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Reading Material - Digital Minimalism Guide

This post is part of a series on Digital Minimalism and how to de-clutter your digital world to bring joy!

 

How to de-clutter reading content? This post is focused on books, audiobooks, podcasts, magazines, articles, and blogs. This reading material digital minimalism guide is focused on anything you've hoarded to "read later."


When organizing clothing in Marie Kondo's de-cluttering program, she asks the owner to dump all their clothes on their bed so they can see exactly what the pile looks like. This helps you to visualize how much stuff you really have and confront if you truly need that much. If we often forget how many clothes we own when we look at our closet - imagine how easy it is to forget how much stuff we have when it's intangible like digital clutter! There's no easy way to dump all the reading we have into one pile, but through this process you may get a sense of how much reading material you collect without ever reading.


For me, it was overwhelming and it took me a very long time to work through this process as I had a lot of browser bookmarks, notes, and lists of things I wanted to read. I had over 220 tabs and bookmarks. I had over 140 unread books on my Kindle because of subscriptions to free book download services. By de-cluttering my reading material, I know spend less digital memory on books, access things to read more easily, and read more.


Goals of de-cluttering reading material:
  • Have fewer digital notes on what to read. Bookmarks and notes act like little flags of things-to-do, causing stress as an "undone" thing. To learn more about these silent stressors, I suggest this 11 minute Youtube video about "The Silent To-Do List."

  • Have more space on your digital devices. Books don't take up as much memory space as videos, but can easily take up 1 GB or more depending on how many books you do have. Cookbooks and other image-heavy files can be storage eaters.

  • Easily access books for reading. Ever get suggested a book and it sounds interesting and can't quite remember if you've read it? Are you interested in checking a new book out of the library but aren't sure what to read? Organizing your reading material can help simplify your life with easy answers to these questions.

  • Save money. Part of this de-cluttering process is to get into the habit of using the library. This will help you to save money!

  • Read more. Having easy access to something will help you use it more often and create a habit for reading. By having easy access to audiobooks, podcasts, magazines, articles, and blogs, you'll read more!

red rimmed glasses on seven folded newspapers

How to de-cluttering reading material:

In the same way people purchase organizing boxes and shelving, there are apps to help you organize your digital life. It may be counter-intuitive to download a new mobile application or create a new social media account to "de-clutter" reading material, but the point isn't to have the least stuff possible, the point of this process it to make your life easier. The new mobile app will help to make your reading easier in the same way a new shoe tree will make it easier to organize your shoes.

The tools:

  • Goodreads account (mobile app and website)

  • A library card

  • Your library's mobile app (in my case it's Libby)

  • Feedly mobile app

  • Spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, etc)

e-book open on a tablet leaning against a stack of 9 books on a table in a library

Step 1: Compile your Content

Compiling all of your things together is always the first step for de-cluttering so you can see what you have to work with and see your bad habits.


For the below, compile in a spreadsheet like Excel or Google Sheets. We will be deleting this spreadsheet in a later step.

  • Magazines & Newspapers

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks, online subscriptions, email, mobile applications, and any other place you access or make notes of magazines and newspapers.

      • Do you have digital bookmarks of magazines you like to read online? Do you keep notes or tabs open of magazines you read often? These notes are things to add to your below list!

    • Create a list of all the magazines and newspapers you like to read regularly.

    • Are there any magazines or newspapers you subscribe to but don't read often? If you wish to read them more, continue further in the steps, but if not - cancel the subscriptions right now.

    • Are there any magazines or newspapers you read physically but wish you could read them digitally. Include that in your list with a note that you may have to switch your subscription payment from physical to digital when later in the process.

  • Newsletters

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks, online subscriptions, email, mobile applications, and any other place you access or make notes of newsletters.

    • Create a list of all the newsletters you like to read regularly.

    • Unsubscribe from any email newsletters as you make this list of what you like to read. Delete the emails of the subscriptions.

    • If you pay for any newsletters, such as on Substack, make a note in your list.

  • Articles & Short Stories

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks and anywhere you make note of articles and short stories to read later.

    • If you read fanfiction, short stories, webcomics, other other fictional material, this is the time to compile those links too!

    • Create a list of these links to these articles and delete them from your bookmarks or wherever your made notes.

    • If you see a website where you often bookmark articles to read later, add it to your list of magazines and newspapers.

  • Blogs

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks and anywhere you make note of articles to read later.

    • Create a list of these links to these articles and delete them from your bookmarks or wherever your made notes.

New tab in the Google Sheet:

  • Podcasts

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks and any apps or websites you listen to or plan to listen to podcasts.

    • Create a list of the podcast apps you use to listen to podcasts.

    • Create a list of the podcasts.

      • If you just have bookmarks / notes, delete those. But if you have the items on apps, create a note in the list on which app you use for which podcasts.

For the below, compile in the "want to read" section on a book app.

