How to tackle your TBR

tackle your TBR pile

As a book lover, the allure of a new book is always strong. It is nearly impossible to walk past a bookstore and not pop in. It’s even harder to leave that same bookstore without a new book or two. The satisfaction of placing books on a shelf, adding them to our to-be-read (TBR) list, and talking about books with other bookish people. But when it comes to reading our TBR, it’s not always easy. Which brings in a whole new set of problems. So, how do you tackle your TBR?

How to tackle your TBR when it’s overwhelming

Set monthly reading goals

What better way to get through your TBR than to set up monthly reading goals? I try to include reading in my regular monthly goals. This usually ensures that I get through at least a few books. How many books you put in your monthly reading goals will depend on how quickly you read and how busy that particular month is. Even if you get through a single book, then it’s one book closer to knocking out your TBR.

Make time to read

One of the biggest reasons readers don’t read is that they claim they don’t have time. I get it. Some days I felt like I can’t sit down for five minutes let alone an hour to truly enjoy a few chapters. However, if you are serious about getting through that TBR, then you need to make time to read. Set aside a certain block of time in the morning, afternoon or evening and stick to it. Make that your reading time. Turn off your phone, tell your family you don’t exist for the next 30 minutes, and read!

Consider going with an audiobook if you are the super busy type. This way you can be reading, while still tackling those things around the house. Audiobooks are also great for those long commutes to work. My husband uses his 30-minute commute to work to listen to audiobooks and it works out well for him.

Read your books

Hahahaha. No, but seriously, read those books! I know it can be difficult. There have been countless times that I have gone to read a book and spend all my time browsing my shelf to find that perfect book instead of actually reading. Between setting up monthly reading goals and reading times, then this should be fairly easy. Reading your books is the easiest and best way to tackle your TBR.

Create a reading space

Chances are you already have a spot set up to read. But, if you don’t, consider this option. Having a special spot specifically designed for your books and reading is a great idea. Remember, it doesn’t need to be super fancy and you don’t want to break the bank either. Start using what you have already in your house and over time you can add in things to make it feel and look even better. Once you have a space to call your own, you would be surprised at how appealing it is to curl up with a book and read.

Tackle your TBR: Create a reading spot and enjoy those books.
What my reading corner looks like.


A few years ago, I didn’t have a place to read. More often than not, I read at my computer desk. But I finally decided I had enough books that they needed their own spot. Using shelves that were already in the house, an old leather reclining chair, and an ottoman, I set up a little corner as my reading space. Over time, I added a lamp, because that spot has no lights, and swapped out the small shelf for multiple large shelves. Eventually, I want to put a poster up between the shelves, but I need to find a frame first.

Stop buying books

Yes, I said it! If you are having trouble keeping up with that TBR, then perhaps it’s time to go on a book-buying ban. Better yet, start using your library. The limited time that you can have a book should help to spur you into reading them. If you really must keep buying books, then set up a system where you can only buy a new book after you have read a certain number of books that you already own. Make sure it’s not a one-to-one ratio because then you aren’t really making any progress. Five or even ten books is a good number to go with before allowing yourself a new book.

Purge those books

I know, I know. How could you possibly give up a book? Especially one that hasn’t been read yet. But think about it. Are you really going to read that book that has been sitting on your shelf for a year, or five years or longer? Last year I went through my bookshelves and did a relentless purge. It was tough at times, but I had to trim the fat. A lot of the books I removed were ones that I had read but have no interest in rereading. There was also a decent number of books that were unread but I had completely lost interest in. All told, between all the shelves in our house, about 600 books were removed. 600 books! So yes, it can be done.

Only read books on the shelves

As a final resort, give this a try. Take all of the books off of your shelves. Now, sort through them and only put back the ones you have read. You may be thinking that you have read most of your books, but this is an eye-opening experience. I did this a few months back and I was honestly shocked at how many unread books were living on my shelves. The purpose of this challenge is to keep those unread books on the floor until you have read them. Then, and only then, can you place them back on the shelf. Now, this can be hard if you don’t have a lot of space to work with. So, you can do what I did, place all those unread books on the floor and take pictures of them and the shelves.

This is a good visual reminder of how much you need to read without sacrificing all of your floor space. So what does it look like to have only your read books on your shelves? Well, this is what my shelves and floor looked like.

The Star Wars shelf

This shelf is my pride and joy. On it, is every novel from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, now called Legends. It is a collection that has taken me nearly 20 years to build. I remember reading quite a few of these during high school and even into university. But how many have I read?


Tackle your TBR: Star Wars book shelf
All of the Star Wars books from the Expanded Universe.
What’s left on the shelf after I have removed the unread books.
The unread books from my Star Wars shelf.

Here I was thinking I had read the vast majority of these books, but when it came down to it, I had barely scratched the surface.

The read shelf

As the name suggests, this is the shelf where I keep my read books. It made sense to separate those books I had already read from those I hadn’t yet gotten to. Problem is, I can’t always remember which books I have and haven’t read. So this is a lot of the books that I have read, but not all of them.

Tackle your TBR: Books on my read book shelf.
All of the book on my read shelf.
Once all the unread books have been removed,
The few books that haven’t been read.

