7 Tips For Keeping Your TBR Under Control

Are you struggling to manage your TBR list? Has it become astronomical and completely out of control? We’ve got some tips to help you!

Book Culture
Drawing of TBR piles arranged on bookshelf

How many books do you have on your TBR list? Hundreds, thousands… maybe tens of thousands? Fear not, we’ll help you sort through the chaos. All you need to do is follow our tips—and maybe start exercising a little more self-control in the process. (Yes, we know it’s hard, but hear us out.)

1. Keep only one TBR list.

icon for Notes app
Image via Brett Jordan on Unsplash

We know, we know—it’s easier to add books to a list in the same place you found them, whether on Goodreads, Amazon, or a library catalog. It’s also easier to toss your bookstore haul onto the ever-growing TBR pile in your home and call it a day. The thing is, that’s how your TBR grows as many heads as the Hydra, getting exponentially larger and scarier. And you don’t want that, do you?

So, try picking one place to store all of your TBR and sticking to it. You can use a notebook, an app, anything. Just make sure it’s something you can have on your person at all times, so that you’re not tempted to start yet another list. As for the books you already have at home, you can throw them onto your list as well—nobody said you can’t keep track of them outside of the house.

2. Organize your TBR by tiers of priority.

Once you have all your TBR in one place, it becomes simpler to sort out which books you want to read the most. By putting your “high priority” books toward the top of your list, you save them from getting lost and forgotten among books that you’re not as committed to reading. And ultimately, a TBR list is about commitment—how dedicated you are to reading a particular book before you die.

For reference, my tiers look something like this: “How Have I Not Read These By Now,” “Actually Priority,” “Priority…?,” and “Maybe Someday.” You can translate them as Must-Read, High Priority, Medium Priority, and Low Priority, but they’ll feel more personal to you if you customize them.

3. Be choosy about which books you add to your list.

The most sure-fire way to keep your TBR a manageable size, other than actually reading what’s on it, is to add as few entries as possible. This means making your list super competitive for any books under your consideration. Ask yourself, what do you care about the most in a book? And do these candidates have that? Do as much research as you need to answer those questions. If you add a certain book to your list that does not meet this standard, make sure it’s for a good reason.

If you really want to be cutthroat, or you just like a challenge, consider keeping a hard limit on how many books you’re allowed to have in your TBR at a time. This forces you to reevaluate your list once you’ve hit the maximum, as whenever you find a new book to add, you’ll have to either remove another to make room or forget you saw it. Not easy, huh?

4. Refer back to your list every time you consider making an impulse buy that’s not on there.

Bookstore shelf
Image via Renee Fisher on Unsplash

This is another reason to keep your list on you at all times: It’s your best weapon against impulse buys. In the moment, it’s easy to forget that there are other books you wanted to read when there’s a shiny, pretty one right in front of you. But with your TBR on hand, you can remind yourself that yes, there are in fact books that you want to read more than that one.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that books often don’t measure up to their hype (unless you’re easy to please). If you want to pick up the hottest book on the market to see whether it lives up to the hype, there are worse reasons to have. Do you really want to prioritize that book over one on your TBR that has every sign of becoming one of your favorites, though? Think about it.

5. Record why you want to read each book on your list.

Planning to read anything is useless if you forget why you wanted to read it in the first place. Having reminders on hand of what made you interested in a book will help you to weigh it against others when evaluating (or reevaluating) which ones to prioritize.

If you put a book on your TBR by way of a friend’s recommendation, write that down. If you did so because of a glowing review, keep the link. And if you just liked the cover, mention that—every reason matters.

6. Review your TBR periodically and remove any books that you’ve lost interest in reading.

We mentioned reevaluating your list in the previous step because updates are essential to ensuring that your list is always in line with your interests. Books that you added a year ago may no longer appeal to you now. After all, the more you read, the more your tastes may evolve as you become more familiar with common tropes and discover new favorite authors, genres, or niches.

Maybe you’re only able to remove a few books from your list. That’s okay! The goal is not to whittle down your TBR to two books, but to keep it organized, reasonable, and relevant. Besides, it’s more satisfying to clean up your TBR by actually reading what you put on it.

7. Balance your reading time with your book browsing time.

Child lying down reading a book with other books lying open around them
Image via Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Looking for new books is fun, we know—we too have experience with “tripping” into a bookstore. But the more you browse, the more books you’re bound to add to your TBR, and the less time you’ll have to dedicate to reading what’s already there.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t look for new books at all. It’s just a matter of moderation. It’s a fact of life that you will miss out on books you would’ve loved, no matter how much you read—a tragedy, but one you must accept to properly cherish the books you can read here and now.

At the end of the day, any area of our life can fall into disarray when we don’t make the time or effort to maintain it. If you really consider books the love of your life, you’ll stay on top of your list and let it become more than just lip service. So, what are you waiting for? Go show your TBR who’s boss.

Want more tips for bookworms like you? Click here for tried-and-true methods of reading on a budget.