How To Downsize A Book Collection Without Feeling Guilty

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Maybe you’re at the state where your sofa is made out of books. Maybe your partner would like to stop tripping on drifts of novels hidden in dark corners. Perhaps you’re downsizing your living space. Or maybe you’d just like to free up some space on your shelves.

Whatever your reason, at some point in life, bibliophiles inevitably find themselves needing to set free some of their beloved tomes.

When many of us need to downsize our book collections at home, we turn to one trusted place to take our beloved books: the library.

A couple of weeks ago, Twitter blew up when one unfortunate person posted their dismay that their local library would not accept their cast-off books and that they would have to * shudder * recycle them. Despite the frothing at the mouth of some, many people offered great alternatives I’d love to share.

We think of the library as a repository of beloved books that will treasure our tomes as much as we have. Or will at least put them in the $1 bins in the front in order support the programs and services that the library offers as our books find a new, loving home.

The truth is that many times our libraries are forced to look at our beloved books with a more clinical eye. Is this book a new release? A bestseller? Highly requested? A sought-after, up-to-date resource? If the books you’re donating don’t meet a variety of criteria, they almost assuredly go into the “for sale” bin OR are put out for recycling. But during quarantines, many libraries don’t accept donations at all. Sometimes, the donation sale bins are already overflowing.

Our libraries have limited space and must meet the demands of their communities, which change each season as new books are released. They have programs to support and invaluable services to offer. Call to see what they need and if they have room in their sale section. If not, and you really need to pare down, consider the following options.

  1. Recycle – Before you faint in horror, consider that the book industry takes a huge toll on our trees with the massive amounts of pulp that it demands for paper. If you have torn, tattered, or unusable paperbacks (think those books that took a dunk in the bath) setting them in the recycle box gives back to the circle of bookmaking. Your books could end up transformed and in the hands of someone else. As a self-publisher, I have any books that are returned by wholesalers marked to go to recycling with the manufacturer to do my small part!
  2. Donate Elsewhere – This is one of my personal favorites since recycling is difficult in my area. When it’s time to pare down my shelves, or my “don’t want to shelve” stack gets bothersome, I load up a case of books and head to my local Gateway, a service for our homeless. They sell donated goods and recycle what they can’t sell. You likely have a Goodwill or Salvation Army near you where your books can be sold to help someone else. I also know that several nursing homes and adult daycare facilities in my area are always in need of good books for their in-house libraries. If you are downsizing your children’s collection because they have outgrown them, think of children’s hospitals, tutoring and childcare facilities, and orphanages near you. Women’s shelters often need “homey” items like this as well. The opportunities to be generous and caring are truly endless here.
  3. Sell Them or Give Them Away – Another option is to find a used bookstore near you and open an account with them. Many used bookstores let you turn in books for store credit that you can exchange for other books. If you’re more of an online type of person, try Nextdoor, Craigslist, or Freecycle.org. Many neighborhoods even have garage sale groups on Facebook where you can list free or low-cost items.
  4. Upcycle – Slightly different from recycling, this could be a great option for you if you have a crafty side. Books make great craft supplies. You can make many objects from envelopes to gift tags to art journals to decoupage from your discarded books. Pinterest is your pal here.
  5. Restock Little Libraries – Little Free Libraries have taken the world by storm. Chances are, you know of a couple near you. If not, use this handy map to find some in your city today and have fun putting a handful in each box. Spread the love! https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/

I hope you found this list inspirational! There are many ways to help your books find new homes as they are or transformed into something new.

Think I missed something? I’d love to hear any book-cyling ideas you might have. Feel free to contact me at susan@susanfarris.me.

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