  • Books

    • For this step, look at your browser bookmarks and anywhere you make note of books to read later, like Excel spreadsheets. Look at different reading and listening apps where you currently have books.

    • Create a list of books by adding them to your Goodreads account.

      • Use the tags and shelves system to keep this list organized.

      • For instance, if you have 5 books on Kindle and have read 3, but them on the appropriate "read" and "want to read" shelves with all 5 tagged "owned kindle."

    • At the same time, also add your physical books to your Goodreads with appropriate tag like "owned physical" as often we have e-books of physical books we also own!

stack of 10 pink books on top of a blue book all on a marble shelf

Step 2: Prune your Content

Now that you've compiled everything, is it overwhelming? For me, my "want to read" section on Goodreads was in the 5 digits. My list of articles to read was over 50 articles. Marie Kondo's philosophy for books is that you need to figure out what you value. I do value reading, and I enjoy reading, but having that silent to-do-list of articles was making me unhappy. While physical books on a shelf might spark joy, how does a digital sticky note with articles to read spark joy? It doesn't. Either delete it or figure out a good way to read it!

"If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it." - Marie Kondo

While we prune the reading material to figure out what you actually want to read and what to let go, we will also be organizing at the same time. Think of it like cleaning off canned food and deciding what to put back into your pantry and what to donate, only it's digital files.


  • Magazines & Newspapers

    • Now that you've made a list, narrow it to what you actually want to read and what you read often. Maybe this is the time to ditch those magazines/newspapers that just make you mad.

    • Organize magazines and newspapers by adding them to your library or Feedly web/apps.

      • The website and app Feedly is like an RSS feed generator and you can put in multiple magazines and then it populates the articles all together - so you can see a curated feed or articles for your personal reading.

      • The website and app Libby allows smart tagging, sending you a notification when a new release of your magazine is available for checkout from the library.

    • Make sure to unsubscribe from email notifications!

Personal Example for Magazines & Newspapers - I added different magazines I subscribed to the Feedly app, such as Vulture, Atlantic, New Yorker, and Vanity Fair. Over time I ended up deleting most of these from Feedly as I realized I didn't like to regularly read these magazines, now I have Conde Nast Travel and Variety. And that's okay! Our tastes change and magazines change.

On Libby, I have a "smart tag" set-up for tabloids so I can read US Weekly and others as intended - with their big photo spreads you can't get from RSS feeds or online articles.

  • Newsletters

    • Now that you've made a list, narrow it to what you actually want to read and what you read often. Maybe this is the time to ditch those newsletters that haven't updated in awhile or you never read.

    • Add your newsletters to your Feedly app.

      • If the newsletters are on Substack or other RSS formats, they'll easily populate in Feedly.

    • Make sure to unsubscribe from email notifications!

Personal Example for Newsletters - I ended up unsubscribing most newsletters that were cluttering up my inboxes as I didn't read them enough. The one newsletter I brought over was The Dearest who had a Substack even though I was subscribed to their pre-Substack newsletter.

  • Articles & Short Stories

    • For fanfiction, I suggest keeping an account on ArchiveOfOurOwn.org

      • Ongoing works go under "my subscriptions" and stop email notifications as that's unnecessary. Check when you want to check.

      • There's no rating system on AO3, so I use the Bookmark function to write my ratings on the bottom. You can search your own, private bookmarks whenever you want to easily return to a fanfiction you've previously read. Bookmarks are also an easy way to see if you've already read something when searching. I know the creators of A03 generally mean to use Bookmarks for your 'saved' or 'good' stories, but it's much easier to use it like a beta-Goodreads instead of trying to work through your history.

    • For short stories, add the hosting website to Feedly app/website

      • Sit down one day, like today, and read through the ones you've bookmarked to get rid of them. Don't just import them to Feedly to never touch them again. Read them, let them go, and then add the website to your Feedly feed.

      • The paid version of Feedly allows website that may not have an RSS feed as well as keywords if you are looking for manga, comics, or other non-library available stories.

    • For articles, add the hosting website to Feedly app/website

      • When making my list of massive articles to read, there were websites that kept popping up. I added these websites to my Feedly app. Then any new post gets posted in the app and I can go back and read what I want all in one place without having to keep bookmarks.

      • But what about the actual articles?

        • Some articles I let go quite easily - they're not relevant anymore and I don't need them

        • Other articles I quickly read and let go - I don't need to keep these.

        • For the articles I thought were really goods and I wanted to "keep" in some way, I posted that list to this blog. You can find them under the "longform articles" tag.

        • If there are articles being saved for a project, put that in a folder for that project and we'll return to it later.

        • For articles you can't access because they are behind a paywall use archive.ph or your library to read them through databases like EBSCO.

  • Blogs

    • Add the blogs to your Feedly app!

    • Delete any bookmarks, sheets, or notes as you have it all in one place.

