7 Important Questions to Ask Before You Cull Your Books

A bookshelf of vintage children's books

If you’re a long-term booklover, chances are that you have had to cull your books at least once.  We hit this point on a yearly basis – usually when we’ve reached the point where our titles have begun to take over the floor space, as well as countertops, drawers and chairs.

For much of this time, we’re in denial. We tell ourselves that we’ll find a way to keep them all. We go through all the potential solutions until eventually it becomes obvious that we’ll have to do that most dreaded of deeds and part with a few of our precious titles.

At first, it seems impossible, but on closer inspection, we often find that we can rationalise our library. These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves and hopefully they’ll help you too:

Will I reread this book?

I think this is a pretty good indication of whether you should keep a book or not. We find that we usually get rid of around 20 books a year based on this question alone.

If it’s an absolute no, don’t let it take up your shelf space. If it’s a maybe, then it’s probably not worth risking getting rid of the title at this point. If it’s a firm yes – then keep it.

Have I ever read this book?

The TBR pile is a constant in our lives, but sometimes we have books that gather dust for years. We all know the culprits.

If you still haven’t got around to picking a title up, then give yourself a realistic deadline to finish it. I’d suggest at least three months and up to a year. Store the title in a prominent place and set reminders. If you don’t read it by the alloted time, then maybe it’s time to pass it on.

Do I own duplicate editions of this title?

If you have a large home library or have recently combined your book collection with someone else’s then it’s worth finding out whether you have duplicate editions of a book.

Admittedly this tactic won’t help you to cull your books significantly, but it could result in a few trims. We’ve been surprised by how many repeats we’ve discovered in the last few years.

Am I only holding onto this book for sentimental reasons?

Guilty! I still hold onto books because they’ve been written by people I vaguely know, or because I’ve received them as a gift even though they haven’t completely rocked my world.

Truthfully I feel ready to cull these books but sentiment gets in the way. I know I should be more ruthless but when heart enters the equation, it’s a much more difficult decision. However, if you absolutely need the extra space then this has to be a consideration.

Do I need to hand this book back to the person I borrowed it off?

Own up! Do you have books that you’ve borrowed and not given back yet? If you’re an avid reader then it’s a distinct possibility that you commit this bookish crime on a semi-regular basis. Time to confess and return the book back to its rightful owner.

Would someone else I know enjoy reading this book more?

Gifting books is a pleasure and if you haven’t read The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane, go buy or borrow it now! You may be uncertain about a title but someone else may love it so why not give it to them? That way, the book gets a good home and you make someone’s day. Win-win!

Do you have to cull your books or can you store them differently?

Of course, the ideal is not to have cull your books at all, which means more bookshelves or wiser purchases. Our post on creative ways to display books might give you a few ideas on how to find extra storage spaces. There’s always a way to find more room even if it means remodelling your house!

Please follow and like us:


  1. March 17, 2018 / 9:25 am

    Great post Mel. I need to do a cull this weekend as my tbr is out of control. I’ve many books that have been given me (other book lovers have passed them to me knowing I rarely turn down a book), and it’s making me feel stressed and sad. I want to see a new book that’s released and know I can buy it.
    I have a harder time getting rid of read books…

  2. March 17, 2018 / 12:45 pm

    This was a very convicting post. I am extremely guilty of holding on to multiple editions of the same book. My only consolation is that usually one copy is 85+ years old and the other is brand spanking new. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • March 17, 2018 / 3:34 pm

      I think the age difference is rationale enough! We love books like friends sometimes so it’s extra hard to part with them.

  3. March 17, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    Oh it’s so hard with gifts because they were given with such thought. I really empathise! One of my latest tactics is to borrow from the library and then if I love it, consider buying. If I still want it after a few months then I know its a keeper!

  4. March 18, 2018 / 6:33 pm

    Great post! My TBR is currently out of control and despite multiple culls, I still have far too many books. I need to learn to be more ruthless! 😕

  5. March 23, 2018 / 9:03 am

    I’m another one who has to do a yearly cull, and it’s always so hard! You’re right about holding onto books for sentimental reasons… I think my biggest problem is that a lot of my books are classical, which generally means that they have those gorgeous covers and thick pages that you just can’t let go of! Thanks for the post!

    • March 23, 2018 / 10:04 am

      I feel your pain! Classics are the hardest. We generally hold onto them although many aren’t great quality editions. Yours sound lovely!

  6. Ted Villalon
    October 21, 2021 / 10:12 pm

    I have some books that I bought in college 30 years ago and have read the first few chapters but I don’t want to get rid of them but honestly, if I haven’t gotten to something bought in 1987, maybe I can let it go….

    • thebookfamilyrogerson
      October 30, 2021 / 4:33 pm

      I also still have books from university which I haven’t read so totally understand your dilemma! Why not go for a compromise and give one away. You can then see how you feel before getting rid of more books.

Leave a Reply