How (Not) To Manage an Unmanageable TBR

How (Not) to Manage an Unmanageable TBR

Hello friends! Today I have an interesting post for you all, one that I’ve actually been wanting to write for a while. With all the ARCs I got at YALLFest recently, I figured now was the perfect time to discuss all the struggles of having an insane TBR!

First, I suppose I should define what I consider to be a TBR. For some readers, their To-Be-Read list is simply a list of all the books they have an interest in reading. This is what most people have on their Goodreads “Want to Read” shelf. I define my TBR as all the books that I own, but have not yet read. Those books are also what I put on my Goodreads TBR shelf. This is how I know that I currently have 148 unread books in my possession, either in print or e-book format.

I know, I know. I can practically hear the sounds of a child weeping and a helpless woman screaming for mercy over that atrocious number. How it got to be that way? Well, I started buying YA books on a regular basis in 2014. Then I kept buying. For three years. I don’t read nearly as fast as I’m able to buy, apparently.

You’re probably thinking, what can a person with such obviously bad TBR problems tell me about managing one? The truth is, I can’t. I really don’t know a sure-fire way to get your TBR under control, if there even is one. But I’ve also tried a fair number of gimmicks to limit my TBR, some of which have worked more than others. So I’m here today with a fancy list of non-examples to help you manage your TBR!

Discussion (Pink)



Ahhh, what a classic. We’ve all tried it. We’ve all failed. I’m here to say, with multiple attempts to back me up, that book buying bans never work (unless you’re a responsible human or something). Every bookworm is a little different, but in my case I tried to refrain from buying any books until my TBR hit a certain, less heart-attack instilling, number. But the story always went like this: a few weeks into my ban, I’m feelin’ good about how long I’ve lasted, and suddenly that four-letter word appears—SALE! I’d convince myself that I could “cheat” for a day, and buy one book (curse you Barnes & Noble, and your constant onslaught of 20% off coupons). Another week would go by, and I’d find a new release. Well, I’ve already cheated once, so who cares if I buy just this one shiny new beautiful release that I OBVIOUSLY can’t wait another day for?! By that point, I’ve given up entirely and returned to my normal state of buying. Or, in some worse cases, the book buying ban had a rebound effect on me. I went so long without buying books, I’d find a sale, give in, and buy AAALLLLL the books.

book buying ban


So, I’m guessing most people have heard of this, but it doesn’t seem like too many people actually use one. In case you’re not familiar, a book jar is literally a jar with little slips of paper (some people fold them into origami stars or cute shapes; if you’re hopelessly boring like me, you just use post-it notes) that have book titles written on them. Book jars are really intended to help you decide what to read next, but in theory, they can also help with your TBR. Instead of constantly reading all the new releases, or mood-reading random books, a book jar gives all your books—even the super back-listed ones— a fair chance of being read. Good news is, I’ve found this works slightly better than buying bans. Bad news is, if you’re like me, you never listen to your jar. I pull out one book, generally give a “meh” response, and say “Well, I’ll just pull one more slip and pick between the two.” Next thing you know, I have ten post-its sprawled on my bed and am ready to have an existential crisis about all the books I have to read.

book jar


Okay, this one isn’t really a “TBR control method” as much as something you should stay away from. I think one of the things that finally put the nail in the coffin of my TBR doom is ARCs—or really, Netgalley. I signed up for Netgalley about 6 months into starting this blog, and I gotta say, I kinda regret it. Now, I’ve read some of my favorite books of the year through Netgalley! But having an entire catalog of upcoming releases at your fingertips is a dangerous, dangerous thing my friends. I’d venture to say that half the books I read this year were ARCs, and waaaayyy more than half were 2017 releases. If you want to have any hope of reading those books you bought back in 2014, ARCs have to be avoided at all costs. Well, maybe not at all costs. But new and upcoming releases should be read in great moderation.

arc mania


Of all the methods I’ve tried, this is by far the most successful. If you want less books on your TBR, the easiest way to do that is to simply get rid of some. Several months ago, I actually wrote a post on how to do an unhauling, as I found it to be a very cleansing experience. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t quite enough. Due to YALLFest, my TBR is right back where it was before my unhauling. So my suggestion is that you should always get rid of more than you think you should. I can think of at least five books sitting on my shelf that I definitely should have donated in my first unhaul. Also, it probably helps to not come home with 20 books at once, just sayin’.

