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How to Survive a Self-Imposed Book Buying Ban (From Someone Who is Currently in One)

The average American spends a mere $34.55 on books in a year. But rather than that being due to cost-savvy reading practices, it’s more because most North Americans simply don’t read, with the average American reading little more than 1 book per month.

But if you’re here reading this, you probably aren’t the average American. No, if you’re anything like me, you read anywhere from 2-10 times that.

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And when you read that much, your book collection often reflects it. In fact, book collecting ends up becoming a completely different hobby altogether, and hours are spent organizing your shelves for the best visual appeal, scouring the web for the latest special editions, and devoting a significant portion of your disposable income to growing your collection.

But, just about every avid book collector reaches a moment when they realize they have to rein it in a bit. Enter the book-buying ban. None of us want to do it, but it is necessary. So how can you implement one effectively without resenting yourself for it – or breaking it before it’s served its purpose?

As someone who is currently in a self-imposed book-buying ban, here are the tips I’m using to get through it with purpose and confidence.

Have a Specific Goal for Your Book Buying Ban

People put themselves on a book-buying ban for any number of reasons, but sometimes those reason aren’t very clearly defined. For example, telling yourself you want to save money is a good reason, but not a defined goal.

But without a defined goal, the reason for your book-buying ban becomes nebulous and therefore easy to circumvent; the next time you’re in the bookstore “just to look” and pass by the 30% off aisle, you’re going to convince yourself that you’re “saving money” by buying books while they’re on sale.

But if you have a firm goal that you are going to spend $0 on books this month, that makes it a little harder to sneak around.

To that end, here are some questions you should ask yourself based on your book ban reason:

Reason 1: You want to save money

  • What is your average spend on books per month?

  • How much money do you want to save, and over what time frame?

  • What should your new budget be once the ban is over?

Reason 2: You already own a ton of books you haven’t read

  • How many books do you own that you haven’t read?

  • How much of this unread book collection do you plan to read before your ban is over?

Reason 3: You have no more room for books

  • Why do you have no more room for books? Is it because you need to reorganize your book storage system or do you have more books than what is suitable for your space?

  • What books do you know you’ll never read again? (Or maybe never get around to reading once?) Consider donating these to bookstores or giving them away to friends or family you think might enjoy them.

  • How much space do you need to free up before you can end your book ban?

Free Yourself from FOMO

FOMO or fear of missing out is a major reason why many book collectors end up with more books than they will ever read (and credit card debt to match.) Book collectors like myself tend to froth over limited and special edition books, especially if they have sprayed or stenciled edges, author signatures, foiled dust jackets, and exclusive artwork. (Swoon!)

Book subscription services like Fairyloot, Owlcrate, and Illumicrate are especially good at stoking the FOMO fire; I get at least one email a week telling me about a new special edition for preorder and to buy it now before it sells out!

And I have fallen prey to the FOMO countless times. Some of them were worth it. But most of them ended up being books that I either had no desire to read or ended up not enjoying. Sure, they spruce up my bookshelf, but is that really worth dropping $50+ on a single book?

I am still wrestling with my FOMO but every time I find myself with my mouse hovering over the “buy now” button, I ask myself the following:

  • Have I read this? If not, why am I so certain I will want this special edition?

  • If I have read it, was it a six-star read?

  • Is it something I might read again?

  • What could I put this money toward instead?

Usually, by the time I answer these questions, I have talked myself away from the mouse and realized that my life won’t be greatly enriched by this purchase. Now, I limit special editions to books I have already loved, or my “auto-buy authors”, which are books written by my absolute favorite authors.

Read Your Physical TBR Pile (To Be Read)

If you’ve been hoarding books for a while, chances are you have a huge pile of physical books that you haven’t read yet. So create a TBR list of all the unread books you own, and then make a plan for getting through a certain percentage of them before ending your ban.

If this task feels too overwhelming, find a way to remove indecision from the process. Many readers enjoy creating a “TBR jar” which is a glass jar filled with folded pieces of paper. Each piece of paper has a different book from your physical TBR pile, and whatever you draw from the jar is the next book you read.

Your TBR list doesn’t need to be limited to books you’ve never read before either – it’s also a great time to re read your favorites!

Get Libby with It

If your book-buying ban has nothing to do with a towering pile of books you already own but haven’t read, you might be wondering how you are going to keep reading all the books when you’ve decided to no longer buy them for a time.

Fortunately, there are a ton of free ways to read books.

Remember the local library? (It’s an honest question because I had forgotten about it myself!) These days, a library card does more than allow you to borrow physical books. You can also use it in conjunction with book-lending apps!

My favorite app is Libby; I’ve only been using it for a couple of months but it’s already saved me so much money! The way it works is you link your Libby app to your library card, and then you can browse ebooks and audiobooks for download on your phone or tablet. (I think in the US you can even download them to your Kindle or e-reader but we can’t do that here in Canada.)

Now, the caveat here is that not every book is available, and not every book is ready for immediate download. Often, you’ll need to join the hold list and wait your turn for the ebook to become available. Sometimes the wait is a few days to a few months.

What I like to do is put several books on hold at once so I have a steady stream of books becoming ready over the weeks.

Hoopla is another similar app to try.

This is just one of many ways to read books for free!

Final Thoughts

Buying new books is a thrill, but it can take its toll on your bank account. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to hit pause your penchant for book shopping without feeling like you’re missing out. The truth is, it is really easy to give in to overconsumption as a book reader and collector, and actively resisting the urge to buy books can be a great way to put it in perspective and remember what’s really important in life.


What does a book buying ban mean?

It means that a person who buys a lot of books has decided to not buy anymore books for a set period of time.

What’s the difference between a book ban and a book-buying ban?

A book ban is a type of censorship where an organization or government prohibits certain books from libraries or bookstores due to objectionable content. A book-buying ban is when someone decides to avoid buying books for a while for personal reasons.

When should I consider putting myself on a ban?

If you feel your book-collecting hobby is getting to expensive or resulting in more books than you can keep up with reading, you could consider trying one.

How long should a book ban last?

It’s totally up to you, but there should be a goal to your ban. For example, if you want to save money for a vacation, you could decide to avoid buying books until you have saved up enough money. Or, if you have a ton of books you haven’t read yet, you can decide to go on a ban until you’ve caught up reading them. Or you can try a 30-day ban and see how it goes!

should you go on a book buying ban?

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