Tips for Tackling Your TBR

In the vein of working towards my goal of a zero TBR in 2019, I thought I’d share some tips on what’s worked for me in culling my TBR and pulling out unwanted books. Even if you don’t plan to aggressively shrink your TBR, I bet you’ve got some books hanging out there that could use a new home!

Earlier this year, when I realized I had more than 90 books sitting on my shelves and that I was never going to make it through them all, I started getting really aggressive in pulling out books that I didn’t really want to read or didn’t think I was going to love.

There are certain books I know I’m going to really enjoy or that I’m still really interested in, but just haven’t gotten around to picking up. I’m not worried about those books. It’s all of the other books that I’ve managed to accumulate throughout the year in one way or another that I really wanted to reexamine when going through my TBR shelves.

I think one of the first things you can do is pull out the books that have been hanging out the longest and really evaluate what they’re doing on your shelves and how likely you are to read them. For me, a lot of them were classics or popular books I thought I should read, but that I didn’t necessarily want to. Once I admitted to myself that I wasn’t planning to read them because I really wanted to, it suddenly became a lot easier to get rid of them.

Books like that are low hanging fruit, though, and a rather obvious (though still important!) place to start. What really helped me was scanning through my shelves and pulling out all of the books that I didn’t feel immediately excited about reading.

Once I had that pile, I looked at each book asked myself how likely I was to actually enjoy it. Will it be a standout book or just a mediocre one? Honestly, I think a lot of the books that were cluttering up my TBR were likely to be enjoyable enough books, but not books that were going to blow me away. I want to read more books that blow me away, so the mediocre ones got put in the donation pile.

It also helped me to look at my shelves and ask myself which books I’d repurchase if I lost all of the books on my TBR shelf. As it turns out, there are a lot of books on my shelves that I probably wouldn’t pick up again. That’s not to say all of those books should immediately go in the donation pile; personally, I like keeping a few of those kinds of books around because I know they’ll push me to try something new. But it’s a pretty good indicator of how interested you really are in a book.

Looking at the bigger picture of your reading can also make a difference. I’ve read more than 150 books per year for the last two years, so having 50 books on my shelf that I want to read in the coming year means that I already know a third of what I’ll be reading. Am I ok with that? Would I rather focus on new releases or reading books as I discover them? If so, then having 50 books on my shelves is way too many. If you read closer to 50 books, then having 50 books on your shelves doesn’t leave an awful lot of room to pick up something new. Right now, I think knowing what a third of my reading will be in 2019 is kind of a lot, but it’s not enough to make me really aggressively go through my shelves. But my position on that might change as the year progresses. Stepping back and putting the number of unread books you own in perspective can help give more context as to how much you really want to read a book and whether it belongs on your TBR shelf.

Also, one of the most helpful things to remember, at least in my experience, is that getting rid of a book doesn’t mean it’s gone forever! You can always get it from the library or borrow it from a friend or buy a new copy if you change your mind down the road and decide you really want to read it, but there’s no sense in hanging on to a book in case that day comes. Better that it find a good home in the meantime!

And if you’re really not sure about getting rid of a book but you don’t see yourself reading it right away, put it in a pile out of sight and see if you even remember it in a month or two. I had a number of books I tossed in my donation pile that I was kind of on the fence about at the time, but months later when I was finally donating them, I realized that I didn’t miss seeing those books on my TBR shelf at all.

These are a few things that really helped me let go of a lot of books on my shelves. I have a bunch more that I’m on the fence about, but I’m thinking I’ll go through my shelves again here in the next few months and reassess whether I really want to read those books or let them go.

Hopefully these tips can help you let go of some books that have been clogging up your TBR shelves (assuming you’re not entirely happy with having so many unread books around—if you are, that’s awesome!). Let me know in the comments if you have any other advice on going through your unread books and finally letting go of them!

5 thoughts on “Tips for Tackling Your TBR

    • I totally know the feeling! It can be really scary, but I found it kind of freeing, too! And it really got me thinking about my buying habits so that I don’t let it get too out of control again


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