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How to Cut Down Your TBR Pile Once and For All

How to Cut Down Your TBR Pile Once and For All: Two-Step Guide

Oh the dreaded TBR pile. It really is every book reviewer’s worst nightmare. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term TBR pile, it stands for “To Be Read” pile. Now I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve got a TBR pile that towers high into the sky, and I have done for several years. The books are making their way onto my shelves much faster than I can read them, and it’s not because I don’t read a lot, because I get through a fair few books a year. Read about all the books I read in 2017 here.

So what’s the problem?

I’ll admit it. I’m an obsessive book hoarder. It seems that I not only love to read books, but also collect them, and this addiction is getting a little out of hand. So here’s a two-step process to decluttering your shelves and getting those books read. The first step involves preventing any new books from creeping onto your shelves spring cleaning your shelves. The second step will help you tackle the remaining books that you really do want to get through.

For reference, in this post, “TBR pile” refers to books you already own, but have not read, and not books on your wish list that you someday want to read. I appreciate that not everyone is fortunate enough to own stacks and stacks of books and therefore may not be in a position where they own lots of books that they haven’t read.

You might also just be an organised bean who doesn’t leave unread bought or gifted books on the shelf for years. However, from what I’ve seen on Instagram, it seems that a mounting TBR pile is a problem most bookstagrammers have to deal with at some point or another. If you’ve got a sky-high TBR pile, this post is for you. 

Part One

Enforce a strict book buying ban

The first step is, of course, enforcing a strict book buying ban on yourself. This could be as long or as short as you want but obviously the longer the ban, the quicker you’ll see results!

But what about that new release I’ve been dying to read?

Don’t worry, there’s still hope! What are Christmas and birthdays for after all? If you really are dedicated to making a dent in your TBR pile, you should be ok with waiting a little while before you move onto the latest new release. If the books already on your shelves have no appeal to you and you only want to read said new release, then perhaps you need to remove some books from your TBR altogether. See below.

Donate the books you know you will never read

Have a really good look at your shelf. How many of those titles on your shelves do you actually intend on reading in your lifetime? For me, there are lots of classics on my shelves that I’ve bought from charity shops over time and I know I definitely want to read them at some point. There are many others, however, that were bought on a whim, bought when my tastes were different, gifted at Christmas or are old review copies. It’s time to accept that I am never going to read them and just donate them to charity.

There are some books I bought from charity shops in my teen years that still remain very popular today but I’m just not the same person I was when I bought them and I’m not sure the books really appeal to me anymore. There’s no shame in admitting that – just put them in a pile and give them to a friend or to a charity shop where someone who actually wants to read it can pick it up!

Check out this post about decluttering your bookshelves to get you started! 

Just say no.

This lesson is important in so many aspects of life, but in this case I’m looking at you book reviewers.

I’m really bad at saying no. I’m slowly improving, and feeling so much better for it, but there’s still a long way to go. If you are privileged enough to be offered books by publishers, publicists or authors themselves, remember that it’s ok to say no. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad book blogger. People lead busy lives and hey, most of us aren’t paid to review these books so you are absolutely not under any obligation to accept review copies. If a book doesn’t sound like it’s your thing – just say no. If you don’t have enough time right now – just say no.

There’s no need to make up excuses either; just give an honest, but polite, response and no hard feelings!

Part Two

Find a book buddy

Find yourself a buddy who also wants to read one of the titles on your TBR pile and vow to read the book together. Hopefully this will motivate you, or if not, oblige you, to actually finish said book from cover to cover. You can find someone in real life that you know has a similar taste in books, or you can put feelers out on #bookstagram, and I’m sure you’ll find a willing buddy!

Devise a book selection system

It can be pretty overwhelming looking at a large pile of books that you need to read but you need to stop wasting time picking and choosing and just get on with it. If you’re confident that you do actualyl want to read all of the books in your pile then it shoudn’t matter which order you read them in. I would highly recommend devising a sort of “system” that helps you to choose what book you’re going to read next. For example:

  • Select a book by an author whose surname begins with A, then with B, then with C etc.
  • Select a different coloured book until you’ve gone through every colour of the rainbow
  • Select a book from the top row of your shelf, then the second row, then third etc.
  • Or, get a friend or family member to pick the book for you each time

This might seem a little forced but, as I said above, if you are certain that you want to read them all at some point, this is a pretty good way of making a quick decision about what to read next.

Since my bookshelves are colour co-ordinated, I will be picking one book from each “section” of my shelf to read over the course of the year. For me, this means three white, one yellow, one red, one pink, one green, one blue, one dark blue, one purple, one grey and four black books. This is an easy way of whittling down my options so I’ve only got around 15 to choose from each time instead of the whole book shelf.

Set small, achievable goals

If you set yourself small, achievable reading goals for each or each week, you will find yourself making progress quite quickly. For example, you could tell yourself to read 20 pages a day, or for around 20 minutes a day. Both of these are very achievable and easy to slot into your day. If you actually block this time into your diary, at the beginning or the end of the day, on the tube or when you’re waiting for your dinner to cook, I can guarantee you’ll be able to complete a book in these manageable chunks.

Let’s just say the average book has around 400 pages. If you only read 20 pages a day, you could finish that book within 20 days. This would mean you could read 18 books in a year by employing this simple routine. And that’s the minimum number of books you would read. If you’re a bookworm, you can be sure that on many of those days you’ll be reading much more than 20 pages in which case, bully for you, I can see your TBR pile shrinking already!

