Tips for how to refine your library and what to do with the books and you’re ready to let go

If you’re an avid reader, take a look around. From where you are right now, can you see a stack of half-read magazines or an errant pile of this week’s newspapers? An overstuffed bookshelf, filled haphazardly with paperbacks arranged not by any special system other than “this will fit here?” If reducing the clutter and the ever-growing book collection feels like a Sisyphean task, here are a few ways to help you decrease your book collection. They aren’t all bringing you joy anymore (thanks, Marie Kondo), so thin them out before they threaten to overtake another room.

Where to Start?

Dream libraryWe mentioned Marie Kondo because we blame her and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for bringing the trend of minimalism to mainstream America. (Why couldn’t we have embraced the library from Beauty & The Beast, instead?) Her catchy philosophy can be summed up as trying to keep only those things that truly bring you joy. So when it comes to your books, unless they’re currently bringing you joy by sitting on the shelf, you need to move them along to their next home.


First step? Go through your collection and keep only those books with sentimental value or that make you happy just by knowing they’re always within reach. (I will give up my dog-eared copy of
Outlander when a young Jamie Frasier actually learns to time travel and ditches Claire for me.) Keep them if you know you’ll want to read them again, if they’re a reference that you need to keep handy, or if they would be hard to replace. The copy of Lord of the Rings illustrated by Tolkien himself can stay, but you can probably unload the entire stack of James Patterson books that you haven’t looked at since your last beach vacation.

Boxes of booksOnce you’re done, you’ll hopefully have a few keepers and a whole bunch of books that now need a place to go. Unfortunately, spreading the joy of literature isn’t as easy as just driving a box down to the local library anymore. (It turns out many of them prefer to buy their books new, to extend their shelf-life.) But don’t fret, we have suggestions for where you can donate your books and hopefully help those who don’t have such an easy time acquiring them.

Options for donating your books: 

Keep It Local:


The first thing you should do is confirm whether or not your local library accepts donations. Some appreciate the fodder for used-books sales, while others might shelve your copies (depending on what you’re donating, of course.) Most of the time, though, they will have suggestions for where to bring your books instead. Local options for donation beyond the library can include a
homeless shelter, hospital, school, nursing home, or thrift store.

Help the Marginalized:

One institution that is almost always looking for donated books is the prison system. Books are often in high demand with inmates, whether they are looking to further their education or just in need of some entertainment. Many organizations have specific requirements about what they are allowed to accept, but several can help you with the process, including the Prison Book Program, LGBT Books to Prisoners, and the Women’s Prison Book Project.

Two boys reading a bookIf you’re still holding on to books from your children’s youth, consider donating them to one of the organizations that specialize in getting used books into the hands of disadvantaged children around the world. The Books for Africa group sends used books to students in Africa, especially educational resources. Better World Books collects gently used books to sell online to raise funds for non-profit literacy organizations.


Alternatively, another group of people that are in need of books is deployed soldiers.
Operation Paperback can help you ship your books to troops overseas, veterans, or even military families, and Books for Soldiers operates in a similar fashion.

Options for Selling:

If you think it’s worth the time and effort it will take to try and sell your used books, there are several avenues you could pursue. If you’re lucky enough to have a local indie bookstore that accepts used books that will save you the pain of shipping costs, at least. Or you could check out Amazon’s Trade-In policies if you’re willing to accept an Amazon credit as payment. One word of advice: before you try to sell any of your books, check out BookScouter, a website that will tell you what you can expect to get for them.

Last Resort: 

If you can’t find any takers for your used books, there’s always the recycling option. Paperbacks can be recycled with other paper goods as long as they haven’t gotten wet, and hardbacks can too if you just rip the cover off first. (Yes, we know, that seems sacrilegious, but they’re made out of unrecyclable materials.)


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