Weekend Projects

This Weekend: Refresh & Rejuvenate Your Personal Library

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Julia Brenner)

Most people who love to read have strong feelings about bookshelves: they daydream about floor-to-ceiling libraries, they don’t care that they are overstuffed, and they’d never dream of culling their collections. But let’s be honest, not every book we’ve ever read will be revisited, lent out, or talked — or even thought — about after an initial read. This weekend, let’s refresh our bookshelves so that rather than being a catalog of what we’ve read or intend to read, they’re a showcase of the material that has played a part in shaping our minds and hearts.

This Weekend’s Assignment: Edit, Clean and Style Your Books & Bookshelves

Step One: Empty the Shelves and Sort Your Books
Take all your books off the shelves. Next, sort your books into piles. Types of books should be separated. For instance, reference books, cookbooks, fiction, and non-fiction would probably be best stored by category.

You can also sort your books by genre, author, time of life you read them (high school required reading that spoke to you, books you read in college and loved, binge series you stayed up late reading with a flashlight in middle school), but for our purposes this weekend — ending up with edited bookshelves — set another criterion for what you will actually keep.

Step Two: Decide What to Keep
When I moved across the country when I got married I had to drastically reduce the number of boxes of books I’d cart to my new home. I didn’t think too hard about it; I just kept the books that “meant something to me.” Uncluttered by books that I just happened to own, now my shelves house books that I can talk about, that have underlined passages I can flip to and re-read or read aloud, or that I can point to as material that has genuinely affected me, whether intellectually or artistically.

I suggest keeping your criterion emotional, a question you can answer for yourself quickly. Does this cookbook mean something to me? Yes, it’s the first one I reach for when I’m making a special brunch. Does this novel move me? No, I haven’t read it. I don’t want to, and I feel guilty every time I see it. Sort accordingly, chipping away at what detracts from the meaningful.

Check out this, this, and especially this for help with deciding what to say goodbye to.

(Image credit: Ana Kamin)

Step Three: Create Book Outboxes
Decide where the books you aren’t keeping will go. Books that are falling apart can be recycled and the rest can be donated to libraries, school libraries, shelters, or donation centers. Also consider giving away books to friends or family you know could use them. For instance, the stack of pregnancy books you no longer need could go to the neighbor expecting her first child. (Ask if she wants them first; you don’t want to unwittingly burden someone else with your stuff.)

Step Four: Decide What to Replace
This category will be very small, less than a handful of books. The well-worn copy of Where the Red Fern Grows, for example. The pages are falling out, but that book, the first book that made you cry, must be on your shelf. And in a condition that when your children are old enough, they can reach for it and enjoy it without worrying about it disintegrating in their hands.

Along these lines, consider books you’ve read at the library or on your Kindle that you’d love to have in your library. Again, we’re focused on removing, not adding, but sometimes you need to add a book to your library for it to be complete.

Step Five: Clean Your Books & Bookshelves
If your books have gathered dust (as most will), take time to give them a quick clean — it will keep them in good condition and benefit the air in your home (especially important for indoor allergy suffers). Hold each book firmly closed and either vacuum with a soft brush attachment or wipe with a dry cloth (microfiber ones work well to attract dust), starting at the top, down the textblock and then the bottom. Gently clean the cover, back and spine, too.

For shelves, a duster or slightly damp rag will probably be sufficient. Make absolutely sure there is no hint of dampness before you put your books back on the shelf.

Step Six: Style Your Shelves
Now that your books are slimmed down to your best of the best, you’ll have room to display them nicely. This is also where you can punctuate your book collection with special trinkets or photos. Check out the following for inspiration:

Remember, as with all of our Weekend Projects, just do what you have the time and energy to do. This is a marathon, not a sprint!

  • Help motivate others by letting the rest of us know how things are going! Share your tips and photos of your Weekend Project work on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #ATweekendproject