Decluttering books

Filed in Blog by on August 15, 2008 36 Comments
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books how to recycle them zero waste
I was thinking about the pledge I made to myself yesterday. About actually TAKING things to the charity shop or listing them on Freecycle, instead of living among piles of ‘stuff’.

I walked into my room where I keep all my books this morning and was confronted with masses of them. I’m quite sure they breed overnight.

I got rid of hundreds of books earlier this year, but still they are falling over on the shelves; they tumble off when I go to select one, or I simply cannot find what I am looking for amongst them all.

So my September zero waste pledge will involve the culling of books too.

It’s such a difficult thing to do. And it’s taken me until the past couple of years to really be able to let go of books. I don’t know what it is about them, but I know I am not alone. There are lots of people who find getting rid of books really hard to do and many of us who are addicted to buying more.

Being someone who loves to write, I always think about the author. It kind of feels disrespectful to get rid of something that probably took over a year to write!

I used to use the mantra of William Morris to help me reduce clutter in my home – if it wasn’t beautiful or useful it had to go.

But I could always find the ‘one day’ excuses. And I could always find beautiful OR useful in everything. Even the third stapler, identical photograph taken in the photo booth with old school friends who’s names I can’t remember or dried up tub of mascara.

Now I use a different approach which I find really helpful when it comes to books. I ask myself ‘Does this represent me now, or who I was in the past?’

This is so liberating and I have freed boxes of my faithful friends by asking myself this question. I feel good about setting my books free to be with someone else who will get as much out of them as I have. Yes, they may well have provided a turning point in my life or helped tremendously with something, but if the learning has been done, then it’s time to let go.

We all move on in our lives, we evolve and become interested in different things. This simple question has enabled me to let go of the things that no longer serve me.

So I’ll be using that question again as I thumb through the shelves with my ruthless head on in September.

I know that walking into that room after my culling is over will be a huge reward. I will be able to find what I want and know that all my books have meaning to me in this moment. I’ll be able to sit in my rocking chair with a book in my hand and wrap myself up in every word on the page.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (36)

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  1. I know what you mean Mrs G, letting go of books is one of the hardest things to do. When we moved into our house 5 years ago, there just wasn’t room for the amount of books that we had so we had a cull, gave many away and then packaged the others into the loft to marvel at when we next more on.

    Books are so precious, they are a window onto the world and represent as snapshot of one’s character. But as you say this changes over time.

    My friends sometimes hold bookswaps, sometimes with wine, which makes getting rid of them easier to swallow. Also, have you come across BookCrossing. That’s fun too.

    Good luck with your riddance. At least there’ll be space to get some more.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    Mrs A, I have a post coming up next week with ideas such as bookswapping in it to help people set free their books. I hope it will be helpful to people as we are still in the habit of throwing books in the landfill in this country and that is such a shame when there are many ways to stop this.

    The bookswaps sound a lovely idea and thank you; I shall just be ruthless; I can very determined once I put my mind to something.

  3. Hi Mrs Green,

    As a student type throughout a good deal of my life, text books tended to accumulate. I got rid of 50+ computer programming and systems analysis books to a local University 2 years ago. I hope some students got the benefit of them. It is a great thing to give others the use of good books.

  4. russell says:

    I know what you mean, my wife is the same. A few years ago we went through the same thing and gave away about 2,000 books. We gave about 1,000 to an Oxfam bookshop – can you believe they were picky as to whether there were any hardback novels in there (apparently they don’t sell!). We had to sort through them and find the 3 that were there!

    I know it is tough but you will look back and be surprised how you don’t miss them. There may be the odd one but that is one compared to the large number you have passed on.

    Enjoy the freedom of releasing stuff from your environment!

  5. Mrs Green says:

    That’s a great way to get rid of your books, John. I have several psychology and anatomy text books that could take a simile route. It seems a shame to put ‘specialist’ books into a charity shop when there is certain to be a need for the in a college or University.

    2000 books, Russell! Wow, now I feel better LOL! I love supporting charity shops, it’s a shame Oxfam was so picky, but at least that means they are getting a lot of support if they can choose what to take and not take 🙂

    I think you’re right; in a few weeks time I’ll have forgotten about them and I’ll just concentrate on enjoying my new space.

  6. I got rid of a lot of my books over the last year…a lovely feeling. I don’t know what your library system is like over there, but here between our church library and our public library, there’s tons of good reading material that we don’t need to buy and store. That makes it easier to resist buying and keeping books.

  7. Mrs Green says:

    You’re right Kristen – for 50p I can order any book within our county and it will be delivered to my local library. I find that around 50% of the books I’m interested in are available, so it serves many of my needs and it’s one of LMG’s favourite places to hang out 🙂

  8. Ailbhe Leamy says:

    I don’t buy many books – I can’t afford to unless we stop buying local organic and fair trade food, and for me the food comes first. I have an excellent library service available and a fabulous assistant librarian who always knows what I want to read.

