When you own too many books…

Penguin books

I used to be a bookseller. Books weren’t just functional objects, they were things of beauty – to be coveted and revered. Over the years my own collection of books grew and grew. Browsing bookshops and charity shops was a favourite pastime – rarely a week would go by without a few new ones creeping into the house. And they were very welcome. Once read, they made their way onto a shelf to be read again one day.

Topping and Company Booksellers, Ely

I think you’re either sentimental about books or you’re not. Many people might read a book, enjoy it and then pass it on to someone else. But if, like me, you’re sentimental about books it’s very hard to keep your collection under control.

Like a photograph, books are a little snapshot of our lives. Books that you remember from your childhood, books from student days when you wanted to look terribly intelligent… I even feel sentimental about the book I was reading whilst in labour with Tom. They’re a physical expression of a memory, which makes them very hard to part with.

Boy reading on a sofa

But, inevitably, there comes a time when you just own too many. You can only have so many bookshelves in your house and the beloved books can become a burden. Memories, yes, but very dusty cluttered ones. Problems also arise when you combine two book collections. James and I both love books, but we have very different ideas about what constitutes a book worth keeping. I find it hard giving space to his dusty old sci fi books, and I know he feels the same about my vintage knitting guides. We’re not hoarders, but it’s hard getting rid of books.

Regular readers will know that we’re trying to tackle the clutter in our house – to make our limited space more useable and, dare I say it, minimalist. Over the Easter weekend we decided to tackle our dusty book mountain. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far.

If you haven’t opened a book in five years then you probably don’t need it…

This is a tough realisation, especially when the book reminds you of a particular time in your life. But we’ve had to accept that we can’t keep everything. Our bookshelves are groaning under the strain, and we don’t have space in the house to build any more. I like books but I don’t want to live in a library.

Green penguins

We took everything off the shelves and really looked at it. Not just glanced at it, really looked at it and asked ourselves if we wanted to keep it. Do you really need a dusty book which you haven’t opened in years to jog your memory? Are memories worth that much if they clutter up your house and make you miserable?

Piling up the books we didn’t want anymore was liberating. Once you start, it’s actually quite addictive.

What should do with all those unwanted books?

Over one weekend we managed to get rid of over two hundred books between us. The house feels lighter and less dusty already.

You could try and sell your books, but in my experience once you’ve decided to get rid of a huge heap of them the last thing you want to them hanging around while you try and make some money out of them. You might get 10p at a car boot sale for your books, but can you really be bothered?

Ladybird books

If you have some really valuable books then it’s worth trying to sell them on eBay or Amazon. Sometimes if books are out of print then they can be unexpectedly valuable. I once sold a little paperback about vintage hairstyles for £60 on eBay as it was no longer available anywhere else.

Usually though, it’s hard to make any money out of books. We always take ours to the charity shop where we know they’ll have the time to make the most out of them.

How to make the most of the books you keep…

Despite our book cull, we still have rather a lot of books. We’ve been as brutal as we can be for now. To make the most of the books we’re keeping we decided to colour code them. People have been doing this for years, but it’s a new one for me.

We spend ages arranging all our orange and green Penguins, my grey Persephone books and everything else in more general colours. I’m amazed by the results – everything looks a lot calmer and less busy. I now slightly resent any colour that doesn’t fit into my scheme.

Colour coded books

How to keep things under control

I think we both know now that we have to have a one in, one out policy with books. If we don’t then things will just start piling up again. It’s ok to keep as many as you want to but the time to change is when they feel like a burden. There is a good side to keeping books –  I actually don’t buy new things that often as I’m usually re-reading something old. Just be careful not to let it get out of hand, books should never make you feel unhappy.

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  1. March 31, 2016 / 8:17 am

    You brave lady Lizzie! We have a lot of books (not as many as you I suspect, but still quite a lot) and I have been trying to be a bith ruthless over the past few years. It is hard though.
    You colour coding looks great by the way.

