Decluttering and Simplifying Book Collections

by Julie on March 5, 2012 · 34 comments

It’s hard for me to talk about books as clutter. I just don’t see them that way.

Still as most book lovers will attest, books just seem to find us and our collections grow and grow.

So at times my need to simplify outweighs my love of being surrounded by books and that’s where I find myself today.

What Books to Keep

This is really the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

I like having some books (okay a lot of books) around because I feel like they help “warm” a home. We literally have books in every room. From cookbooks in the kitchen to coffee table books in the living room to novels in the bedrooms. (Does anyone else find it hard to go to sleep without reading at least a paragraph or two?)

I even decorate with books on mantels and tables, so deciding which to get rid of can be hard.

Generally speaking, there are three categories of books I almost always hang onto:

  1. Nonfiction or reference books, because these are the books I actually re-read.
  2. Fiction favorites, because it makes me happy to have them around. Sometimes it’s individual titles, but often it’s books by a favorite author. When a new Maeve Binchey, Elin Hilderbrand, or Nelson Demille novel comes out, I usually indulge.
  3. Favorite children’s books. They represent sweet memories with my kids, who are now also book lovers.

Everything else is up for consideration. The stack of books that’s going to the thrift store today includes:

  1. Books I read once, but didn’t love.
  2. Books I couldn’t get into.
  3. Non-fiction books that are out of date or represent an interest I had that I no longer have.

Where to Get Rid of Your Books

Once you’ve decided on which books to let go, you essentially have two choices: sell them or give them away.

Here are four places I’ve used to sell books:

  • eBay – I found eBay to be best for vintage, collectible titles or books sold in groups (eBay calls them lots).
  • Amazon – Great for text books and other non-fiction titles. Popular fiction titles probably won’t bring much.
  • Used book stores – If you have an independent used books store near you, it probably buys books. If not, look for a chain like Half Price Books.
  • Cash4Books (referral link) – With Cash4Books, you can tell what you’ll get for your books before you send them in and they pay for the shipping.

Because most used books don’t bring much, you might consider giving them away, which is what I find myself doing these days.  Here are some people who will take them off your hands:

  • Friends who are fellow readers. I think a big book swap among friends would be fun.
  • Libraries often take donations of used books, not so much to use on shelves, but to sell themselves to support their operation.
  • Some schools, daycare centers, and retirement homes accept book donations.
  • Thrift stores will always take book donations.

Writing Off Book Donations

If the place where you’re donating books is an eligible charity and will provide a receipt, you can write off your donation on your taxes, provided you itemize.

It’s Deductible – the program I use to value my charitable donations – recommends the following amounts for valuing donations of used books:

  • Hardcover: Medium Value $3 and High Value $7
  • Softcover: Medium Value $2 and High Value $5
  • Textbook: Medium Value $16 and High Value $23
  • Children’s Board Book: Medium Value 75 cents and High Value $1
  • Children’s Hardcover: Medium Value $2.50 and High Value $4
  • Children’s Softcover: Medium Value $1.50 and High Value $2
  • Children’s Cloth: Medium Value $4 and High Value $6
  • Audio Cassettes: Medium Value $2.50 and High Value $3
  • Audio CDs: Medium Value $3 and High Value $4
  • Magazines: Medium Value 50 cents and High Value $1

How to Keep Your Book Collection Under Control

Now that your book collection is streamlined and simplified, how do you keep it from mushrooming out of control again? There are two great possibilities:

The library. Even though our library has cut back on hours and some services due to budget issues, it’s still the best resource going for both saving money and reducing permanent book clutter.

I make full use of the request feature, which delivers the books I want to a branch near me. I just run in and pick them up.

E-readers. Investing in an e-reader, like a Kindle or Nook, may not be as cheap as using the library, but it’s a great solution for book storage.  And many books, such as the classics, are actually free in electronic form. Can you say Jane Austen?

Are you a book lover? Have you had success in paring back your collection or is it the more the merrier? What strategies do you use to simplify your books?

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday, Frugal Fridays, One Project at a Time, and the William Morris Project.






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Shannyn @thefrugalpreneur.com March 5, 2012 at 10:25 am

I recently did a purge of many of my old books. I had accumulated many more than I’d ever want due to school and starting to blog full time. I had so many sociology books from class, it felt amazing to give them away to a charity thrift store I know many students frequent.

My bookshelves are still not where I’d want them but they’re finally looking a bit more tidy. There are a few books I can’t imagine parting with, and a few library books I had read that I had to buy a copy of (like Seth Godin’s stuff and Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters) but I try not to go overboard!

Julie March 5, 2012 at 10:40 am

Shannyn, I love the idea of a future student stumbling upon a text book they need in the thrift store you used. That’s great.

I also sometimes buy a book that I borrowed from the library and loved. Seth Godin’s stuff is perfect to be read again and again.

Audrey @ Mom Drop Box March 5, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I have worked over the last few years to par down my book collection. I generally use the same principles you do- keep the reference or really beloved fiction, get rid of the rest. (Now if I could just get my husband on board…).

Teresa March 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Oh YES – is there a way to get the husbands on board?? He has boxes of books – mostly textbooks from his college days which were nearly 25 years ago!
Another donation option is local charities and churches that do rummage / garage sales. It has been the only place my husband has given a few books to, after my annual query of ‘what can we donate?’

Julie March 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Ladies, don’t kill me, but my husband and I are on much the same page when it comes to decluttering. Teresa, I like your idea of finding charities that your husbands relate too. Maybe that will get them off the dime! Maybe someone else has an approach that’s worked and will weigh in.