As you can see, this shelf is pretty good. Almost all of the unread books are those that are too large and heavy to be placed on my other shelves.

The ‘not that bad’ shelf

I use the term ‘not that bad’ very loosely here. However, compared to the remaining shelves it really isn’t all that bad. This shelf is home to my manga, canon Star Wars, westerns, and a few random books that don’t fit elsewhere. But how much of them have I read?

All of the books on my not that bad shelf.
Once all of the unread books have been removed.
How to tackle your TBR: A pile of unread books on the floor.
The unread books.

Yes, there are a lot of books on the floor. As I said, it’s not too bad but there is certainly room for improvement. Some of these have been read since this picture was taken, but it’s not enough to put a significant dent in the pile.

The ‘getting worse’ shelf

This is where I start to show my shame as a reader. It’s starting to look like I am losing the battle against the books, but you haven’t even seen the worse of it. On this shelf is a mix of genres including science fiction, historical fiction, mystery, young adult, and a few non-fiction reference books as well. How many have I read so far?

All of the books on this shelf. Such a mishmash of genres.
tackle your TBR
Once all of the unread books have been removed.
A large pile of unread books.

Okay, that’s a pretty large pile of unread books. The sad thing is, some of those books – like the Wheel of Time series, had been on my shelf for 15+ years. I still really want to read that series and that’s the big reason why it survived my shelf purge.

The shelf of shame

I saved the best for last. Sometimes, you just need to admit that you have made mistakes and all those books you thought that you had read were nothing but lies. On this shelf is mostly fantasy books but there are a few other genres mixed in. I am a huge fan of the fantasy genre, so it makes sense that I would have an overflowing shelf of fantasy novels. And yet, I have read so few of them!

The shelf in all its overburdened glory.
Tackle your TBR: A shelf after all the unread books have been removed.
Where did all the books go? These are what’s left after the unread ones were removed.
Pile of shame number one.
Pile of shame number two, because there were so many unread books I couldn’t fit them into one picture.

Yikes! See, I told you this was the shelf of shame. Those left behind wouldn’t even fill a single shelf. The good news is, that I have plenty of books to keep me occupied over the next few months, if not years. I have also drastically cut back on my book buying, only getting a few books in ongoing series that I am actively reading. If seeing all these unread books on the floor doesn’t help you tackle your TBR, then I don’t know what will.

Do you have an overwhelming TBR? Or are you able to keep up with the new books that you buy? How do you tackle your TBR?


  1. Wow you’re so organised! I no longer have a TBR list as I just get myself too overwhelmed by it.

    1. I don’t have an official TBR list, just what’s on my shelf and of course on my book wish list.

  2. Wow, that’s quite the collection! Most of my books were purged in our cross country moves. I like to think of giving them up as releasing them into the wild to be enjoyed by the next reader. Good for you for being so organized! 🙂

    1. It’s a lifetime of buying books – or at least 20 years worth. Ah, that’s a great way to look at it.

  3. I have actually managed to catch up on my TBR list for the first time in..forever thanks to a few long car trips which gave me plenty of time to read haha. Of course, I also haven’t been buying as many books as I used too either – I guess I accidentally followed your stop buying books tip!

    I have been seriously thinking about starting a monthly reading goal for the new year too, I think that’s a great way to tackle the TBR list! Thanks for all the tips! Also, your shelves are pretty amazing!

    1. That’s great! It’s been ages since I actually have been caught up on my TBR, but I will get there again one day! You should definitely set a monthly reading goal, even if it’s just to reread old books that you love. Any excuse to read is good in my books, haha.

  4. Wow that’s a lot of books on your TBR list, I use Goodreads to track what books I’ve read (plus list them in my journal) I’ve got about 12 unread books on my TBR (books I’ve bought) list right now!

    1. It really is a lot. I used Goodreads for a while, but honestly, it was overwhelming trying to add them all in plus the ones I had already read, so I gave up on it. Now I have just shifted the book around so the read books are in one location and the unread books on other shelves.

  5. Yes to audiobooks! I listen to them during my commute and whilst at work. The only problem is that my TBR list continues to grow because of fantastic new releases that keep coming out.

    1. Listening to them during a commute is great, that’s what my husband does. Ah yes, that is the downside to having such a huge publishing industry, try as we might it’s hard to cut back on the TBR because there are always new books coming out.

  6. Oh man, getting rid of books is so hard. Even when it comes to a book I didn’t enjoy or will never read again, I find given them up so hard.

  7. I love your organization! I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my TBR, but it helped when I switched to listening to audiobooks. Turns out that I have a lot more time available to “read” that way when I’m doing other mindless tasks!

    1. Thank you. Audiobooks are great for that. I really need to listen to more audiobooks myself, but I am picky with them, so I still prefer to read than listen.

  8. There are some great tips here! I have 9 books left on my TBR list for this year and I’m pretty sure I can tackle them, thanks to the inspiration you’ve just sparked 😊
    Also I’m in love with your organization & your dedicated reading space!

    1. Thanks. Oh, I`m sure you will read those nine books. It`s the one area of the house I always make sure if organized. Love my reading corner.

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