The Steps to Take to Purge and Organize Your Books

The second category we tackled was Books. We are book lovers and the books filled all our bookshelves, some storage cubes, and all the shelves in our nightstands. It was overwhelming. And it was too many to pile all together at one time. So, we broke up the process of decluttering the books in the following ways:

Step 1) Go on a Scavenger Hunt for Money Books!

I pulled up BookScouter.com on my phone and started a scavenger hunt for books worth money. BookScouter checks all the textbook buyback websites and tells you which one would give you the most money for your book after you enter the ISBN number. This was a fun and motivating way to get started on a category so overwhelming. I entered hundreds of ISBN numbers. In general, I learned that fiction is worth nothing, but I was often surprised that textbooks over ten years old were still worth a couple dollars. I stacked them into piles for Textbooks.com, SellBackYourBook.com, and Amazon based on which one BookScouter said would give me the most money. Be sure to check out the book condition requirements of each company. One of my books was worth about $25 but because it had a rip in the cover, no one would accept it. Each company lets you print off a free shipping label and just drop the box off at a shipper and then they reimburse you (remember that if you choose PayPal, you’ll get your money faster, but you’ll also have to pay fees). I tried to get up to $50 from each service, but failed. Here’s how it ended up breaking down:

  • 19 Books to Textbooks.com for a total of $53.25 (received a check within 3 weeks of shipping the books)
  • 14 Books to SellBackYourBook.com for a total of $47.84 (it’s been 3 weeks and I just got confirmation that my check is in the mail)
  • 3 Books to Amazon for $34.97 in Amazon Credit (deposited automatically in about 2 weeks from mailing my books)

TOTAL: 36 books for a total of $136.06 in Cash and Credit (assuming I get the $47.84 still outstanding).

36 books made just enough of a dent on each of the shelves that it got me motivated to start really culling.

Step 2) Figure Out Categories for Your Books

The KonMari Method from The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up recommends you go through your books in the following order: General (books you read for pleasure), Practical (Reference, Cookbooks, etc.), Visual, and Magazines. Maybe those categories will work for you, but we had to come up with our own categories:

  • Picture Books
  • Board Books
  • Youth Chapter Books
  • Cookbooks
  • Old Textbooks/Reference Books
  • Adult Fiction
  • Church Books

Defining our own categories helped us own the process and think through the books we owned in our way rather than trying to figure out which of our books fit into the KonMari categories. It also helped established sections for how we wanted to store our books (ie: all adult fiction books together).

Step 3) Have Boxes Ready

Before you start, check the website of your local library to see what books they want. Books that aren’t on the library list can go to a thrift store or other charitable organization. Books that are all ripped up (or chewed up!) can go straight into recycling. After we packaged up the books to ship in for money, we got a box for the library, a box for the thrift store, and a box for recycling.

TIP: Tally the hardback and paperback books on the flap of the box as they go in so that you don’t have to get them back out to recount later for tax assessment purposes.

Step 4) Remove All Books in Each Category From Shelves, Boxes, Baskets, etc.

Get the books out. Wipe the shelves off. Wipe the top of the books off. Focus on what you want to put back, not the ones you want to get rid of. Look at your fresh, empty, clean shelves, and decide what you want there. Which books do you love? Try to put like books together. (Though we do have a shelf in our living room of old, interesting-looking books from a variety of categories… but organized based on being the bestΒ to display.)

Step 5) Have a “Read and Get Rid of” Shelf.

If you’ve held onto the book because you “should” read it, get rid of it immediately. If, however, when you picked that book back up this time, you got excited to read it, stick it on the new “Read and Get Rid of” shelf. Limit this to one shelf and make it a goal to have it empty by the end of the year.

Step 6) Have a “Library” Shelf.

Now that we’ve gotten rid of so many books, we’ve realized that we want to borrow instead of buy books. We don’t want to add more to our shelves. Just this week, we checked out nearly 40 books between the 4 of us that read. Those books need a shelf so they feel as at home as all our current books. This also helps avoid library fees for searching for the books you checked out and can’t find!

Step 7) Sit Back and Read

It feels so good in here now. The books that remain are the ones that we love. They are organized by category, cleaned off, and enticing.Β We celebrated this victory by reading a ton this week (the kids love all the books they rediscovered!).