    • marmaladepie
      April 4, 2016 / 7:53 pm

      Thank you! I just wish I had more orange penguins so I could do another shelf on the other side of the fireplace! x

  2. March 31, 2016 / 10:53 am

    You’ve done so well to part with so many books. I don’t have as many as I used to have but building a new bookcase has been mentioned so I can get a few more. Being able to colour coordinate a shelf like yours is living the dream in my opinion!

    • marmaladepie
      April 4, 2016 / 7:54 pm

      Ha! Thank you! I still don’t exactly feel like I’m living the dream (there’s still a few piles of books dotted about) but we’re definitely making progress!

  3. March 31, 2016 / 2:39 pm

    Wow, I think you possibly had my dream job! I would love to be a bookseller. I used to be an avid collector of books (pre kiddies), but over the years I’ve realised that I needed to downsize considerably. It was brutal, but quite liberating at the same time.

    I also did the same with my music collection, and in the space of one weekend reduced my cd and vinyl collection from over 10,000 down to 3,000. I’ve continued to reduce and now have just under 100 that I really can’t bear to part with. xxx

    • marmaladepie
      April 4, 2016 / 7:55 pm

      Yes, definitely liberating! Ah, the CD collection, we still haven’t dealt with that. I hardly ever listen to CDs now since using Spotify, but it’s hard to part with them!

  4. April 2, 2016 / 8:13 pm

    I share your love of books and when I was younger dreamed of having a whole room dedicated as library when I eventually owned a house but of course by the time you get there you realise how impractical that is 🙂 Well done on your cull and re-arranging, it’s very therapeutic! Xx

    • marmaladepie
      April 4, 2016 / 7:56 pm

      Thank you! It was therapeutic but very, very dusty. Still sneezing now!

  5. April 6, 2016 / 10:24 am

    My boyfriend owns a small publishing company and as book lovers we have hundreds! My favorite place to buy second hand books has to be Barter Books in Alnwick, I grew up near by and it’s an old train station turned book shop. Its huge!


  6. April 6, 2016 / 2:14 pm

    We have tons of books too. We all love reading and in particular my husband and elder daughter find it harder to part with books even when they have been read. I used to be like that, but tend to pass most of my books on now either to charity or to friends.

    I read Stuffocation last year and it really struck a chord with me, I’m still trying to clear the decks and there are certain books I would never get rid of, but there are still some that need to go!

    I’ve still got lots I need to read though ha ha x


  7. April 6, 2016 / 9:22 pm

    Your collection of Penguins must cause a lot of envy! I’ve learnt to be quite ruthless with recycling my books after reading but I think part of that is the fact I couldn’t take the majority of books with me when I left home a few years ago and now they’re hidden behind my parents belongings!

  8. April 6, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    I used to be the same with books – grew up in a house filled with books and my parents always acquiring more, and carried on the same way – but a few house moves in the last few years has made me have to part with a lot of thing, and eventually books – the last things I reluctantly let go of. I too still have book cases full, but boxes and boxes went to charity shops, and the more expensive ones sold via Amazon. But as you have said it is hard to sell books now – I brought some rare books to a local bookseller recently, and he said he is just overrun with books, cannot shift stock as fast as it comes in. Very sad. Love your colour coding, and Persephone books, aren’t they just lovely (definitely keepers!)

  9. April 7, 2016 / 6:45 pm

    I’m the same — I’m really sentimental about books but, also, I like how they look!!! Having said that, I have systematically organised all our books into the colours of the rainbow — which means it’s an absolute bitch to find anything that you’re looking for — but they do look nice!!! 😉 Thanks so much for linking up Lizzie!! #HomeEtc

  10. April 9, 2016 / 8:08 pm

    I love your idea!! Fab job 🙂 When we moved we got rid of most of ours…..! It was SO tough but we hardly read them or needed them. I am sure we will collect more though! Thanks for linking up, great to have you 🙂 Jess xx


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