Simplifying My Books

Wednesdays are simplicity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Annie Mole

It’s not springtime, so I can’t blame the urge to spring clean. All I know is that I walked around my house last week and got the overwhelming urge to purge.

There are many, many areas where things are going away, but the place I always start is my books because I can go through them rapidly.

Not that it’s easy. Getting rid of books has always been painful, particularly if I haven’t read the book yet. It’s gotten easier – I used to feel serious discomfort if I got rid of a book I had read, and knew I would never read again. So I’ve made progress.

What The Books Represent

Why is this difficult? I think there are a few reasons:

  • Getting rid of unread books means I let go of the possibility of learning something from the book.
  • Getting rid of books I have read means I am moving beyond the realm of the book, and therefore moving past my comfort zone.

It is hard let go of something you had committed to, even if it was just a passing fancy. Books represent money that we have spent, paths we wish to follow, knowledge we may need.

The Three Step Process To Weed Out Books

Purging books follow the same method of general decluttering, with a few modifications.

Gather Your Materials

You will need containers…sturdy boxes work well for books. You will need one for donations, a recycle container and a box to hold books that you will keep. If it has been I a while since you went through your books, you might want to have some cleaning supplies on hand as well.

Work One Shelf At A Time

It is really important that you not try to do all your books at once. The key to getting through this is not to do too much at once.

Pull all the books off the shelf next, and stack them. Order doesn’t matter – you can worry about that when you put books back.

Wipe down the shelf now that you have it empty. You might as well kill two birds with one stone. :)

Evaluate Each Book Separately

One of the dangers of purging books is to keep large swaths of books because they are part of a series. Each book needs to be evaluated separately. One of the things I found when I did this is I realized that I really didn’t enjoy the individual books in two series I had on hand…and I was able to clear out two feet of bookshelves, keeping only one volume that had been autographed.

For each book in the pile, look at it.

If you have read it already,ask yourself if you are likely to read it again.

If it is a reference book, ask yourself if the material is up to date. Ask yourself if you cannot find this information readily on the Internet should you need to.

If you have not read the book, be honest. Are you really going to read it? If you are not, ask yourself what this book means to you – why you are hanging onto it. Is it something you can readily obtain again should you release the book?

Once you have decided to keep or get rid of the book, you need to place it in the appropriate pile. If you are going to keep it, dust it off and put it into the Keep box. If you are going to get rid of it, examine the book. If the pages are loose, or the book unreadable, toss it in recycling. Otherwise put it in the donation box.

How To Get Rid Of Books

Once your donation box is full, you should move to get rid of the books. Holding onto the end just makes it harder to shift heavy objects around. Sometimes I will donate the books just to get rid if them, but it is possible to recoup some money by selling the books.

Local Used Bookstores

Local options are the best as far as not using resources; however, many used bookstores only accept books in trade for store credit. The object here is not to repopulate your newly decluttered shelves! I prefer going for cash if I am going to bother selling at all.

Powells has a great interface where you enter the ISBNs and they will tell you exactly what they will buy. Then you put the in a box, print out the postage (they pay for it!) and drop the box off at the post office. They pay via PayPal.


Amazon also offers a way to sell used books. You can do it as a seller, and they have ways where they handle the shipping.

Your Local Library

My favorite donation spot is my local library. I simply drop the books off and they give me a tax receipt. They use the books to bolster their collections, or sell them to raise funds to support the library.

Although I was anxious about going through my books, I was pleased with the results. I ended up getting rid of many books I will not read, including many books on learning languages.

It was oddly freeing as well. I felt like there was no longer the expectation that I would get to many of the books “some day”.

Have you ever purged your books? Are you going to? How do you keep books from building up? Share below.

Photo by Annie Mole



  1. Ruby says

    Thank you for your post!

    Going through my book-case and getting rid of books has always been a production for me, since I get really attached to my books.

    One thing that recently helped me in getting rid of old books was my kindle. I went through all of my worn and ratty classics which I’ve picked up from the free cart at the library over the years and meant to read someday and downloaded them for free onto my kindle. I was able to get rid of a tooon of books that way.

    I also like your idea of thinking about what the books mean to you as a means of sorting through them and will try it :-)

  2. Auntie Claws says

    Okay, I’m going to be a shill, here for a minute. Our branch of AAUW, like many others, holds a used book sale as our primary fundraiser. Here in the Star City of the South, we typically give away about 7 – 8 scholarships that are generally in the $1000 – $1500 range. That’s a lotta books. Our scholarships are strictly for young women heading to college for the first time, or for non-traditional students – the ones who took time off to raise a family before getting their own degree, for example. Because I am giving my books to AAUW, I have a much easier time of letting go. But I do offer the discards to friends and family first. After that, off they go to the book sale.

  3. Ian says

    Its hard for me to let go of books as well. I do it by remembering four key things.

    a. I live on the 3rd floor. No elevator.
    b. This book and its friends are heavy.
    c. I’m going to move again one day.
    d. I have a library card.