Total Book Numbers:

36 books traded in for money/credit

59 books given to friends (all but 19 of these were kids’ books)

100 (exactly) books given to the thrift store

76 books donated to the library.

TOTAL given away: 271

What remains:

42 board books (organized in a basket by the couch so Lui can access easily), 243 picture books (because these are so thin, they fit on two small shelves in the girls’ room), and 417 chapter/adult books.

TOTAL books on our shelves:699

We got rid of 28% of our books, but it feels like half! Our books now only reside on bookshelves. Our nightstands and storage cubes are completely cleared out. The open space is motivating us to keep this up!

Next Category: Kitchen Stuff. Another busy weekend ahead!

Books

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30 Comments

  1. wow you do have a lot of books. I have been getting more and more digital books. Often cases they are less expensive and take up far less room. They are transported very easily and are available anytime for me to read. So now I have very little excuse not to read. Nice Job!

    • MaggieBanks

      When you get down to counting a box of picture books, it ends up being a lot more books than you think. Those are very thin! And my kids can take them to bed with them and explore reading. I’m all about digital books in some circumstances, but for teaching my children the joy of discovering a new book in their early years, nothing beats opening a new cover and touching the pages.

  2. I am actually in the process of getting rid of all of my books (not my classroom library – that number is in the quadruple digits). I obviously love books and teach reading for a living. But I hang onto volumes of Shakespeare not because I reread them often, but because I liked the idea of having been a Shakespearean in undergrad. When I realized how underfunded different organizations are and how useful my books could be to them, it seemed silly (and almost selfish) to keep them just to prove (to others? myself?) that I had once studied them. Now it’s just me and my library.

    • MaggieBanks

      I did keep my Complete works of Shakespeare, but Mr. T decided we didn’t need to keep his as well if we were keeping mine. πŸ™‚ Getting rid of all your books is a bold move. We couldn’t do it. Especially because of the children! πŸ™‚

    • Antonio Albarracin Marcos

      Hi Penny. Consider taking a look at https://www.bonavendi.com/sell/b/Books.html you may get better results πŸ˜‰ Good luck!

      • MaggieBanks

        Penny’s my daughter. πŸ™‚ But thanks for letting us know about the other service. I’ve never used that one.

  3. Great tips! My daughter is a book hoarder. I’m not sure she’ll part with any. She’ll need another book shelve soon. I’m just glad she’s an avid reader. I don’t purchase many books I just borrow from our library.

    • MaggieBanks

      The library is the greatest, amiright? We do still have a lot of books, so I’m not one to tell anyone to get rid of ones you love… but the ones I love are now all that I have left, and that’s a great feeling!

  4. That sounds like you hacked our system, lol. We also had tons of books, and then combining 2 adult book collections piled them even more. when we decided to purge, declutter, and pare down our book collection, we hit almost every step you listed.
    We didn’t hit bookscouter, but Amazon had a pretty good “sell your books here” type of deal that was easy to check and get $$ for books. Then we combed through our fiction and sorted those, and then a big pile of magazines I’d hoarded, um “collected” over the years in case I wanted to review any brewing recipes or tips or who knows what.

    We ultimately got rid of a whole bookcase or two worth of books, and now my fiction books are ones I re-read, my value books are cooking, woodworking, music instruction, and fly-tying, and I don’t keep old magazines anymore.

    Great list and I’ll have to go through what’s left on bookscouter to see if we missed anything. We still have most of our grad school textbooks, although I still use them occasionally. πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      Amazon hardly gave anything compared to the others! The books they accepted were worth more, but they only accepted a few! My favorite step: I’m loving my new library book shelf!

      • Yeah, we had a lot of technical books from school and textbooks that they accepted. Mrs. SSC told me she used a similar site as you mentioned as well, when Amazon wouldn’t take anything. But yes, they were very picky, we just had loads of “school books.” We’ll be revisiting the shelves this weekend, scanning and checking, just in case. πŸ™‚

  5. I’m so impressed by how many you got rid of! It makes me wish I’d kept better track over the years of the ones I’ve gotten rid of, so I could make some fun charts. πŸ™‚ We’re down to mostly the books we love now, but they still take up plenty of space, and we could use another book downsize. At least I’m thankful that new books I acquire are mostly in Kindle form, so they don’t take up any space. πŸ™‚ (And of course we always look to the library first now!)

