Should I sell my books?
July 21, 2010 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Should i sell my books or keep them? We're moving to a smaller house. I own way too many books. Most are expensive and i won't be able to afford to replace them in any near future. I have loads of slipped discs and lifting loads of small boxes of books will be agony. I own hundreds of v.specialist books i might need IF i get a job needing a particular language, or onto a masters in that area of psychology. They're big, they're expensive (normally - i picked up cheap ones along the way for possible future use). I live in a remote rural area with no nearby shop, so they have to sell on Amazon in the next 4 weeks or go to charity shops, probably get pulped. I would use most of them eventually. There are also my massive language dictionaries: there are online dictionaries, but often i can't afford the internet, but i don't know if i will need ever them or not, depends what job i get (have had jobs abroad). Really, it's a philosophy of life question: gather no moss, be a free spirit? Or plan ahead, be cautious? Which works best and why? Anyone with experience who can say you won't need those books/you'll really regret it?

I have cognitive psychology books covering many areas, of which i will study only one or two, but don't know which as will apply for several different ones, year after next. They are mostly the sort of books university professors buy, but some university textbooks. Lots of language books for advanced study. Maths books. Some philosophy. I don't love some not others, so i can't choose between them.
posted by maiamaia to Education (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you in the UK?

If you were in the US, I'd say NO WAY to Amazon as it is too slow. buys back books and pays shipping. Great way to get rid of the rest of the books.

These aren't RARE books. You could always get them in the library.
posted by k8t at 4:25 PM on July 21, 2010

See if you can find a local dealer who is willing to come to your home. There are usually a few in any city who will pick through your books and give you decent prices on the good ones and a bulk offer for the rest.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 4:28 PM on July 21, 2010

Selling to a used book dealer, whether local or Powell's, will get you a fraction of their value. I say keep 'em.
posted by neuron at 4:33 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

How easily can these books be replaced if you get rid of them? Can you afford to build up that library again? Are you *sure* they can be found in the library where you are moving to?

I'd move the expensive, hard to replace books myself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:43 PM on July 21, 2010

Can you donate them to a local library? That way, they will always be available if you need one.
posted by yclipse at 4:47 PM on July 21, 2010

With 'loads of slipped discs' you shouldn't be lifting ANY boxes. Sort them out, keep the ones you feel anxious about abandoning. That might very well be all of them. Make an inventory, pack them up in mailing boxes and ship them media mail to your new address. Use a pick up service. Hide them somewhere in your new place, unpacked. If you don't think about them for a year or so, donate the lot to your public library, local jail, high school, community college, etc.
posted by Pennyblack at 4:54 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you donate them to a local library? That way, they will always be available if you need one.

(US only, no idea about other locales) Not necessarily true...if the library doesn't have a need for them -- which if they're specialist/obscure, they might not -- they will almost certainly pass them on to the Friends of the Library, who will sell them to raise money for things the library does need. (Secretary, Friends of the Olympia Library, WA, USA)

I'd be inclined towards jenfullmoon's advice myself. I dumped a ton of college books over the course of 10 moves in 10 years, and with few exceptions I don't regret it. On the other hand, few of them were specialized or reference works.

But look at each one independently to make it justify its continued existence. "Maybe" is probably not good enough, if you are dealing with space and lifting issues; you want to stick with the ones that you are 95% certain you'll need again AND that are difficult or expensive to replace.
posted by epersonae at 4:57 PM on July 21, 2010

I'm 70 and still open some of my old college text books. There must be a high school kid in your vicinity who would love to make a few bucks carting your books out to the car and into the new place. A minor expense if you think there is any use for these books in the next ten years.
posted by Old Geezer at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd say you should pay someone to help haul the boxes, but saying you sometimes lack the funds for internet access sounds like any added expense would be best avoided (unless you live somewhere that internet access is more expensive than physical help). Do you? There are enough unknown location-based details that make suggestions hard to give.

Also, how quickly does this material get updated? Will these books be out-dated in two years? Or five? Maybe 10? If they're expensive books and you can sell them online (Powells is just one example, as mentioned above), and get more current editions down the line.

Also: how common are storage services, and how costly would that be? Books may clutter a house, but they store quite well. If storage services are reliable (can be trusted to keep things dry and relatively pest-free), it might be useful to rent some storage space for now.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:02 PM on July 21, 2010

I'm with Old Geezer—why not post a query on MetaFilter Jobs to see if there's someone in your area willing to help you move it all for a small fee?
posted by limeonaire at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2010

In my experience, very few books are of the type that the only option is to pick them off a shelf and use them. Most professional books are available in professional contexts (company library, university library etc.). For everything else, there is the Internet.