the unhaul


What’s this? We’re revisiting the book buying ban? Let’s just say that after failing at the “original” version, I came up with my own buying ban, based on a ratio. I told myself that for every two books I read, I could buy one book. The idea was that my TBR would slowly be cut in half. Seemed simple enough, considering all I had to do was read two books and I could continue buying! The thing is, how often do you find yourself buying one singular book at a time? Chances are, you probably buy a couple online (why pay for shipping two separate times, when you can pay once for two books?), go to a book festival and bring home an entire haul *cough*, or it’s the holidays and you get a small stack from family members. There are plenty of times in life where you get multiple books at once, so it’s somewhat unrealistic to stick to a ratio.

bbb - limited edition


Our last featured non-example is also a revisit of sorts! This year, since having one book jar didn’t seem to help me reduce all the back-listed books on my TBR, I actually created a second book jar. This one contained only the titles of books from 2017, so essentially all the new releases. The rest of the books on my TBR stayed in the original jar. This way, I could control whether I was reading an older book or a new one, while keeping everything randomized to a certain extent. Of course, the problem remained that I don’t actually read the books I choose from the jar. Also, having two separate jars didn’t really motivate me to read the back-listed books like I thought it would. Instead, I always just pulled from the 2017 jar.

book jar x 2


Untitled design

Well, now you all probably think I’m thoroughly insane for having tried so many ways to lower my TBR, and failing at all of them. The root of the issue is just buying too many books! But with so many beautiful stories out there, it’s tough not to want to enjoy them all. So, I’ll leave you on a more positive note, and tell you the trick I have lined up next!


This one is a little different from the others, because Down the TBR Hole is a meme created by Lia @ Lost in a Story! I’ve seen quite a few bloggers participate in this, and decided it would be an easily-managed way to try and knock my TBR down. The goal is to pick the first 10 books on your Goodreads to-read shelf, read their synopses, and decide whether or not to keep them on your list (then continue the process in multiple blog posts as you work your way down the shelf). As most people put more than what they own on their GR shelf, all it requires is taking titles off your account. But in my case, I plan to use this meme as a way to guide a gradual unhauling of my real shelves. Rather than doing one big unhaul, where I might be more intimated to remove some books, I’m hoping that taking my TBR in sections of 10 will help me decide what I truly want to read! So keep an eye out for my first Down the TBR Hole post coming soon (and let’s pray it works)!

down the tbr hole

What’s your current TBR status? Do you struggle with it as much as I do? What are some tricks you’ve tried to reduce your TBR?

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24 thoughts on “How (Not) To Manage an Unmanageable TBR”

  1. Omg, finally someone considers their TBR just like I do – with what they actually own! Mine is currently at 257 *facepalm* But I have to point out that about 50 of them are ones I got free from GoodReads contests… I always buy so many!

    I tried a thing for a while where I would get a dollar for finishing a book, 50 cents for exercising, 25 cents for a journal entry, and 25 cents if I wrote more than 500 words in a day. Then I could spend that money I earned however I wanted – on books, or clothes, or makeup, or whatever. The problem I found was that as soon as I reached ten dollars or whatever, I wanted to spend it. The most I could make in a week was 14 dollars, if I finished a book and did all the other tasks in a day. However, seeing as this was during school, I would finish maybe one book, exercise once, journal five times, and write maybe twice in a week. That’s only 3.25 in a week, and it would take me three weeks to earn a book. I think it would have worked better if I made a system where it was easier to make the money to make the system feel like a reward rather than a punishment.

    My mom tells me that I can only buy new books when I have less than ten to read! That is impossible! Right now, my goal is simply to have less at the end of the year than I started with. I know I am going to receive some for christmas and use any gift cards I get, so for now, my goal is to only have 250 on my tbr by the end of the year. It started at 263 and now is 257 so I am making some progress!

    I like the idea of read two and buy one. That seems manageable.

    I also have Netgalley and signed up for like 15 books right after making the account because I didn’t think I would receive hardly any of them and now I realize that was a mistake… I regret getting a Netgalley account and don’t even count those books in my TBR pile anymore because I know I will never get around to reading them. Also, one time a book came to me and every single word was pressed together – there were no spaces between the words. Let me tell you, it is incredibly difficult to read an entire novel with no spaces between words.

    1. Haha omg I can’t believe a Netgalley arc came to you like that! That’s so weird! I know sometimes I get eARCs with super tiny print, which can be annoying.

      And that’s a cool system you came up with! But I can see how that would get tough to keep up with over a long period of time. Having less books at the end of the year than you started with is actually a great goal! I’ll keep that in mind for myself as we go into 2018.

      Good luck working on your TBR!!

  2. I actually have a book jar and I used to love using it to pick out my next read but I’ve realised I’m a mood reader and I often ended up putting the paper back and choosing a different one XD now I’ve completely forgotten about it and I accumulated about 50 more books soooo *shrugs* I might go back to it though because I really want to try to manage my TBR a little better, and I feel like a book jar is the perfect way to deal with that!

