Do you have a massive TBR (“to be read”) pile? You’re not alone. There are so many great books out there, and so little time to read them. But I’ve managed to tame my TBR pile with a simple shift in mindset—and this trick also works for video games, craft supplies, and anything else that tends to pile up while it waits its turn.
The problem with all of these items is that they are quick to purchase, but take a long time to use. You can add a game to your Steam collection in minutes, but chances are most will take you 20 hours or more to play. (Howlongtobeat.com says Tears of the Kingdom takes 52 hours for the main story alone.)
How many more games will you impulse-buy before you’ve finished that one? How many skeins of yarn will you snap up (they were on sale! And so soft!) before you’ve finished the sweater you’re currently knitting? It’s the same problem as the TBR pile, really. And I promise, there is a solution.
Only one can be next
My “aha” moment was when I realized that each book I read makes me want to read a bunch more books. Books from that book’s bibliography, books that cover topics that my current book only briefly hinted at, books of entirely different genres that I can’t read until I finish this one, but I’m getting major FOMO just thinking about them. Let’s say I add an average of five books to the TBR pile for each book I finish.
Now, if this just meant adding five books to the pile and reading them in sequence, that wouldn’t be a problem. But each book makes me want to read five more. This means that if I buy those five books, then read one of them, that’s five more books on the pile. Even if I start with a completely blank slate, by the time I’ve read three books I’ll have a pile of 13 sitting there, neglected.
The truth is that only one book can be the next one you read. Those five books you add to the pile while you’re reading? Don’t think of them as the next five books you will read. They are five candidates to be your next book. Only one can actually win that coveted next-book status.
Use your “want to read” list
Once I realized this, my book-buying habits changed instantly. I was reading Bone Rooms at the time, about human skull collections in American museums and where they came from (spoiler: not from people who were asked whether they wanted to be in museums) and kept taking note of books that would lead me down related rabbit holes: on eugenics and race science, Native American history, the European obsession with Egyptian mummies, and more.
But did I buy those books? I did not. Anytime I was tempted to buy a book or put in a library request, I instead added it to my “Want to read” list on Goodreads. (Feel free to keep a note in your phone instead, or whatever works for you.)
In the process, I also reorganized my physical stacks of books. Anything that was unlikely to actually be my next book got semi-retired to a place on a shelf. (Those books are all on the “want to read” list, though. I haven’t forgotten about them, just stopped lying to myself about how soon I’ll get to them.)
Reminding myself that only one can be next has been keeping my TBR pile under control. It also makes the choice of the next book a lot more enjoyable: instead of choosing between the obligation of a book I already bought, or the guilt of ignoring the whole pile to seek out something new, I know I can look at my wish list—or my small TBR pile—and decide which title deserves the coveted status of “next.”