You really need to sit down and do the hard work of separating the certainly-useful from the maybe-useful. Donate/sell the latter, move the former. Hiring a mover is a one-time expense that may save you your back, and the money you might have to spend to repurchase the must-have books.

PS: I have been lugging around loads of books for years. I can't bring myself to throw/donate/sell them. While I can afford to do this, I have to admit that most of the books (the non-fiction types) are not really "useful" on a bookshelf (except for making me appear well-read, of course).
posted by vidur at 5:07 PM on July 21, 2010

For so many of these, you say you might need them in the future. Okay, absolutely, but will you use all of them? Will you have jobs that require all of those individual languages (programming or foreign)? Most likely, you'll need one or two. Maybe five, ten, I don't know. But surely it is more cost effective to sell them all now and buy only the ones you need later.

I keep many things around on the off chance that I might have a use for them later. Every now and then I do use one random thing I've saved and moved with me for years and years. It makes me feel like all that packing, lugging, moving, unpacking, and storing was worth it. It wasn't. That was just one thing of many.

Turn them into cash. Cash doesn't weigh much. Cash can be turned back into specific books on demand.
posted by whatnotever at 5:10 PM on July 21, 2010

Books bring a house alive. Buy a hand truck, get some friends to help. Pay them with beer and hand-me-downs. Your responsibility is to your health - physical, mental, emotional - so (1) don't move the things without help and (2) consider that you're not just keeping the books for yourself, but for whoever else might read them in future. (Kiddos perhaps?)

Pruning the books little by little is a good idea. It'd be nice to 'start over' but (surprise!) there's no such thing. It's a fairy tale.

Use lots of small boxes, pack densely, and enjoy your books. They represent a dying world.
posted by waxbanks at 5:16 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

FWIW, I recently moved back to Michigan from Wisconsin, and went the "free spirit" route with pretty much everything I owned.... furniture, appliances, my stereo, and.. my books. I gave most everything away to friends as gifts. I kept just one box of books, and gave away the other 1,000 or so. I don't have too many regrets in life, but I really wish I would have kept my books. Yes, a lot of them can be re-purchased or are at the library, but the fact that they were in my den, available at anytime was invaluable. Many were work-related type material (I am an auto mechanic) but there was just a lot of cool books I had amassed over the years. I mean, one friend was ecstatic when I bestowed upon him the complete collection of Hunter S Thompson's work, and another was happy to get 17 Bukowski books, but I REALLY wish I would have kept them all. I gave all of my records and CD's and movies away as well, and that doesn't bother me in the least. As a mechanic, I sold off a lot of my tools at rock-bottom prices, and even that doesn't bother me. But I realize now that a personal library, especially one that has a large section devoted to your trade, is invaluable, and I feel that a year or two from now, you'll look back at the time when you were thinking about getting rid of your library and tell yourself how glad you are that you didn't.
posted by peewinkle at 5:18 PM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh shoot. I must have been projecting, because I thought you had mentioned programming languages. Computer books age incredibly poorly, and a shelf full of "Java 2.0" and "DHTML for Dummies" can look tacky and sad. Most of those sorts of things should be tossed if there are no sentimental connections to them.

I believe everything I said above, but even I would keep dictionaries, for example. I have foreign language dictionaries I will never use for any job ever, but I'm keeping them. Those are worth something to have around. Those have character. There certainly are many books that can be worth keeping even if you won't use them. It's the anonymous, lifeless books, whose contents will be or already are outdated, whose spines lend nothing to the shelf and whose pages won't give anyone joy... those should go to greener pastures.

There are many reasons to keep books. "It might be useful later," which is a big focus of your question, isn't a good one on its own, in my opinion.
posted by whatnotever at 5:54 PM on July 21, 2010

I had a bunch of books and I got rid of almost all of them due to an overseas move. I kept one box worth of books in storage. Unlike peewinkle, I do not regret my decision at all. Most of my collection was paperback novels, and I do not tend to pick up books and reread them multiple times.

If you are accepted for a master's program, any courses you will take will likely require specific textbooks (possibly even specific versions of specific textbooks), which you cannot guarantee that you currently have. Your school library will likely have any books that you will need, even if the local regular library does not. I agree with whatnotever--while you may need to repurchase some of these books in the future, there is a vanishingly small chance that you will need to buy all hundreds of them again. If you have to buy 10 or 20 books of 500 again, then it does not seem worth it to me for you to keep all 500 of them.
posted by that girl at 6:03 PM on July 21, 2010

Another view. My husband and I happily downsized most of our possessions, including nearly all our books three years ago so we could be free spirits and travel. Truly, our books were the most difficult to part with. Such pangs while we packed them up, especially our college books from long ago. Once the downsizing deeds were done, we felt incredibly free and took off. No regrets about giving up anything.