    1. If a Book Jar worked for you before, it seems like it would definitely help your TBR situation now! But I definitely understand the mood reader struggle, which is why I only use my Book Jar on occasion 😂

  3. haha I think I’m just a responsible human >.< So far the book ban (limited edition) is working. I went about 2 months without buying a new book and now I have to FINISH or get rid of a book before adding more. (except graphic novels). So far so good. But I also get free shipping so it's not terrible to buy 1 at a time. I totally tried the jar one year and DID THE SAME THING. I would just keep picking out slips of paper until I got to one I didn't go "meh" at….which was usually never….so then I just stared at my shelves until giving up and watching Netflix. Unhauling my books also helped! Now I only have books that I 100% want to read at some point. haha

    1. I’m glad to hear that the book buying ban is going well for you, I hope one day I can have that kind of restraint/responsibility! 😛 It’s also great that you only have books on your TBR you’re sure of, I’m working on getting my TBR to a place like that. And I KNOW RIGHT the book jar clearly seems to have that effect on people!

  4. I’m so glad this post exists! Book bans work well for me because I stay at home and make sure I don’t keep any money in my wallet. I also avoid bookstores. It’s worked alright, so far. As for a book jar, mine’s more of a list? Then I ask someone to pick a number and I have to read the listed book! Has it worked? Slightly considering I’m a mood reader. I do prefer the idea of an unhaul! It has worked before, so :p

    1. I’m glad to hear that those “strategies” work for you! I really wish I could stick to book buying bans, but as soon as I hear of a sale next thing you know, I’m on B& buying three books 😭 That list idea sounds really cool! I might try that if I ever really get stuck on what to read next!

  5. Ok… I can totally relate haha

    The Book Buying Ban (Limited Edition) is one that I haven’t ever heard about before.
    It is a good idea but I don’t think I would be able to stick to the rules!!

    1. Haha I couldn’t stick to my own rule either, so I wouldn’t blame you! In theory I think it’s a good idea, but too tough to actually do!

  6. Oh boy, my tbr is probably around the same number as yours and it’s so stressful. I used to only buy books once I had 2 or so books left to read but that has clearly gone out the window lol. I’d like to blame book blogging and twitter for this but it’s obviously my inability to say “no” to all the books. I’ve tried the TBR jar and doing polls on twitter but I never follow through with them because I’m a mood reader.

    1. Omg I do the twitter polls too and almost never listen to them! 😛 Having a big TBR is honestly SUPER stressful, like I just want to read all the books all at the same time is that too much to ask for?? I agree that the book community has certainly not helped with the situation, lol!

  7. Love this post, it’s sooo relatable 🙂 On one hand, I really like the idea of a book jar, but on the other hand I’d totally be like you and end up pulling out ten different titles and not wanting to read any one of them (major mood reader here). I tried the book buying ban and… it never lasts long. But I must say, I just came out of a reading slump that lasted about 4 months and I haven’t bought any new books since, so maybe that helps? Then again, I also didn’t really READ a lot during that period, so… never mind 🙂

    1. Oh no, I’m sorry to hear you went through a reading slump! But I can definitely see how they might help with buying books. If you’re a big mood reader, I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying a book jar. It seems like no matter what I do, I always pull the books that I have zero interest in reading at that moment! 😛

  8. Lovely post, and I love all the tricks you have up your sleeve! I usually do a book buying ban because that’s rather easy (especially since I almost don’t have time to browse in college and am being more picky with books as I’m trying to save money LOL) but I love the book jar idea!

    1. Thanks!! I’m glad to hear that book bans work for you, especially as a college student, since I’m headed there myself very soon. They’re definitely handy when you need to give your wallet a break, lol!

  9. I love this post! This is definitely something I struggle with myself. The book jar method won’t work for me because I’m very picky about my next reads and I’m a mood reader, but unhauling really is a great idea.

    1. Thanks! I definitely agree, the Book Jar doesn’t work well for me either. Unhauling is tough at first (who wants to get rid of any of their book babies?), but is such a relief afterwards! ❤️

  10. So, I just keep checking books out from the library, carrying them around in my classes, and finally start reading. Eventually, the library, is like, nope you can’t have this book anymore. So i sit in the Library and force myself to read it. 🙂 Ok, that doesn’t always work.
    But I try. Also, keep the TBR short. And never stop reading.

    1. I have to admit, I’m bad about using my library! I know I should, rather than buying books, but I suppose the library presents its own set of TBR problems as well! ❤️

    1. Me too! I only use my Book Jar on occasion, when I truly don’t know what I want to read. But it’s rare that my Book Jar actually helps!

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