Yes, that’s right! I officially have no unread books on my shelves! My bookshelves only include books that I have read! Well, mostly.
I’ve made it my mission this past year to stop accumulating books left and right and really make an effort to read what I already own. There are a number of reasons for this that I’ve gone into more in previous posts, but mostly I felt like it was a shame to buy a book and then never read it and eventually lose interest in it. Plus I was starting to get way too many books building up on my shelves, and I was sick of the guilty twinge I got every time I read something that wasn’t one of those books. So I decided to do something about it.
It has taken a long, long time to get to this point (I started with more than 90 books!), but I have to admit, I’m rather proud of my accomplishment. It’s taken a lot of effort and dedication to reach a zero TBR, and while I questioned whether it was worth it more than once, I’m really glad I stuck with it. I feel so free now that I don’t have this obligation to read from my shelves. I can buy a book or check a book out from the library and literally read whatever I want without having to worry about what’s sitting on my shelves! It’s an incredible feeling.
I’m also just really relieved to be done. I felt bad and somewhat overwhelmed every time I’d end up with a new book, either because I got them at events, was sent them, or bought them myself, and that’s not a feeling I want to associate with new books. I think it might take a little bit to shake that feeling, but I absolutely will at some point because I refuse to keep feeling that way about new books!
How I Did It
Honestly, the primary way I worked my way through my TBR was by donating books. I know what books I’ve been really wanting to read and that I’m excited about, and if something on my shelves didn’t excite me as much as those books, it went in the donation stack. I didn’t keep anything that I thought would be just ok or that I was vaguely willing to try. If I didn’t actively want to read it and see myself reading it in the next six months, it went in the donation pile. And I was continuously revisiting my shelves and reevaluating how much I really wanted to read the books that were sitting there.
I also DNFed books pretty ruthlessly. I actually think I might have gone a bit too far with this, as near the end a lot of books got set aside because I wanted to reach my goal more than I wanted to read those books. If I hadn’t been working on this project, I probably would have read and enjoyed them well enough, but I could taste the zero and wasn’t willing to read a book unless it really hooked me. But in some ways I think that mindset was a good thing because it made me stop reading books I didn’t think I was going to love. But it’s not something I want to make a habit of, at least not to this extreme.
I also might have cheated a tiny bit. At the very beginning of this project, I made a so-called “Deferred TBR” where I put books that I wanted to read, but not anytime soon for various reasons. For instance, I could only bring myself to read one of the two Eleanor Roosevelt biographies I had this year, so one went on my TBR and the other was deferred to 2020. I also have a copy of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss that I refuse to read until book three is announced and a copy of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman that I can’t read until I reread the original His Dark Materials books, which I haven’t wanted to distract myself with while working on this project. And I have a signed copy of Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce that I haven’t read yet, but plan to whenever I get around to rereading the Tortall books. And if I don’t, I’m totally fine with it just hanging out as part of my Tortall collection.
The cheating part comes in because I really wanted to be done with this project, but I didn’t want to read the Eleanor Roosevelt biography that I had on my TBR. It really should have gone in the donation pile at that point, but I really do want to give it a try. Just not now. So I stuck it on my deferred shelf, where I now have five books, but considering I still reached my objective of not letting books hang out for no good reason and not buying books excessively anymore, I’m still calling it a win.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the state of my kindle, well. This project was always about reading unread books from my shelves because that’s where I felt like my habits were a problem. My kindle situation doesn’t bother me as much because I’ve bought the majority of them severely discounted, so my buying habits haven’t been bad, and they don’t take up any room. I do want to make it my goal in 2020 to read all of the kindle books I’ve bought (I don’t care about most of the freebies) since there are a lot of good books on my kindle that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time and just haven’t gotten to yet, but I’m taking a break first!
If you want more advice on how to clean out your TBR, be sure to check out my post, Tips for Tackling Your TBR!
What I Learned
I think one of the big things I learned is that I prefer reading books on my kindle. Don’t get me wrong, I love curling up with a good physical copy of a book, but the kindle is just so convenient. I can carry it wherever I want and it doesn’t take up too much room in my purse, it’s easier to navigate with on the subway, I can sneak in more reading on my phone at the elevator or at my desk (shhhhh!), and I can keep reading at night when my husband insists it’s time to go to bed. And it’s a lot easier to lay in bed and read!
Also, I have limited space in my apartment for physical books, so I only want my absolute favorites on my shelves. And honestly? Most of the books I read don’t make the cut. So while I love passing books on to friends or donating them and making sure they get a second life after I’m done with them, I really don’t need a physical copy if I prefer to read it on my kindle anyways.
Another big thing I learned is that I have a tendency to accumulate books that I like the idea of reading, but that I don’t actually want to read. I talked about this more in my post about My Bad Buying Habits: What I’ve Learned from Culling My TBR, but I wound up accumulating a lot of books from Book Outlet just because they were on sale, or various nonfiction books and classics that I thought I should read, or books at book signings just because I liked the author even though her book didn’t really sound like my thing. Honestly, a lot of them wound up going in my donation pile unread. I’m definitely a fan of supporting authors, but I also want to spend my money on books I know I’ll read.
I also learned that it takes a really amazing book to make me want to go out and buy a physical copy of it once I’ve already read it. I hate that this means my shelves are full of books that haven’t actually been read in that format, but it does mean my shelves are full of books I really loved (also that I should reread more!). I don’t want to only read on kindle and go back and buy physical books of my favorites, but this has gotten me to think a lot more about which books I’ve really loved and how likely I am to love a book when I pick it up, which helps me determine if I should just buy a kindle copy/check it out from the library or buy a physical copy.
I do want to emphasize, because I haven’t yet, that I don’t think reaching a zero TBR is for everybody, and I’m not in any way trying to say that having a lot of unread books on your shelves is bad! If you’re happy with it and it works for you, that’s all that matters! But hopefully you can see why it wasn’t working for me and why I decided to undertake this project.
Because I can’t say it enough, I’m so, so glad to finally be done! I actually thought I would go out and place a big order after finishing this project, and I’ve been adding books to my Barnes & Noble cart these last few months instead of buying them while I finished this last push to a zero TBR. But honestly, I just want to enjoy not feeling obligated to read what’s on my shelves for a while. At some point, though, I will start buying books again and not let myself feel bad about them, just excited!
Going forward, I do think I want to keep my unread books down to 10 or less. I anticipated that number would be 20 when I first started this project, but considering that a lot of the books on my shelves wind up being nonfiction books that take me longer to read, I think 10 is a better number. That way if I decide to go back down to zero for whatever reason, I can do it without pushing myself too hard, and it’ll all fit on one of the half shelves in my bookcase. I’d also like to read any books I buy within three months of purchase so they don’t build up too much again.
How is the state of your TBR? Have you ever considered trying to get it down to zero? Does my experience make you more or less likely to try it for yourself? Let me know in the comments!