Except . . . recently we visited the family of a friend who had died. He was a major reader his entire life. His family had turned the his office into a wonderful guest room, but left all the books and music. As I lay there, I thought: "This is X's mind, right here in this room. He read all of these books and listened to all of this music." So books are not just books; they're your life.
posted by Elsie at 6:10 PM on July 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

If you were in the US, I'd say NO WAY to Amazon as it is too slow.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If you post at the lowest price, it can be pretty quick. If you put yourself in the middle of the pack and have no seller's rating, yes, it can be slow. If the book is widely needed, it will sell; if it is obscure and dull and out of date, no.

Be easier to advise if we had a clearer idea of what you have and how quickly they may or may not become obsolete.

I feel your pain. I now only buy books for current projects or which I know I can toss once read.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:16 PM on July 21, 2010

I got a bug up my butt a few years ago about decluttering, and I got rid of a ton of books I hadn't looked at in awhile and figured I probably wouldn't ever look at again. I can't tell you how many times recently I've went to look for one of those books, thinking I must have it somewhere... then realize I probably got rid of it... and want to kick myself right in the ass. Apparently my "dead" interests tend to resurrect themselves in time.

I've replaced several of my books and already have probably spent as much money replacing as I made selling them. If you know you're the type of person who tends to reread books or to consult them for information, I'd say figure out a way to keep them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:17 PM on July 21, 2010

I meant to say, I've spent as much money replacing a small fraction of those books as I made when I sold the majority of my collection.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:23 PM on July 21, 2010

There was an entire decluttering thread (you cleaned out all the stuff you were hanging onto -- good idea? bad?) and the only thing people missed were their books. (Maybe someone can dig it up.) My friend's experience was the opposite however, found it freeing.
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on July 21, 2010

Sounds like you don't have room for them all, so figure out what percentage you can keep, and then cull.

The question to ask when culling is not "Is this a good book?" but "Did I ever look at this again?" If you haven't opened it in 5 years, you can do without it.
posted by zompist at 7:06 PM on July 21, 2010

If you lived near a university, you could be using their library instead of your personal collection. To live in the country, and to have the intellectual life you want, you need your collection. Can you rent a garage or a room somewhere to store your library?
posted by conrad53 at 7:39 PM on July 21, 2010

When I moved a few years ago I did a pretty brutal book sort. Book hoarding had become a bad habit. My new resolve started with a Kindle. My Kindle is for recreational fiction, trendy non-fiction and sampling. I now buy (only hardcover) books with these questions in mind: Is it a well made, well written book? Does it add to one of my little sub collections? Will it transcend time? Will my children or grandchildren appreciate owning this book someday?
Put your books into categories. What books are friends with what other books? You'll see which are superfluous. I learned a lot about myself once I sorted out the book wheat from the book chaff. Apparently, I'm very, very interested in the history of food cultivation.
posted by Pennyblack at 7:53 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Of all of the things I've sold or given away during my various decluttering phases, the only things I've regretted getting rid of were some of my expensive books. Especially now, with more and more merchants pushing digital documents, it's really aggravating when you need to reference something and then realize that the book you need (and used to own) is out of print or prohibitively expensive. I'd rather keep the books I feel may have future use and buy new furniture (or appliances) when moving.

Considering your circumstances, I think you should keep your books and pay someone else to load them. You can start selling the ones you don't need after you're settled and know which field you'll pursue. Good luck.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:10 PM on July 21, 2010

Never throw out books. I speak as one who has thrown out more books than I now own (quite a lot) and I regret getting rid of very many titles (by name).
posted by feelinggood at 8:14 PM on July 21, 2010

I love books but I agree that "I might need it someday" is a myth. I used to think I should hang on to clothes that I wore when I was skinnier hoping that I will lose weight. If I do, I can get more clothes.

I think when doing any kind of purge, it helps to set a date or a number, like I'm going to get rid of clothes I haven't worn in a year or 20 books. It's arbitrary but it helps me focus and it's like any other kind of goal in that I'm pretty pleased with myself when I hit it.

Another perspective - my mother was a librarian. When she died, we didn't think her books were her life. We celebrated her with the people she loved - that's her life. The books were just souvenirs. Since my mother died, my father got rid of most of her books and our home is homier. He replaced bookshelves with pictures of us. Those aren't at Barnes and Noble.