Personal Example for Articles, Short Stories, and Blogs - This entire process has forced me to read more or delete! I kept so many notes of things to read over different websites, like Tumblr notes, spreadsheets, Chrome bookmarks, etc, and it's refreshing to have no "to read" bookmarks other than what's in the apps for A03 and Feedly. As mentioned above, I turned my favorite articles into a project - aka this blog!

  • Podcasts

    • After looking at the list of the podcast apps you use, pick one.

      • What do you need to do to delete these extra apps? Maybe it's as simple as transferring your favorited podcasts to another app. If there are exclusives keeping your at a number of apps, can you finish these? If they're ongoing, does it spark joy?

    • Now that you've narrowed your podcast listening to only the apps that work for you and deleted the others, now prune the shows.

      • Only keep the shows you want to listen to and only download episodes you're interested in.

      • If it keeps popping up on "to listen" in the app and you never listen, maybe it's time to rate the podcast and let it go. This will help decrease the silent-to-do-list feeling.

Personal Example for Podcasts - My app of choice is Spotify which allows me to rate previously listened to podcasts and delete them from my feed. Thus in my "podcasts & shows" are only shows that have my interest.

  • Books

    • All of your books should now be listed under "want to read" on Goodreads with corresponding shelves. Start with the apps first, going through the books on your Kindle, Apple Books, Google Books, etc. Read the first few chapters and either mark as "did not finish" on Goodreads or enjoy your book!

    • It will take a long time to go through your apps but eventually you should choose 1-2 apps as your main book reading apps.

    • After you've exhausted all the books you currently own, deleting them or removing from storage as you go, you can now return to the Goodreads list. Go through and add the ones that are interesting to your library app and delete them for your to-read list. Now you will have 2 lists - a list of books to-read at your library and a list of books to-read that are not available at your library. This bifurcation will help you easily decide what to check out from the library and what to buy. You can even further bifurcate based on other apps, like what's an Audible exclusive or available physically at your library.

    • Unsubscribe from book notifications!

Personal Example for Books - This has taken me a very long time to work through my massive e-book backlog. I don't view this step as a one-and-done like cleaning out a closet in a day, I slowly worked through my reading list through the year all while doing other de-cluttering.


Going through digital books is the perfect time to also address physical books. I prefer to read on my tablet or phone, not physical books, and I prefer audiobooks of non-fiction books. Reflecting on my reading habits helped me pick out how to read in the future.


Professional organizer Tracy Bowers says physical books should only be kept if you have the physical space. If you don't have the space and are squeezing books to fit or double stacking, some books need to be purged. This is a great rule of thumb for physical books, for digital books space is an issue but most people ignore it. Yet for both digital and physical the basic question is - are you hoarding just to hoard, or are you actually reading the books. In my case, I wasn't reading the 140 plus digital books and was avoiding the physical books as it's not my preferred format. I built up such a large backlog because I used Thor, Book Bub, and Chirp for book recommendations, but it created an overwhelming hoard instead of actual promoting reading. This de-cluttering process forced me to confront the hoarding just to hoard and encouraged more reading (and still free reading because of the library!).


Step 3: Change your Habits

  • For Magazines, Newspapers, Newsletters, Articles, Short Stories, and Blogs, use the Feedly app as your go-to way to read all of that content.

    • Anytime you feel yourself bookmarking an article to read later - stop. Add the article or site to your Feedly app and consciously choose to look at the Feedly app when wanting to read current events.

    • Turn off any re-occurring inbox or phone notifications, like Apple/Google News suggestions.

    • If there are any other bad habits that are keeping you from hoarding reading material, figure out how to curb that habit.

    • The goal is to get into habit of reading material in one place and to read it, not hoard it. If you do save something to read, check the save letter whenever you're doing something like standing in line or would otherwise check social media.

  • For Books, be conscious about using the library first after exhausting your digital library.

  • Anytime you hear of a book you would like to read, add it to your “want to read” list on Goodreads or your library app. Anytime you want to read something or buy a book, check Goodreads and the library app first.

    • In addition to helping to clear up space on your digital devices, this will help you answer hard questions like “What books do you want for your birthday?” and “Hey have you read this?”.

back and arm of a white woman in a white and black polka dot top working at a white desk on a laptop open to a website with an image search engine with a glass of water and a stalk of 4 magazines and 4 books next to a vase with a leaf and a potted pothos plant next to a bookshelf
End result of de-cluttering reading material:
  • Easier access to reading material, thus encouraging more reading (including reading by listening like podcasts and audiobooks).

  • No more hoarding of reading material (decreasing silent-to-do-list and promoting active reading).

  • Use of a reading material aggregating app/website, like Feedly.

  • Use of a fanfiction material aggregating app/website, like Archive Of Our Own.

  • Use of the library, like Libby app.

  • Fewer books and apps taking up digital space on your digital devices.

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