    • MaggieBanks

      It was a fun inventory to take. “Do I want this to be part of my permanent book collection numbers? Does it deserve that?” Knowing I was going to count everything helped! πŸ™‚

  6. I really like the idea of cleaning off the shelf and then deciding what you want to put there. There’s something cathartic about wiping the dust off a shelf…

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s so true. It moves the momentum from “what do I take off” to “what do I want to put back on this fresh, clean shelf?” – that makes a big difference!

  7. Des

    I have suuuuch resistance to the idea of getting rid of books, but honestly, this is pretty inspiring. I can at least get rid of books that I a) will never read again and b) books I didn’t even like enough to finish in the first place. (Dear Start With Why: you should have remained a TED talk.)

    • MaggieBanks

      ha ha ha – agreed. Those left first. Then I looked at what books I would rather just check out from the library if I needed them. There were a lot of those too. Books that are loved or create a magic in tactile form did not leave my shelves.

  8. Whoa! That’s amazing that you got rid of that many books! Just the physical weight alone makes that a huge task, not to mention having to make all these decisions about what you want and don’t want and where the unwanted ones should go. Congratulations on your nice clean, cleared-out shelves!

    I have been meaning to write a post about books for a while. I got rid of about 80% of mine a few years ago, maybe more (I wasn’t counting), and as a result I’ve been thinking differently about what it means to own a book and what it doesn’t mean. It’s such an interesting topic, especially since for many borderline-minimalistic people (myself included) it seems to be the one type of physical object that it’s still easy to collect a lot of.

    • MaggieBanks

      Definitely. I’m excited to read your thoughts on the matter. Books create a sense of magic. For books that would be the same on an electronic device, I got rid of them. But some books are magic in tactile form. And that magic can’t be replaced. Part of keeping so many is to introduce that magic to my digital children. A physical book is something they can take with them anywhere. They can wake up to a good book on their pillow. It’s just not the same as a kindle! πŸ™‚

  9. Katelynne

    But what about textbooks that I’ll most definitely for sure use again?!?! (The ones I do use are at work and I should just face facts that the other ones at home will not do me any good). How did the shipping process work? Did you have to pay to ship them back?

    • MaggieBanks

      Ba ha ha ha! I know! We were the exact same way! The shipping process was super easy. Each company just gives you a free shipping label to print off and you drop off the box at USPS or UPS (depending on the company) and wait for your money to roll in!

  10. This is incredible! I have never heard of BookScouter.com, so I am incredibly happy you brought this up. When my fiance & I combined our independent book collections, we recognized we had duplicate copies (especially classics, like Catcher and the Rye)! We have since donated a vast lot of our books, but the classics are hard to part with even when you have two copies. I think the “Read and Get Rid Of” shelf is spot on. We have quite a subset of books that would fit into this category, and we would be much more happy if we followed this guideline.

    • MaggieBanks

      KonMari obviously says that if you haven’t read it yet, you’re not going to, so get it out… but I thought that was too drastic for avid readers such as ourselves. πŸ™‚ And BookScouter became a total game. I love it!

  11. I am definitely in the mode of downsizing. As I get ready to leave my FT job, and explore a bit, I see a lot of things, including books, that are no longer needed or wanted. My mother had 1000s of books, all had to be gotten rid of.

    Hard/paper copy books are becoming less and less of a viable option.

    • MaggieBanks

      Again, with kids, there is a purpose and a magic to having hard/paper copy books. But I get how freeing it would be as an adult to not have any. Though I would miss the tactile nature of my favorites.

  12. Rue

    I totally used to be a book hoarder as well,partially because my mom scarred me by giving away almost all of my books when I was younger but I finally came around to the “keep what you love” and went through my bookshelves. I narrowed it down from 3 bookcases to 2, but that also includes a couple shelves that hold dvds and figurines.
    I discovered that I had shelves and shelves of books that I bought because they were on sale and I wanted something to read (tip money budget of a hairdressers apprentice. It doesn’t stretch far).
    I didn’t know about those resale sites before I packed them up, but I figure schools could use them more than I could use $50 πŸ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      I was actually surprised about the books they wanted on those websites… none of those I would have thought would be useful at schools. But great point. It feels good to only have books we love. Books are heavy both physically and emotionally and excess isn’t helpful.

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