I don’t know what came over me, but in January I felt a sudden and overwhelming need to clean house. Not literally, of course (if you ever hear of me vacuuming the curtains, it’s a cry for help), but bookishly. Maybe I was just sick of tripping over piles of books that had appeared above, next to, and between the shelves that line my hallway. Maybe I felt worried about inaccuracies in my to-be-read and to-be-bought lists. Whatever the case, I took the plunge: project Book Stocktake 2021. I thought I’d put together a little post on how I did it, and what I learned…
Book Stocktake Step 1: Starting Point
I didn’t start my book stocktake from zero, exactly. I had pretty much all of my books in one place (the hallway), excluding those on loan to trusted loved ones, and those in the URGENT stack next to my couch. The shelves were in at least rough alphabetical order, by author surname. I’d kept track of new acquisitions over the past couple of years with a spreadsheet, but I was very sure that there were gaps (and, in my brain, if it’s not accounted for in a spreadsheet, it doesn’t exist – thus, the need for a book stocktake).
Book Stocktake Step 2: Actually Start
Hilariously, I thought Book Stocktake 2021 would be something I could knock over in an afternoon. I was planning to maximise my efficiency by (a) simply taking a photo of each shelf, and using that to plug the particulars of each book into a brand-new spreadsheet, instead of pulling each book out individually, and (b) not actually cleaning or tidying as I went.
Two weeks later, I was still going. Turns out, there was quite a bit more to it than snap-photo-type-details-repeat. Even without any actual cleaning.
Book Stocktake Step 3: Separate Wheat from Chaff
I quickly realised that not every book needed to be… stocktaken (is that a word? stocktook?). For starters, all of my husband’s books had been merged in with mine; his collection is paltry by comparison, but still larger than the average booklover’s. I decided to pull all of his books – the ones I had absolutely no interest in reading and would not even notice if they disappeared – out of my shelves, and find someplace else for them. No wonder I’d run out of space! I didn’t want all of his junk cluttering up my shelves or my spreadsheet (and I don’t want to know what this says about me, thank you).
And then came the REALLY hard part: deciding which books to… send quietly into that good night. I almost never part with a book. I can’t actually remember the last one I donated or gave away. But faced with the mammoth task of a book stocktake, I was forced to admit it is time. I set aside a box, and as I went through each shelf, I pulled out any book that I could be 80% sure I would never read or use again, and put it in the box. Only two or three came back out upon later reflection, which I think is a pretty good hit rate!
Important note: it is much, much better if you do these things before you actually start entering books into your spreadsheet. The alternative is only thinking to do them once you’re half a book-case in and a little wine-drunk and having to scroll back through and delete all the entries that are no longer needed. Hear it, learn it, live it, Keeper Upperers!
Book Stocktake Step 4: Keep Going
As soon as I realised this book stocktake was going to be a larger and longer project than I had hoped, I decided to do a few shelves a day and just force myself to persevere. I’m a big believer in the magic of incremental effort; every little bit you do adds up to a whole lot in the end. The trick is not to focus on the finish line, but just the bit you’ve got in front of you. Plus, I tried to keep it fun, getting folks on Instagram to guess how many books I’d have in my final tally and so on. (Answer at the end of this post!)
Book Stocktake Step 5: Put Your Data To Work
Even once I’d entered the details of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, I wasn’t “done” with my book stocktake. Yes, it felt good to have a complete list of every book I owned, but that data means nothing if I didn’t put it to work. The first thing I did (actually, I started doing it as I went, which made the process much quicker) was to mark off all the books I had read already. I was actually pretty impressed with myself: 41%! That was far more than I was expecting, given the rate at which I accumulate books…
Then, I went through my to-be-bought book list, and made sure I didn’t actually already own any of the ones I was intending to buy. That saves on any wasted money and time/space with double-ups!
And finally, I copy and pasted all of the unread titles – my official, complete, to-be-read list, into a different spreadsheet (please don’t judge), the one where I keep track of everything I’m doing for Keeping Up With The Penguins. Because you should know by now I can’t read a book without sharing all my thoughts with all of you!
Book Stocktake 2021: Results
My shelves are now far neater, and more orderly. I feel like I have a better grip on my collection, more able to recall at the drop of a hat whether I own a particular title and where it’s located. There are still a few piles where shelves overflow, but for the most part, I’ve got my shit sorted. There’s far less tripping, now, too.
I have learned that I am a huge nerd. Okay, that wasn’t exactly a secret – let’s say I affirmed my identity as a huge nerd. I found this process so rewarding that I’m thinking of making it an annual event. (Oooh, maybe if I saved all of the previous stocktakes, I could take note of the changes from year to year, and… oh heck, there I go again.)
But, of course, the most important thing I learned was exactly how many books I own. Are you ready for it?
Book Stocktake Final Tally: 710 books
Not bad, eh?