Book Weeding Criteria

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In late 2014/early 2015 I massively slimmed down my book collection. In the world of libraries, they call this weeding. My main motivation was that I didn't have a lot of space, but my collection was still growing. I needed room for the new books.

The weeding process involved looking at each book I owned and deciding whether to keep it. Some of these decisions were easy. A lot of them were not. So to help myself make them, I paid attention to the questions I was asking myself and gathered them into the flowchart-like list below. If you are weeding your own books or purging other possessions, maybe you can adapt these questions for your purposes.

Categories

The end goal of my weeding was to place each book into one of three categories:

  • Display - Put it on a shelf in my apartment.
  • Store - Put it in a box in my storage closet.
  • Toss - Get rid of it, usually by selling to a used book store.

Reasons to own a book

To help me ask good questions, I summarized what I'd noticed about books I knew I wanted to keep. I'd want to own a book for one or both of these reasons:

  • It's useful and I want easy access, especially if it's rare.
  • It's special to me for sentimental reasons, and I want to look at it and remember them.

Questions for tough decisions

These questions have three types of answers:

  1. +1/-1: The positive numbers pushed me toward keeping the book, and the negative numbers pushed me toward tossing it.
  2. Other questions: The further questions clarified my intentions for the book.
  3. One of the above categories: This gave me my final action on the book.

If an option for a question isn't shown, that usually means it didn't influence my decision and I moved on to the next question.

  • General questions
    • Do I need this exact copy (for sentimental or practical reasons)? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Is it part of a collection I want to keep?
      • Yes: Do I really care about owning the whole collection? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Does it have handwritten notes I care about (for sentimental or practical reasons)?
      • Yes: Would scanning the notes be sufficient? No: +1. Yes: -1.
    • Can this easily and sufficiently be replaced with an ebook? Yes: -1.
    • Would someone else easily value this more than I do? Yes: -1.
    • Is the (practical, financial, emotional) cost of tossing it greater than the space cost of keeping it? No: Toss.
  • Do I have a sentimental attachment to it? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Did someone I care about give it to me? No: -1.
      • Yes: Would they care if I tossed it? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Does it uniquely remind me of a special person, place, time, etc.? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Do I feel it represents important parts of me? No: -1.
      • Yes: Current me or past me? Current or both: Display. Past only: Store.
    • Do other things I own represent this sentimental thing to me sufficiently and better? No: +1. Yes: -1.
      • Is this sentimental thing really that special to me? No: -1.
    • Do I ever think about this book when I haven't seen it for a while? Yes: +1. No: -1.
    • Is the memory of the book sufficient on its own? Yes: Toss. No: Store.
    • Do I like seeing it? Yes: +1. No: -1.
      • Maybe: Am I bored with looking at it, or won't I be eventually? Yes: -1. No: +1.
    • Will I feel bad if I toss it? No: Toss. Yes: Store.
  • Do I use it often? Yes: Display.
    • Will I really ever get around to using it again? No: Toss.
      • Do I still care about this topic? No: Toss.
      • Would I feel bad if I never made this use of this book? No: Toss.
      • Would I pick this book if I were starting over on this topic? No: Toss.
      • Is this book useful enough to own compared to all the others on this topic? No: Toss.
      • Is there a newer edition I'd prefer? Yes: Toss.
      • Can I rebuy it cheaply and easily, if I ever get around to needing it? No: Store.
        • Yes: Will the project take long enough to justify the time for getting the book again? Yes: Toss.
      • Is it in annoyingly bad condition?
        • Yes: Can I replace it with a better copy? No: Store. Yes: Toss.
      • Will this be for a project or regular use?
        • Regular use: Store.
        • Project:
          • Has someone done this project to my satisfaction already? Yes: Toss.
          • Will this project happen anytime soon? No: Store.
            • Yes: Can I get it from a library easily? No: Store.
              • Yes: Can I use it fast enough to justify a checkout? Yes: Toss. No: Store.

For more

For some other criteria and more advice on weeding your books, take a look at "Spring Cleaning (and Organizing!) Your Bookshelves" by Jesse Doogan.