle. I’m not much of a rereader either. Which book did you reread and why?

  15. Ah, I used to have bookshelves like that in London, and would love to have them again one day. I had to cull my books quite brutally when I left the UK to live in Greece, and it was very painful. I still miss the books I donated or sold. And now that I’m travelling full-time, I have to read only ebooks, which I hate. I dream of having floor-to-ceiling books again one day, and then I won’t cull at all. I love the feeling of having books everywhere (whereas, for some reason, having a Kindle full of ebooks makes me feel overwhelmed instead).

    • I’m fond of my shelves and even if I cull, I still keep many. I can imagine how hard it must have been. But then there’s traveling . . . If it wasn’t for my kitties Id be traveling much more too. I do t get a,one with kindle books. I really tried. Some nonfiction works well but I just don’t enjoy it as much. I’m very light sensitive too. If I read on the kind,e at night it can make me too awake.
      I wish you many, huge shelves in the future. 🙂

  16. Like you, Caroline, I own too many books; I’ve been collecting since I was a young teenager, and now, at age 68, I’ve moved across the country four times, each move necessitating a cull because of costs. Books weigh so much! I’ve been living here for three years and somehow while I wasn’t paying attention, I have three floor-to-ceiling bookcases double stacked with books, another case in the bedroom alreadu being double stacked, and books in piles all over the floor. Every horizontal surface is covered with book stacks!! Yikes!!

    And yet the thought of doing another cull breaks my heart. Unless I’ve read and truly disliked a particular book I do not want to get rid of any. You asked how and where we offload unwanted books: I try to sell them on Amazon first, and if a book doesn’t sell after say three months, I donate them to the Salvation Army. Since I found out that the public library, if it believes a book won’t sell at its book sales or in the little room in which books are placed to sell, donated books are just placed in the recycle bin. Can you imagine?! Who’d want to donate their books knowing that they could end up being recycled?? I chose the Salvation Army rather than Goodwill after seeing a chart that illustrated how the portions of income taken in are distributed. At Goodwill, 80% of the money goes to administration and the CEO, with only 20% going to the people who need it. At Salvation Army, it’s the opposite: Only 10% of the money goes to administration, with the remaining 90% going to the people who need it. Which would you choose? Habitat for Humanity is another good charity. Also, I’ll take some books, depending on quality and condition, to used-book shops to sell. That’s dangerous though because I often walk out with five or more books I’ve purchased, having spent much more money than I’d earned. 🙄

    What can I say? I’m addicted but it’s a brilliant addiction, right?


    • Thanks so much for sharing this. I knew nothing about the difference of the Sakvation Army versus Goodwill. I can’t sell on Amazon, sadly because I live in Switzerland and amazon Fermany won’t let us sell there. There’s nothing comparable in Switzerland, especially not for English books.
      Oh it is an addiction but one Id like to contain but not give up. I’m very bothered by my own double stacks. Not practical. Occasionally, I don’t even read a book because it’s behind so any others. Culling is heartbreaking. I’m sure it’s expensive to move with so many books. I was thinking of going to the used book shop as well but here tge6 give you a voucher, so I would end up getting other books instead. It’s a complicated matter. 🙂

Thanks for commenting, I love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.