Moving? This Book Purging Method Is Bibliophile-Approved

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

I’d like to start by saying: I hate moving. I am known to be extremely dramatic when it comes to getting organized, packing up my belongings, and essentially living in a real-life obstacle course (dodging suitcases, stepping over boxes) while I await my move. But there was one aspect of my recent relocation—only 20 blocks, but in New York City that still feels like an undertaking—that was justifiably overwhelming: The Purging Of The Bookshelf.

Sounds like a horror movie, right? Or maybe that’s just me. I would say I’m a bookworm, but I don’t think that even cuts it—what is ten levels above “bookworm?” What does it mean when you essentially house an entire library in a studio apartment, but are incredibly selfish about what you lend out? What’s the word for someone who uses every flat surface that surrounds her as an opportunity to display her favorite novels? That’s me.

At one point, I had more than 250 books housed in my tiny apartment—a one-room, L-shaped studio that was sparse on furniture, but heavy on reads. When I moved from my first shared apartment (converted one-bedroom, my room was the tiny one with a fake wall that used to be a living room), I took an IKEA armoire with me. I wanted to throw it away or sell it—my studio had a closet. My dad, being brilliant and resourceful, had a better idea: Remove the doors and make it a bookshelf. It’s now my most prized piece of furniture.

However, such furniture enables my book collecting habit. I do not discriminate when it comes to new reads. I have fiction, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs, biographies, poetry, and childhood favorites (Shel Silverstein! Dr. Seuss!). I wasn’t kidding when I said that I had a library of content. But when NYC movers charge by the box, you have to start doing some serious Marie Kondo-level cleansing of your space. Donating clothes was no problem. Discarding unused or broken kitchen supplies? Piece of cake. Parting with even one single book? Impossible. Until I developed a system.

Below is my checklist for conducting a book purge that won’t leave you huddled in the floor, clutching books close to your chest and mourning their disappearance. Use it and you, too, will have room for new ones!

1. Do I remember at least 50% of what this book was about?

There were many books that I certainly enjoyed, but couldn’t quite recount the plot past what you’d find on the back cover. If a book means something to you, then you will remember not only what happened, but you’ll have a special, emotional connection with how it made you feel.

2. Do I recommend this book to friends?

And more importantly, do I recommend it but never lend it? The harder I cling, the more important it is.

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

3. For an unread book: Have I thought about reading it recently?

Does it often pop up as “high on my list,” or will I never get around to it? This one cleared out a whole shelf. There are so many books that have traveled with me to each apartment, onto vacations, to and from home, only to remain unread. Clearly, I’m not compelled. And if I find that on a later date I want to read it… well, that’s what libraries are for!

4. Am I keeping it because I think I was supposed to love it?

This is important. There are books that I will not name due to their oft-widespread critical acclaim that I just didn’t connect with. And that made me feel bad about myself and my tastes. So I kept these prize-winning books on my shelf to make myself seem, well… I’m not sure. To make myself seem smarter? More worldly? On par with what all the other book aficionados are reading and enjoying? Regardless, once I discarded this specific category of books, I felt relieved. More space for books I love!

(Image credit: Pablo Enriquez)

Keep in mind that I didn’t just throw books away. I brought them to brunches with friends, left them in the lobby of my building for neighbors to take, or donated them to a used bookstore. I wanted them out of my apartment, but I wanted them to also find nice, new homes.

Do I still have an unreasonable amount of books? Yes. But armed with this checklist, I think I can be more mindful in the future about what reads will get a permanent spot on the shelf.

If you’re interested, here are the ten books I will never let go of, because they all hold a very special place in my heart:

1. “Ella Enchanted,” by Gail Carson Levine
2. “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi
3. “Bossypants,” by Tina Fey
4. “Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel
5. “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout
6. “Half Of a Yellow Sun,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
7. “The Other Side of Midnight,” by Sidney Sheldon
8. “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls
9. “The Most of Nora Ephron,” by Nora Ephron
10. “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” by Shel Silverstein