    We get rid of 2-3 metres of books a year, and for us, the end result is fewer books. Though we do attend library book sales. Our easiest way of getting rid of books is to put them out on the pavement labelled “FREE”. It’s a fairly common thing around here. I think, on the evidence, that we are getting rid of more adult books than we accumulate, but we gather a lot of children’s books between birthdays and Christmas and things like, ooh, weekends, and stuff.

  9. I’m a writer and although I’d love you to all buy and keep my books – I am also very very aware of how much paper and potential landfill space books use up, so my first novel is also available as an e-book – download the PDF file and read on screen – it’s cheaper than the paper version too! if you fancy a peek…

  10. Ailbhe Leamy says:

    Yes, I’m on Lulubooks too, mainly because self-publishing is easiest. I’ve sold more print copies than e-copies, but still feel that print-on-demand is better than the high proportion of books which end up pulped as returns to publisher (most large retailers return the covers and dispose of the inner pages themselves, to get a refund from the publisher).

  11. Sue says:

    To me my books are like the music ive collected over the years , a really personal thing and they have become part of my life so decluttering by giving them away is too hard to do. Even books that i bought as a child like the lion the witch and the wardrobe are like a window to the past. Its good to treasure them. You found my weakness when it comes to clutter Books and magazines everywhere. Every time i go into a charity shop to clear out a cupboard of things i always return with more books.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Ailbhe, it sounds like your library assistant knows you very well. That’s a wonderful sense of community 🙂 and your support means that your local library will be able to extend its facilities. I like putting things out on the pavement for collection too. We’ve got rid of several things like that, including a sink or two LOL!

    Sarah, I have a post coming up next week about pdf magazines. Well done on writing your book and I hope you get a lot of interest. How long did it take you to write? As Ailbhe says, print on demand is a much more environmentally friendly way to go – zero waste 😉

    Sue, I can sympathise with what you write. I used to feel exactly the same way. I’m not really sure what shifted for me, but something did. It’s especially challenging when I see my daughter reading my old childhood books. She’s reading my 1974 versions of the secret seven and gaining so much pleasure from them!

    it’s ok to have a weakness; we all do – look at me with my yogurt consumption!

  13. The book started life on Oct 31st at about midnight, well just into Nov 1st really in 2005 and I finished the rough draft the following April – I wrote it really fast! Then I took the rest of the summer of 2006 editing it. It finally got released through Lulu on Hallowe’en 2007 and into the world of Amazon and Waterstones in Feb 2008.

    Book 2 was started in the summer of 2006 and I only just finished writing it a couple of weeks ago. It’s now being edited and worked on and I’m hopeful we’ll see it released in time for Christmas this year.

    Book 3 in the series has been started and I have no idea how long that will take! Then there’s the sci fi epic to finish and the global warming/climate damage/gaia type one….

    Back to the editing….

  14. dottyspots says:

    Books and yarn are my main weakness and the thought of moving any on grieves me (it actually gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach) but if I’m honest I only regularly use a small proportion of books I own and really I should have a sort out (I will get to it one day…)

  15. Poppy says:

    I have stashes of books and paperwork that I know in my heart of hearts, I will never look at or need again, but my main problem is my other half. As fast as I free up a space, he fills it!

    We have 2 CD racks, supposedly one each. Going through today though, I find that he has encroached on my rack big time!! I put a few of mine to one side that I know I’ll never need again and I’ve evicted his. I feel sure they will be back though 🙁

    Also videos that we’ll never watch. There is a pile of stuff on the ironing board that I have asked him to go through. I’ll be amazed if at least 50% doesn’t find it’s way back onto the shelves. I think I’ll have to be sneaky and do a bit at a time without telling him!!

  16. Mrs Green says:

    Wow Sarah; that was some rate of writing for your first novel – amazing! Good luck with getting the second book out for Christmas 🙂

    Awww, Dottyspots, if you’re not ready to let things go then you’re not ready. That’s ok, but it’s good you are looking at things and considering. When the time is right for you, you’ll be ready to release and it will be easy!

    Poppy – you and me both. I’ve just written this very thing on another post LOL! Though I would never have the heart to get rid of anything behind his back; I would be most upset if anyone did that to me. Tempting though 😉

  17. It was an incredibly intense experience and I don’t think I could write that fast again. Although I do participate in the NaNo challenge every November – 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s how the first book started life. It means almost total immersion in the work and reality just gets in the way for the month.

    I haven’t decided what to write this year yet.

  18. Mrs Green says:

    What is the NaNo challenge? I googled it but didn’t find any details.
    That is some pace isn’t it? I’m not sure I could sustain that, but I bet you learn a lot about yourself and your limits.

