The Tender Subject of Books

These are my books before I went through them.
Do you really need your books?

I realize this blog post is going to hit close to home for a lot of people, my own mother included. I’m going to examine books. Why do we keep them? Do you really need all your books? Look at a shelf of your books.   When was the last time you used each book? See, I told you, this is going to be an uncomfortable post.

There is a safety and security in books. They represent knowledge, information and inspiration. They are characters and stories. There is a lot of potential in a book. However, books are only these things *if* they are being read. They only have value when they are read. All the time they have been sitting on a shelf they might as well have been rocks.

In my journey to reduce what I own by one third I have done a lot of reading about others who have chosen to reduce what they own. The post: Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books from Becoming Minimalist gave me a good step by step method for thinning down my book collection to just the “Desert Island” books.

My bookshelf after the first pass.
I did have to go through the shelves twice.  The first time I just took out the books I didn’t really want, but had been given or acquired somewhere along the way. The second time I was able to accept that I don’t need all my books. It was this post from Mnmlist: Minimalist Books in which a former bibliophile creates the simple rule: If I don’t plan on reading it in the next six months, it’s out.  I used this rule when I went through my books. It was hard to be honest with myself and not make excuses for keeping some of them. 

Then I was faced with what to do with these books. I could donate them to Goodwill, but are there better options.

I could also:

1. Donate to libraries
2. Give them to a friend who will enjoy them
3. Sell to a second hand book store or on a website like Amazon.
 All of these options set the books free, back out into the world where they can be useful and enjoyed by others. 
These are the books that are left.  Less than half of what I started with.
What will happen to the rest of my books? I plan on donating the plant books to the arboretum’s library; the randoms are going to Goodwill; and a small selection I plan to send to Peace Corps Panama’s Lending Library.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in (2007-2009). Like many others, I lived without electricity (i.e. no computers, no video games, and no television) and often read several books a week. Books are expensive and when you live on $10 a day, there isn’t any money left over; even then there are very few books to be had. Plus the Peace Corps office's lending library is pretty picked over. It’s mostly best selling paper backs people picked up at airports. The books I donate will have more value in Panama than in my living room.

I can't tell you what to do with your books, but I hope you closely examine why you have them. Ask yourself, "How often do I read this book?  Is this book useful?"


  1. Am really loving the new direction of your blog. As far as what to do with your books, there is an organization located in Mishawaka, IN called Better World Books, that sells donated books and uses the money for charitable work in (I think) Africa. My mom lives in South Bend, and I am taking the culls from my book collection up there at Christmas. There are bins around town to place books in, similar to a Goodwill bin.

    That being said, there are many books I can't get rid of . I love rereading books, they are like old friends to me, comforting and familiar. I did get rid of many books I know I won't look at again, but since I do have room I am gonna hang on to alot of others.

  2. I am impressed with what you are doing right now. I am in the process of moving for student teaching and putting things in storage is making me think about what I really need to save and what has just been sitting in a dark corner since I moved to school.

    I have known for a long time that books are my week spot. I love reading and I actually have enjoyed reading most of my books for school. For fiction, I try to only keep the books that I really like and would like to read again. All the other ones I donate to either my church library or a local second hand shop.

  3. Anonymous12/13/2010

    We have used Paperbackswap.com for our books for years. This way I am getting my use out of them and getting a book I want for only the cost of media postage. Not to mention it is fun to see where my 150+ books have ended up and come from :)

  4. There's always bookcrossing: http://www.bookcrossing.com/

    Although, I have to say that this post made me cringe. You are right about it being a tender subject. I could certainly slim out the crap from our collection, but there are books that I don't plan to read in the next 6 months that are family to me. FAMILY! Some that I would save from the burning building before I'd grab the cats. Well, the one stupid, fat cat, anyway.

  5. Anonymous12/15/2010

    I have been trying to do exactly this- it's not easy, and we don't have a lot of space to begin with, but I would say 85% of our books are never touched. Some I'm saving for when my girls get bigger, but we've become almost exclusive library users. So while we're not culling as fast as I would like, we're not adding either... Thanks for writing about this!

  6. Anonymous12/17/2010

    My (newly married) husband and I live in two tiny rooms in a house in London, and I constantly feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff our shared life has landed us with...both of us have horded books for a lifetime and now we have so many it's unbearable! You inspired me to do a clearout, and today we did a tit-for-tat cull of all our books - for every book I got rid of, he ditched one of his. We realised how rarely we read most of our collection, and hopefully they'll give more joy to people elsewhere (we're giving them to charity). It also reminded me how many great books we have which I HAVEN'T yet read - and I can make a start on them now! Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  7. I just stumbled across your blog, and am enjoying reading it.

    As someone who reads voraciously and loves books, I've found it easier and easier not to keep them. Between my local library, an eReader, and the internet, I've been able to narrow my book collection down to some favorites and frequent resources. Your post, though, is a nice prompt to revisit them and see how long it's been since I've opened them.

  8. Foy,

    While I can't check your blog often, I do when I'm in town and I love it. The topic of your blog is a constant conversation piece of ours as we glance around our simple mud house and beautiful view. We talk often about how we want to live when we do go back to the United States as well as how thankful we are that we got rid of a lot of our stuff before we left. It's good to hear that you're doing it. :)

    Books are hard though. Very hard. My hope is to stop buying books and use a local library more. The books are there and free. I usually buy my books secondhand at library books sales but still, you can always read it again. Now I keep a list of the books I've read so that I can go back if I want and recommend, re-borrow, or remember.

    Good luck.