Uncluttering books: What to let go

Earlier this month, the post “Books: To donate or not to donate?” provided insider information on donating books to libraries. Many of us love our books, so pruning the collection can be difficult. Still, it’s sometimes useful to do a little discarding and donate books to your local Friends of the Library or other group — such as when you want to make room for new books. And, you’ll likely have a good feeling when you let go books that no longer serve you.

In my latest round of bookshelf clearing, I found 25 books I really didn’t have any reason to keep. Maybe you have similar books taking up space on your shelves:

Books you won’t read again

I really enjoyed reading The To-Do List, but I’m never going to re-read it; someone else may as well enjoy it! I’ll never re-read The Poisonwood Bible or The Tipping Point, either.

Books you won’t ever read

There were a number of books I realized I’m just not going to read. I’m sure Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 is a wonderful book (it won a Pulitzer Prize), but given how long it’s been on my bookshelf, I thought it was time to admit I’m just not going to read it. I had a few other history books in the same category: good books that deserve to have an owner who will read them.

Books that just don’t work for you

The Synonym Finder was recommended to me as an alternative to a thesaurus. While it sounds like a book that a writer would find quite useful, I only tried using it twice in all the years I owned it — and it didn’t really help me. Different tools work for different people, and this was a tool that didn’t work for me.

Books with information you can find online

I had two books related to green cleaning. After writing about uncluttering your cleaning supplies, I realized I can easily find equivalent information on the Web.

What-were-you-thinking books

These are books that are good, but just not right for me — and I should have realized that before I ever bought them. Home Comforts got rave reviews, but I’m just not the type of person who needs or wants an 837-page book on “the art and science of keeping house.” I’m much more casual about housekeeping than the author is. But, I’m sure someone will love this book, so I’m glad to let it go.

Travel-related books

I had some really nice books about places I’ve been — with the kind of information you don’t easily find online. But, I’m highly unlikely to ever go back to those places or refer back to these books (which are likely outdated). Even through they served me well at the time, there’s no reason to keep them now.

Next steps: After I identified the books I was happy to remove from my shelves, I sold some to a local used bookstore and freecycled others. The remainder went to a local charity that is about to have its annual book sale — I’ll get a small itemized tax deduction for that donation.

19 Comments for “Uncluttering books: What to let go”

  1. posted by Mara on

    You wouldn’t reread The Poisonwood Bible?

  2. posted by Beverly on

    Since I read mostly fiction . . . how do I know I’ll never read a book again? I have several books I’ve read more than once . . . so, how can I sort this out?

  3. posted by egirlrocks on

    Thanks for this timely post, Jeri. Right now I have several stacks of books on my dining room table that I’ve decided to keep. I also have 4 boxes of books I plan to sell on Alibris.com. If I run out of bookshelf room while putting away the keepers, your post will help me decide what goes onto the sell list.

  4. posted by infmom on

    I am taking three Trader Joe’s bags full of books to donate to the library today. :)

    Two years ago I tried my very best to get my husband to get rid of his chemistry and physics textbooks from college. He maintained that “the information is still good” and would not hear of letting them go. We compromised: I packed them into a box and put the box in our storage room, prominently labeled so if he ever felt a need for some of that good information he could go get the appropriate book out of the box.

    (1) Naturally, he’s never touched that box.
    (2) He graduated from college in 1965.

    I think the time is just about right to ask him to toss everything into the recycle bin, unless he wants to take his chances with the used-book store downtown. They do sell vintage schoolbooks, but most of them are for grade school children.

  5. posted by Beth on

    I pretty much know on the first read whether the book will be a keeper to re-read or not. I try to only buy books that I will read more than once, otherwise, I settle for the library or occasionally 25 cent thrift store books. This keeps my collection to a simple bookshelf full, instead of a whole house! Some people are baffled that I can read a book more than once, but I say its like watching your favorite movie again and again…sure you know how it ends, but do you enjoy it any less for that?

  6. posted by CanadianKate on

    We are downsizing and I was pitching some books with abandon, thinking I could always take them out of the library if I wanted to reread them (so classics like 1984 were tossed while obscure books were kept.)

    About 3 weeks later there was an article about how the National Library of Canada is cutting back its lending services. And another about how libraries today are facing cutbacks and challenges with people wanting books for their e-reader, not a paper copy.

    I just was in charge of shutting down the regional resource library for our church denomination (so added dozens of books to my own collection.) So specialty religious books aren’t available to me through that resource any more.

    All this got me thinking that I might not have library books available to me for the rest of my life. A very chilling thought.

  7. posted by Ying on

    Great article!

    I can not wait to go back to China to organize all books and donate those I do not need now.

