January 8, 2015

Culling Your TBR

Book culling. It’s a concept that many of us are familiar with – the process of systematically going through the books you own in order to weed out unread titles that you want to donate, share or sell. It’s something I do a few times a year, and it always manages to make me feel lighter when I do.

Since Hannah & I are committing to The Picky Pledge in 2015, we decided it was necessary to cull books from our shelves before the year ended. Today, I’ll be sharing my guidelines for culling books on your TBR! Take note, this is what applies to me and might not necessary apply to others, though I do hope it serves as a springboard for your guidelines when culling books. Don’t forget to go visit Hannah’s post about culling books you own/have read!

Now, here are three things that deserve to be defined:
  • KEEP: The book stays in your physical collection, e-book collection or Goodreads shelf.
  • MAYBE: The book is placed separately from your physical collection (whether in a box, bag or closet), or put on a separate Goodreads shelf.
  • PASS: The book is placed in a pile to sell, donate or giveaway, and is taken off of your Goodreads shelf.

Without further ado, here are my personal guidelines for culling my TBR:
  1. All unread titles will be up for consideration.
  2. Ask yourself: How long has this book remained unread on your TBR?
    • If less than 1 year. KEEP.
    • If 1-2 years, MAYBE.
    • If 2 years or more, PASS.
  3. Ask yourself: How soon do you think you will read this book?
    • If it's within 3 months, KEEP.
    • If it's part of a series you intend to finish, KEEP.
    • If it's within 6 months, MAYBE.
    • If it's part of a series you're feeling ambivalent about, MAYBE.
    • If it's past 6 months, PASS.
    • If it's part of a series you don't intend to finish anymore, PASS.
  4. Ask yourself: Why am I interested in this book?
    • If it's by a favorite author, KEEP.
    • If it's a series you intend to finish, KEEP.
    • If it's recommended by someone you trust to know your tastes, KEEP.
    • If it's got a story or subject matter that intrigues you, MAYBE.
    • If it's a general recommendation (blogs, magazines, newspapers, websites), MAYBE.
    • If you got it on a whim and aren't sure you want to read it, PASS.
    • If you are no longer interested in it, PASS.
  5. Ask yourself: Off the top of your head, what do you remember about this book?
    • If you remember the story, the characters, or the series, KEEP.
    • If you know something about the main plot or character, MAYBE.
    • Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. I keep drawing a blank! PASS.
  6. Here are a few more ideas for how to decide on whether or not to keep a book on your TBR:
    • Check the average ratings for the book on Goodreads.
    • Read a couple of reviews. Make sure to read both positive and negative ones so that you'll make an informed choice.
    • See what your friends thought of it. This is especially applicable to the friends who share your taste in books.
    • Read the first chapter. Gauge how you feel about the narration, the story, the characters, the writing and proceed to decide.

Now after all of those guidelines, it's pretty clear what you'll be doing with the books you KEEP. They have a spot secured on your shelves and on your list of books to read in the months to come. But you might be wondering - what about the books that were sorted into the MAYBE or PASS groups?

Let's tackle the books in the MAYBE group first. You'll be giving these books a little bit more time on your TBR; I'd personally say giving them 3-6 months is fair. Store the books in a box or bag, and put them in a separate place from your other books. When the time is up, you can examine how you feel about them using the same guidelines + the additional question of whether you thought of them while they were stored away. Usually, by then, you'll know whether to KEEP or PASS.

As for the PASS group, here are a few ideas on what you can do:
  • Do I know someone who wants to read the book? SHARE.
  • Does my public library or a nearby school take books? DONATE.
  • Will I get a decent amount of money for this book? SELL.
  • None of the above applicable? HOST A GIVEAWAY OR BOOK SWAP.

When it comes right down to it, the decision to keep a book on your TBR is entirely up to YOU. Bear in mind, there is no right or wrong way to cull! There's also no time limit on it, because you can do it whenever you feel like it's necessary or you simply want to. And, one more thing: just because you're taking a title off your list or shelf now, it doesn't mean you'll never get a chance to read it in the future.

Personally, I'm constantly culling throughout the year but only because of my current life situation. (Living in an apartment in New York means limited space, ergo I need to have a small, well-curated, organized book collection.) Cleaning up my TBR regularly always leaves me feeling refreshed, and quite excited to read some titles that might have slipped my notice.

Let me know if you wind up using any of the guidelines to cull your TBR! Please feel free to share your guidelines and tips for culling your unread books in the comments. I'd love to hear all about your experience! (And don't forget to check out Hannah's post too!)


  1. I just did a giant purge of my collection because the books were taking over my - also tiny - New York apartment and it's weirdly the best feeling. I managed to get all of my books ON BOOKSHELVES for probably the first time ever. Very proud of that. But I love this guideline - all very good things to consider. =)

  2. Nice post!! It contains some clear cut ways to decide on which books to keep or not to keep. I like to cull my books every so often too... And admittedly, I probably need to do another purging of books as my last major one was in May 2014, right before we moved from Southern California to Northern California. I've since collected more books and may also need to get rid of more books that I still have in boxes!

    Culling books is a good idea, but is difficult for me to do as I feel guilty getting rid of books that I've purchased and no longer want to read, especially if they were books I had really wanted to read initially or books that were given to me by friends or family.

  3. This is a helpful post, thanks Alexa! I do a fair job at culling my books (although there is always room for improvement) but then all my effort stops there, particularly when it comes to ARCs since they can't be sold and libraries won't take them. I need to spend some time looking into local places that will accept ARCs or just host one massive giveaway maybe.

  4. Honest to goodness printing this out and taking it home with me. LOVE THIS AND LOVE YOU.

  5. This is SO helpful! Definitely doing this - fantastic post! :)

  6. This is awesome! I just got a new bookshelf for Christmas and it's already full :( There's a culling in my future...

  7. Very nice approach! I am trying to do something similar with my clothes haha! I found something called Project 3-3-3 for purging your closet and it has similar guidelines too. Good luck!

  8. This post summed up every feeling I have ever had about my TBR pile at once. Your flowchart is so perfect! I definitely need to think through things more when I am going out to buy a book! I think that this is an awesome pledge and is something more bloggers should participate in!
    - Max @ Maximum Reads

  9. This is such a good idea and something I really need to do!

  10. This is a lovely post, Alexa! I'm doing a TBR challenge this year, so I hope to get through most if not all of TBR books this year. Thankfully I "cull" books all the time, so my list isn't super long. Thank you for sharing!

  11. I tried starting to cull my TBR a little whlie ago and was totally overwhelmed and so very quickly gave up. Your list is great, and even though there are a few things I would change slightly for my own TBR it is a great starting point for me to make my own 'culling ticklist' to help me get my TBR down! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)


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