There's also a quantity vs. quality argument to be made here. You can assess how much room you really have for the books and get rid of everything else. How much can you possibly value the books that are sitting in a box in the garage?

I recently bought a desk with shelves so I've gotten rid of books recently. The books that are on the shelves are the books that I *really* love or *really* intend to read. Now when I'm going somewhere, I don't have to go through all of my books, I can just grab one. And don't tell my husband, but the books that didn't make the cut are ones I can probably toss.

I think people so idealize books to the point of irrationality when it comes to parting with them. I also think my mother's book collection was an example of hoarding behavior. Hoarders can't make value judgments. They can't say, I like this better than that. Don't fall into that trap. If you do, I know it's a cliche but the things you own will start to own you.
posted by kat518 at 8:25 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Library/media rate shipping is really reasonable by USPO. Shipping from US to Canada was eye blinklingly affordable, and CanPost delivered to my door and offered to bring it down to the basement for me, which wasn't needed.

Otherwise, do you have friends in the area with a house who might be willing to store it for you, and dig up a particular volume and ship it to you at need?
posted by porpoise at 10:06 PM on July 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the answers. I live in the UK countryside and can't drive. The nearest interested dealer is London, at the other end of the island. My local library is not remotely interested, and i'm moving far away. They're books you could easily find in a university library, but i won't be a member of a university.
I agree with the book hoarding suggestions: it's fear of future scarcity. The love/don't books are easy to sort, they're all fiction/poetry, these are neutral, hence the problem! I've got rid of loads of books i love because i know i could repurchase them on amazon, i check before i chuck, and i know that most of the books won't be necessary for any future study. If i was rich i'd chuck 'em all. It's knowing that the right book at the right time can make all the difference, no,it's just fear of future scarcity... I am going to try lots of the above suggestions, thanks so much.
posted by maiamaia at 4:43 AM on July 22, 2010

Can you donate them to a local library? That way, they will always be available if you need one.

It's not common for members of the public to donate to local public libraries in the UK - I've never heard of it being done.
posted by mippy at 5:40 AM on July 22, 2010

I fall into the "Never throw out books" camp. I've gotten rid of a fair number of books during the frequent moves of recent years, but "a fair number" is a tiny fraction of the 5,000 or so we've lugged with us from house to house, and even though I was careful to cull only those books I was pretty sure I woudn't want again, I've still regretted some of them. I understand there are those who get rid of almost all their books and feel free afterwards, but you don't sound like such a person. My advice would be to endure the hassle of moving (almost all of) them; you'll be glad you did.
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on July 22, 2010

If you took the time to collect these books over the years, then most probably they mean something to you. Don't be deterred by the thought that it would be hard to move them. If you can't afford to pay someone to help you carry these boxes to your new location, then ask friends if the books can sit in their house for awhile. At least, until you get all settled in. Then slowly gather all your books, until they are home with you again.

In my experience, some books may seem to matter less as you grow older, but will make a really strong comeback in the future. You may be in the middle of something when you are suddenly arrested by a memory of a book, what it felt like when you were reading it, what it meant to you at the time --- and you'll be thankful if you can go to your shelves and find the book sitting there, where it has always been, waiting for the time when you'll pull it out again. Trust me, it'll happen. If you sell your books, and are not as vigilant as rebuilding your library in your new home (because of prices, lack of time, etc) then it won't be the same.
posted by pleasebekind at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2010

I've never regretted selling any of my old books. They're clutter, to me, not objects of sentimental value. I live near a great library, so if there's something I want to read again it's easy for me to get it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:57 PM on July 22, 2010

... would it be worthwhile for you to get the books digitized? There are probably a bunch of older machines that could be borrowed, that have been surpased by current-generation digitizers...
posted by porpoise at 4:48 PM on July 22, 2010

I love my books. But I just bought a Kindle because they were taking over my house. They are a major stress to move with, because they are a significant percentage of my stuff, they are heavy. Also I have to find a place that they will fit into.

That being said, when I don't have my book collection near me, I buy more books. I collected more books in the month that I didn't have my stuff after moving interstate than I did for the rest of the year. Not having that library to fall back on was irrationally annoying to me.

My mum still regrets all the books they got rid of when she emigrated 40 years ago.

So, personally, I would say keep them. They are a pain to move, but you only have to do it once.
posted by kjs4 at 6:46 PM on July 22, 2010

I'd look for creative places to put/build bookshelves in your new place, and enlist friends to help you pack/move/unpack the heavy books.

I've had to purge my book collection a few times and ended up regretting (and eventually repurchasing) many of the books I gave up. But my husband says I'm a borderline hoarder about books, so take that with a grain of salt.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:43 PM on July 23, 2010

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