    In the future, I am planning on replying the libraries instead of owning them.

  8. posted by Waterrat on

    Most classics are available as ebooks, mostly free. Unless you own a first-edition or a copy that has sentimental value, there’s no reason to keep it.

  9. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Beverly, you may not know whether or not you’ll want to re-read each one of your novels – but there may be SOME you know you’re very unlikely to re-read, because you just didn’t enjoy them enough.

    And over time, it might become clearer. I kept The Poisonwood Bible for quite a while, thinking I might re-read it. As I got older and realized how many books I still want to read, I realized re-reading that book just wasn’t going to ever be my first choice of how to spend my reading time.

  10. posted by Anne on

    While some books I’m sure I’ll not want to reread, some I need to live with for a while. So I have a 1 year area in the library. Books I’ve read can go there for 1 year. If I haven’t thought about the book during that year, at the end of it, it goes to the used bookstore or the library sale. That way, if I read a book and unexpectedly end up thinking about it later, I still have it to hang on to.

  11. posted by Shelley on

    I buy a lot of books at the annual book fair at our local community centre and they accept donations year round, thankfully. I stick bits of paper into my books titled “last read”. Each time I re-read a book, I write the date in it. Some books are just like comfort food for a while; but if I find that I have used it up – I remember the story too well – it goes with no regret. There are too many other great books I’ve yet to read and most of them come from the library anyhow.

  12. posted by ChrisD on

    For travel books I get these from the library in the first place. Or when I went to one small Spanish Island (Menorca) I just photocopied the relevant few pages.
    Once I had a very frustrating hour in Malaysia because my two year old guidebook was out of date and the bus station had moved so it was nowhere near the hostel (used to be a 10 minute walk). Though one small mistake is not a big problem it shows that out of date does matter, and as a holiday is usually a week or two (or a weekend) you really can just borrow the book).

  13. posted by WilliamB on

    Books are definitely one of my few “collection” items so I don’t feel my thousands constitute clutterer. OTOH I can fit only so many bookcases in my place so I do prune sometimes.

    My biggest problem is recognizing/admitting that I won’t read a book. Determining that I won’t read a certain book is like saying I’m no longer the person who would read that book. If that was a person I’d admire, then recognizing/admitting I’m no longer that person becomes a bit painful.

    I have a question for whose who are parents and have books: how do you decide whether to keep books that you don’t read, but that your children might like someday? (I wonder about this re my friends who are parents.)

  14. posted by Roberta on

    A friend is helping me declutter. Erin’s book is the only “cleaning/uncluttering” book I’ve kept – the rest are recycled.
    One of my criteria for letting a book go (oh, so painful) is it’s availability in the library, whether a real book or e-book.
    LOVE the idea of a 1 year shelf – will institute immediately.
    Some I’ve kept for now d/t sentiment – I’m a NASA fan so have several moon/shuttle books…dog and horse training books stay (for now – will be culled to the very best now I appreciate authors and training better).
    HA – “Home Comforts” is one book that STAYS – I love her writing, I like the idea of someone so involved in their home they can write a book that detailed and it gives me hope (false hope but I’m taking it). It reminds of “The Joy of Cooking” – which I no longer have but from which learned so much.

  15. posted by Angie unduplicated on

    I scan and convert to e-files, then recycle the paper. Only books I’ve kept are vintage cookbooks. Within the next year, I plan to scan those, send the files to Gutenberg Project, and rebind the books in original covers but acid-free endpapers and sell them. The final book, a heirloom Bible with an interesting past, will be forwarded to a relative.
    You might consider donating those books to your county jail or local prison, though, including women’s facilities. You could change lives for the better.

  16. posted by Edie on

    Just because a book is in the library now doesn’t mean the library will keep it forever. I currently own several retired library books. And a library in one city may have an entire shelf of an author’s work, while another library has nothing. I’ve moved every couple of years of my adult life. Never know what the library in the next town will have.

    So I use my own library use to guide purchases rather than discards. If I’m taking the same book out for the third time, it might be time to buy myself a copy so other library patrons can read it too. I try to visit the library more than the bookstore, so I’m not purchasing the books that aren’t keepers.

  17. posted by Robin on

    I have 4 huge bookshelves full of books. All but about 8 books fall within these categories. Now I’m considering redesigning the entire room- sans bookshelves.

  18. posted by Marie on

    My problem with throwing books out is that I have friends in publishing, so I often get signed books. (Usually moderate-selling stuff, nothing hugely popular or big name.) Even if I read the book and don’t want it anymore, it feels weird to give it away with my name scrawled inside by the author!

  19. posted by Norma Flax on

    I would love to have that copy of Home Comforts!

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