  19. NaNo is the (inter)NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth (AKA NaNoWriMo): and is just fun. There are thousands of people every year that sign up and thousands make it to 50,000 words.

    Over the 3 years I’ve done it I’ve learned huge amounts about the way I write and what works for me. It’s loads of fun.
    Going to join in this year? Go on, I dare you…..

  20. Mrs Green says:

    Thank you Sarah. I’m just not a novels person. They say that everyone has a novel inside them, but I’m more a ‘research and analyse’ kinda gal. I like to writing information or experience-type stuff.
    I don’t have any idea of characters or plots. I have tried in the past; I just made myself sit and write, but honestly, I managed about 4 pages. It just wasn’t me!
    Oh well…………

  21. melissa says:

    i hate getting rid of books so much 😀 but i’ve found a compromise – swapping the ones that i don’t want!

    it’s a compromise 😀

  22. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Melissa,
    Read It Swap It is a great concept and will be under the spotlight in an article I have planned for next week. I’ve not actually used it myself, but I hear great things about it.
    Enjoy your swaps!

  23. Kris says:

    Our levels of ambient clutter are too high for me to do the thorough sort out of our bookshelves that I’ve wanted to do for a long time but I’ve recently decided that I can still make a start with the small step of identifying a few books that have sat unread for a long time and which I can’t immediately identify as keepers. So far it’s working – the pile of books that will be leaving the building are now setting up their own clutter-mountain in another room!
    My pledge has been set back by being ill this week but I like the idea of including a pledge that things I’ve sorted out and am emotionally ready to let go of actually *leave the building*!

  24. Kris says:

    I was also going to say about being sad that I almost daren’t ask for books for Christmas any more as there is nowhere for them to live… can it be a coincidence that my reading-giving-away drive has led to me buying the first couple of books I’ve allowed myself in yonks…

  25. maisie says:

    We have been having a sort out of some of our books and have actively been trying to sell them at carboot sales over the last few weeks.

    Once this season is finished I will put some of the better ones on ebay and/or and then the rest if we think will be saleable will go into boxes in the “carboot” shed neatly boxed and labled ready for next year.

    Any we don’t think will sell will be donated to a charity shop for them to sell.

  26. Mrs Green says:

    That’s great kris and I’m looking forward to my ‘leave the building’ pledge too – it’s good for the soul and great to get it out of the way before Christmas. But as you’ve found, when you create new space, something just comes along to fill it – enjoy your books!

    I like Green metropolis, Maisie. Things sell slowly on there, but I like the feel good factor of it, plus it’s so straight forward and you don’t have to compete with pricing. How do you get on at carboot sales? Doesn’t everything sell for 5p or are they better now?

  27. maisie says:

    They are alot better now, you are lucky on some stalls to find anything for 10p.

    Most paperbacks will go for 30p-50p and hardback novels £1 – £1.50. We have been selling the thin childrens books at 20p each, even little matchbox cars go for 10p each.

  28. Mr Green says:

    Here’s a thought … a basic ebook reader can hold several books, equivelent to many tons of paper books in a small electronic slice. Sony Reader

    Still quite expensive, but they are beautiful to read and far more relaxing than an ordinary screen.

  29. Kevin says:

    The best way to declutter books is to sell them through They will make an instant offer on your books and then pay to have them shipped. It is a great way to make sure the books are recycled to another reader.

  30. Mrs Green says:

    @Kevin: Hi Kevin, thank you for he Book Jungle recommendation. Its great to see how other sites benefit the environment and readers.

  31. alberta ross says:

    while it would be nice to declutter books the ‘nice’ way – and i have over the years given hundreds of books to libraries – charity shops and local groups however nowhere can i find a solution to humdreds more that i have that no one seems to want – very out of date reference books – i mean VERY out of date – inherited from parents and grandparents – not rare or interesting enough for collectors – I cannot bring myself to trash books but after about 20 years of trying and not finding an answer and almost at the stage when I will have to put them out in the garden as bug houses or similar

  32. Ailbhe says:

    @alberta ross: Well, there’s always the Literary Gifts Company, who make clocks and handbags from old books!

  33. Mrs Green says:

    @alberta ross: Hi Alberta, these things happen and you’ve tried really hard to find a solution. I had a similar situation several years ago where I searched for over a year for someone interested in my grandfather’s old books, but they had to be pulped. It was sad, but at least they were recycled. In our information age we have lost the value of books 🙁

  34. Poppy says:

    @Kevin: @Mrs Green:

    I like the idea of Bookjingle. Does anyone know of anything similar in the UK?

    I’ve set my menfolk a challenge this weekend. I want 5 books from each of them. It would be lovely to sell them, but failing that, they can go to the local resource centre or book bank.

  35. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy, I’d not heard of Bookjingle and looking it up I don’t know of anything similar. I tend to use Amazon as it’s straight forward to list things on there… I hope your men do you proud!

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