Culling Your Collection: How to Get Rid of Books

How do you choose which books to get rid of?

My joke answer is that you don’t. You keep them all. You have a home with an extra room to store them. You rent a storage shed to keep them all. You build a fortress out of them.

Of course those options aren’t entirely realistic.

Sometimes keeping every book you have ever purchased simply isn’t an option. Read It Forward just published an article for circumstances like that. Dee Williams, the author, recently moved into an 84 square foot house, which is about the same size as an 8 x 10 foot bedroom. As you can imagine, she had to cut down on her book collection a great deal. (Along with her collections of furniture, clothes, cooking equipment, and a dozen other things.)

Though never to the same extent that Williams did, I have culled my book collection in the past. It is a difficult process, but sometimes it is an important one. I’ve developed a system to make it a bit easier on myself. When going through my books, I ask myself the following questions.

  • Is it a book that I adore?
  • Do I have nostalgic feelings about the book?
  • Is it part of a series or collection that I want to keep intact? (I collect children’s books, for example.)
  • Is it a book that I am planning to read again?
  • Is it a book that is also a useful tool? (A reference book or a cookbook that I intend to use.)

If the answer to all of those questions is no, then I set the book aside. Once I create my “to toss” pile, I take a second look at the books to make sure that nothing I want to keep has slipped into. Then I divide the pile further into “books to donate” and “books to give to friends/family/acquaintances” piles.

Even though getting rid of books sounds simple, I always have to convince myself it is a good idea. I also have to promise myself that if I give away a book and decide that I miss it sometime down the line, I am allowed to buy a new copy. (Even if it does feel like a waste of money.) I have never actually had to go through with buying a second version, but giving myself permission to do it is an important part of the process. It makes me feel like no book will be lost forever.

Those are just some of the ways that I go about making decisions about book culling. I’m sure that other people use a very different methodology. If you have any tips and tricks about how you curate your personal library, let me know! It’s fascinating how different folks make those tough choices.




42 thoughts on “Culling Your Collection: How to Get Rid of Books

  1. I usually donate them to the local VA hospital. I was told once by a volunteer that they love it when new books are donated and rush to be first in line to get one. Yes, I do keep certain ones but I try to go through them as often as I can and know that they will be enjoyed by some of the hero’s that have given me the honor to live in a free country. However now that Kindle has appeared on the scene I am thinking about trying to get some people to donate Kindle readers to the hospital, I hope I am successful. :o)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is probably the hardest thing for me both personally and professionally. Even though I am actively culling our collection, people constantly give me new books or I see amazing things on the library free shelf. Plus there are certain areas where I actively collect and the kids always get books for Christmas, etc. The major challenges has been intentional collecting and also accepting when there is an area I am no longer interested in and need to let go of.

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  3. I would probably be a LOT more ruthless, but for the fact I’m married to another book lover who also happens to be allergic to throwing ANYTHING out… However, this is a really helpful post to those of us who find getting rid of any book painful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When book addicts marry one another it is always a struggle to get rid of books! I’ve definitely lived in each households where there have been multiple copies of books, but neither of us wanted to get of our respective copies. Ah, well. There are worse things to hold onto.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Practical advice. I get stuck on books that have been signed by the author, if they have my name in them. Somehow, this makes me want to keep them. I rarely buy fiction. When I do, I’ve usually read it first and fallen in love. For example, this week I was strolling around chapters and bought myself Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. But I am such a minimalist, I only allow two shelves for fiction. The other three shelves are reference books, some of which are fairly obscure Celtic and Indigenous books. You really can read a person by reading their books:)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You have so much self-restraint! But it also sounds like your system is a very workable one. (I have to admit, I wish that I could see those Celtic and Indigenous books. I love things like that. They can tell us so much about our history and our world.)


  5. Books were taking over my house and I was powerless to resist. Turns out we had a common enemy – damp. I’d packed the books too tight, double deep, and the back rows had slowly fused together into a mouldy, stinking pulp.