Take a book with you everywhere you go

You never know when you’ll have the chance to read a couple more pages so you should always have a book with you, if it’s convenient. Let’s say your friend is 10 minutes late to your lunch date, that’s 10 extra pages ticked off for you. If you’re employing the method above and aiming for 20 pages a day, that’s half your daily count down! See how easy it can be?

RELATED: 7 Reasons to Always Carry a Book With You

What tips do you have for tackling your TBR pile? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below!

If you liked this post, you might also like:
7 Reasons to Always Carry a Book With You
How to Declutter Your Bookshelves
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7 Beautiful Books that Bloggers Love to Use as Props
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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

Find me on: Web | Twitter



  1. 15th January 2018 / 9:09 PM

    Taking a book everywhere is the best tip ever and it’s how I end up reading so much. I *always* have at least 1 book on me, whether it be a physical book and/or an audiobook and/or an ebook. It’s so easy to fit in reading into the small parts of day-to-day life! I’ve also been unhauling a lot recently, because, like you, I have loads of books I bought when I was in my teens that I’m just not up for reading anymore, and that’s okay. I donate them all to the Oxfam on St Giles because I know they’ll be really appreciated by someone else!

    Great post Laura! Hopefully you conquer that TBR this year 😉
    Zoe @ Readabilitea

  2. Emily Richards
    15th January 2018 / 9:46 PM

    I’m guilty of this, I know reading is something I’d love to do but I’ve always found trouble focusing on the words and it makes it so hard! I like the idea of taking a book with me wherever I go though, I’ll be trying that out 🙂 Thank you for posting!

  3. 15th January 2018 / 10:36 PM

    Oh my goodness I NEED to do this my TBR pile is huge and getting worse as I haven’t been reading of late, but keep seeing books I must read when I get back into the reading flow of things.

  4. 16th January 2018 / 8:14 AM

    Some great tips here. I definitely finding a book buddy (or a book club) helps to keep me motivated and on track, otherwise I end up buying more books than I finish and that pile just keeps getting bigger.

  5. 16th January 2018 / 9:55 AM

    I am definitely on a book buying ban too, I buy them so much quicker than I can read them. I’ve not done a clear out of getting rid of anything I won’t read before so that’s a great idea x

  6. Kara
    16th January 2018 / 2:43 PM

    I have just donated a large amount of books to the school to be sold to raise money for them. It felt so good

  7. Jenni Grainger
    16th January 2018 / 4:50 PM

    I’m quite good, I pass on to friends and family as soon as I finish my book. Whoever I see first gets the book !

  8. Jinzo_2400
    16th January 2018 / 5:30 PM

    I just did this yesterday,I donated 40 books that I had read or never was to my local Salvation Army store. I like the idea of taking a book everywhere,I used to do that when I was younger.

  9. Baby Isabella
    16th January 2018 / 7:52 PM

    A couple of years ago my mummy was a book hoarder – then we ran out of room and needed to clear the space. Now she has one or two lying around. She loves browsing for books in Waterstones though!

  10. 17th January 2018 / 11:23 AM

    I used to have a huge bookcase with lots of books that I would get from the news agency I was working at. Every week the newspapers would come with free books and as we were only 2 on that department we would just divide them between us. But then again I moved to a new country and the only books I kept are my travel guides and my Nat Geo collection. It was hard to say good bye but it was necessary, there were too many that would have never got read.

  11. Lauretta
    17th January 2018 / 1:36 PM

    Donating those books you know you’ll never read would be a fab idea.

  12. 17th January 2018 / 1:43 PM

    This is my year to get back into reading. I did a mini clear out of books that I know I wont read that where gifted by my mama. I really shoudl add a book to my glove compartment I spend so much time in the car waiting to collect the smalls

  13. lisa prince
    17th January 2018 / 3:51 PM

    im trying so hard to get through so many book this year

  14. Hungry_Healthy_Happy
    17th January 2018 / 4:34 PM

    Oh I am a total book hoarder. I still have loads of pregnancy and baby books to read and my daughter is one now haha. I need to go through my books and condense them.

  15. Melanie Edjourian
    17th January 2018 / 7:31 PM

    Oh dear, I might be one of the few people that doesn’t have time to read. I have a friend though that has hundreds of books, she’s got the most enormous book case full of them. I must show this to her she needs to cut down as it makes it harder for us to buy her them as gifts.

  16. 17th January 2018 / 7:54 PM

    I literally have thousands of books in my spare room and even more on my kindle. I read constantly, So hardly have things on my TBR list.
    I do love the idea of choosing an author by going through the alphabet though.

  17. Leah Shafik
    17th January 2018 / 9:13 PM

    I have been listening to all the books I want to read now as I have a huge commute these days. Audible really has been my saviour x

  18. Afshan
    17th January 2018 / 10:52 PM

    These are good policies to have when reading a book. If you can donate a few, it will make someone else happy. I too used to collect books, but now don’t make time to read, but I must make more time for it now.

  19. 19th January 2018 / 9:38 PM

    Some brilliant tips here- I’m not showing my OH though as my TBR pile is slightly (VERY) out of control! Nice to meet a fellow book hoarder.

  20. 27th September 2018 / 11:57 AM

    My new rule is if I buy a book I have to get rid of one as well! This stops the book cases from overflowing *too* much.

    It’s easier said than done (throwing out a book is 10 million times harder than buying a new one), but it’s worked so far.

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