Sheila March 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I can’t imagine ever not having a book collection. I have been an avid reader for years. I did switch to a kindle for storage purposes.
When I decide some have to go I always donate to the local library.

Julie March 6, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Sheila, I agree. I will always have lots of books around.

Geoff March 7, 2012 at 9:37 am

Somehow I don’t think a library of Kindle and other online readers is quite the same. Knowing which books to keep though and which to get rid of can be a difficult decision to make (and stick to).

Julie March 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

Geoff, like you, I could never make a complete switch from real, physical books to all electronic ones. I think most book lovers like having at least some books around.

Christa March 7, 2012 at 10:13 am

I love to get books through the library on my e-reader now. It’s amazing to be able to “go to the library” at one in the morning if I can’t sleep!

Julie March 7, 2012 at 10:14 am

Christa, that is so cool. Our library had that service, but had to discontinue it due to cost and is now looking at other options. Your comment has made me excited for when they offer it again.

Mimi March 8, 2012 at 7:41 am

What an incredibly helpful post this is. I try to sort through my decorating books periodically. My favorites tend to stand the test of time, so I try to be more selective when buying them. I give others to friends. My floral design book collection is growing, but I can keep some of those at my shop. I love reference books especially vintage ones. I try to get rid of books I know I won’t read again, but it’s hard. Thanks for all the resources and tips.

Julie March 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Mimi, my favorite decorating books are something I would definitely keep on hand, as well as my favorite decorating magazines, which are priced more like books these days!

Thanks for your comment and I look forward to exploring your blog. You have one of my dream jobs: florist. I’m sure it’s not as dreamy as I romanticize it to be, but to be surrounded by flowers all day sounds heavenly.

Lindy Mint March 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I’m a very slow reader, so I used to hold onto every book I’d ever read as a token of my accomplishment.

Then I learned in design school that books represent dead energy and are bad Feng Shui (not that I really believe that, but it was a good motivator to stop hoarding them).

Now I only save books that I really enjoyed reading.

Great guide and tips for selling/donating/decluttering!

Julie March 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Lindy, I don’t know about all books being dead energy, but I definitely believe that clutter steals your energy.

Alice Almighty March 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Wow! What a fantastic post full of super useful information! I am totally saving that book value list, we have piles of books, and {how does this happen?} no bookcases. Thanks!

Julie March 8, 2012 at 5:00 pm

How does it happen, Alice? The just seem to multiply!

Leilani March 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Great ideas! I need to organize our books but my husband keeps buying more. I want to arrange them according to color because I am girly. He wants to organize them the way books should be organized–by category. I like the balance you have found.

Julie March 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Leilani, I can completely relate to both you and your husband when it comes to organizing them. And I have a dust jacket on/dust jacket off problem too.

Julie @ Freedom 48 March 8, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Good idea! Oddly – it had never occured to me to sell our used books or even to get a donation receipt for them. A few times each year I go through our bookshelves, box up anything we’re not interested in reading again… and drop the off at our local Value Village thrift store.
Despite the innovation of e-readers and such… I still think nothing compares to a good ol’ fashion book!

Julie March 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Julie (great name :)) I completely agree. I like to curl up with actual books.

Tackling Our Debt March 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I’ve noticed many people decorate their homes with books and it is quite nice.

I use to buy a lot of books especially cook books. Last year I put together a list of books that I no longer want and started to sell them on Amazon. And I no longer buy any cookbooks because you get find so many recipes online.

Julie March 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm

You’re right…there are so many great recipes online. Pinterest alone seems to have made cookbooks unnecessary.

May March 8, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I share your weakness for books. I was taught to have a special reverence for them which makes it harder then to get rid of them.

Julie March 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm

They just seem so much more special than other things, don’t they May?

Kristin @ Fiskerelli Bellies March 9, 2012 at 6:42 am

My personal library is much too large. It’s definitely time find a new home for some of my books. Thanks for the ideas.

Julie March 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I like the way you put that, Kristin: time to find a new home for your books.

Abbi March 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

Our family loves to read and we love to have a lot of books but I was thinking just this morning about books that we might want to get rid of (just so we would have space for getting more of course!). You have a good list for criteria. I am finding myself getting pickier and pickier about the content- If a book does not help us learn or edify in some way then I probably don’t want it. As my 12 year old is reading everything she can get her hands on I am trying to make sure everything that we have is something that I would want her to read.

Julie March 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Good point about kids who are readers, Abbi. If they’re grabbing stuff off your shelves, it might as well be good stuff!

Erin March 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I just went through the process of sorting out my books! I love them all and many of them I have very fond memories of… but I am getting married soon and knew that it was time to start sorting.

I emptied my bookcase shelf by shelf and sorted it into four piles:
1) Read and loved
2) Read and wasn’t all that great
3) Books for school ( I am a Kindergarten- 12th grade teacher, so if it is possible to bring it to school then it is worth keeping)
4) Books I havent read yet

Then I went through each pile and asked myself if I would a) read it again, b) notice that title was missing, c) have been dying to read, e) or has sentimental value (like books that I received from my grandmother who passed away)– if the question was no to any/ all of those questions It got put in a bankers box. I kept the boxes hidden in my house (out of sight, out of mind really did the trick) to make sure that I truly wouldn’t miss them and I now know that I am ready for them to go.

Julie March 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Excellent system, Erin. Thanks for sharing it. I like the way your mind works. You teach K-12? Impressive. That must be challenging!

Justine Stojowski March 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

We find homes for donated books where they are most in need such as women in prisons, we are building a library for an orphanage in the Philippines, send books to soldiers in Afganistan ETC. There are sooo many places to “give forward”. Books are my obsession and always want to make sure the books end up in good hands.

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