    With half my library in a skip and all money spent banishing the damp, I swore I’ll never let the collection grow too big again. Now I keep only the books I wish I’d written – or which I think will teach me something – everything else goes into a FREE BOOKS box in the local community centre. I could take them to a charity shop but many of the centre’s users would not think of buying a book – and I like seeing which books go quickly and which stick in the box.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, no. Raili you have just described one of my nightmares. Discovering that all of your books had molded and fused must have been terrible.

      I’m glad that you found a donation system that works for you though! I’m sure that folks at the community center appreciate being able to browse through the box.


  6. I used to keep them all but I finally made the decision this year to get rid of some books since my library is fully stocked now. I’ve made a selection of (mostly not so recent Dutch) books that I don’t want to read again. I’ve tried selling or swapping but nobody’s interested :-). I’ll give it a few more weeks, or months before I’ll donate them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wait. Wait. Wait. How aren’t the first options realistic? What’s so wrong with keeping all the books? I mean… if you get a house and just build bookshelves into every single wall. Who needs paintings and decorations when you literally have a house filled with books? (better decorating, in my opinion.)

    I never re-read books (because I’m the slowest reader on earth) and therefore should likely never actually buy books, but just borrow them from the library. That being said, I like having books to look at. I like being able to see what I’ve read and getting rid of any books is like getting rid of a piece of my soul. (though, I’m one of those people who has completely inappropriate attachments to inanimate objects. So…)

    Really, I’m just happy I don’t have that many books yet and hopefully I will buy a house before I ever get to that point. ^.^ For now, I shall keep my books and, if I have to, carry all the boxes myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. While I hate to let go of a book once I have it, there are some that didn’t grip me as much as I had anticipated. I either donate those to the local library which sells them cheaply through their Friends of the Library ongoing sale, or I trade them in at a used book store for credit which I can use to purchase other second hand books on my wish list. It took me a long time to be happy with used books, but at times they are as good as new, and not nearly as expensive.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. one of the hardest things i had to do when we moved into an RV was cull my print books (both hardbound and paperback). going through them, however, i discovered we had saved, and moved more than once, old college texts that we never looked at again. there are always places that take print books, so you never actually have to toss them–something i couldn’t bring myself to do. NOW, we are out of the RV, but i’ve a minimum of print books and won’t have to start collecting bookcases again. everything i read now is digital, eBooks, Kindle, ePub, etc. And i’ve learned i can actually delete books from the device. yes, i still have favorites and those i’ll keep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Digitized books have been a minor miracle. There will always be books that I want to keep a physical copies of, but I’m perfectly happy to have digital copies of many of them. And you’re right, it is such a space saver!


  10. This has been such a dilemma for me. We recently moved and had no choice but to downsize. Our previous home had a study with built in bookcases along the length of two walls, and needless to say…so many books, so little space. Some of my books are still in boxes, and I think the first part of the elimination will be…if it can sit in a box for a year, it can probably be donated. After that, I’ll have to use your criteria and see if I can find a way to let more go.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …I may still have books in boxes from my move in August. Well, in a box at any rate. Moving really does create all sorts of space problems. It sounds like you have a good plan in place for managing your collection though.


  11. I donate to my library’s bookstore Cheapstacks to help the library any way I can! But there’s a reason I can’t have many books: I do live in a bedroom. I live with my mom and everything I own is either in the bedroom or the basement. When I try to explain to my mother that my room is cluttered, I point out that I am 33 and have a house full of stuff in a bedroom. She still doesn’t get it.
    There are books I’ve picked up at garage sales and never read. And books that were free at school. If they look lonely, I try to give them a good home. But now my NY Resolution is to cull the collection and get it down to ARCs, my fave series, and my VC Andrews collection (since they are rare and out of print). I have also a few decorative books that are old (like Ettiquette books or Psychology texts) that I keep because they are old and have interesting titles. I’ll never find them again. But that makes up less than 1% of my book collection.
    I think I’ll be getting rid of a lot of books soon. My goal is also to read many of the books I haven’t read so that I know whether to keep them or not (I own Wicked and Anne Rice but never read them? I should read them!)
    This post is very encouraging and helpful. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donating to the library bookstore sounds like a great way to go about it! And cleaning up your book collection also sounds like a worth (and ambitious!) goal. It can certainly be difficult to organize in a small space, but you sound like you have a solid plan in place.


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