Book Guilt
July 10, 2012 4:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me overcome crippling guilt at getting rid of physical books.

I'm a great believer in the power of knowledge, and I've been reading since before I could talk. Growing up, I was socially awkward, and books were my closest friends. Even though I've come a long way since then and am apparently pretty charismatic now, I still have a deep and abiding love of books... which is what makes getting rid of them so hard.

The problem is that I have tons of books I don't need. In my basement are three boxes full of nothing but books. I believe in using technology and have embraced the e-reader, so collecting a huge library isn't a problem any more. The issue is getting rid of my existing literature. I'm managed to sell all the good books (at least, the ones which I'm not emotionally attached to) but the trouble is what I can do with the utter crap... such the self-help books my parents got me when they wanted to "help me find myself," or the idiotic suspense thrillers that my clueless (but well-intentioned) friends got me as birthday gifts because "I know you like books!" These aren't books that any decent library would accept. They can't be sold online (the cost of shipping would exceed any money I made). They can't even be displayed on a bookshelf, because they're so bad it would be embarrassing. People would see my collection and assume I had some sort of mental handicap.

From a purely logical perspective the best thing to do would probably be to burn all of these things in the fireplace next winter, but something in me instinctively recoils at the thought of destroying books. It conjures up automatic associations of Nazi book-burnings, religious conservatism, Sarah Palin, and a bunch of other horrible mental images. But I need more space and I'm tired of lugging these things around every time I move. Help me find a way to get rid of them without feeling terrible about myself.
posted by wolfdreams01 to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Are they recyclable where you live? That's one option if you feel the need to rid the world of them. Otherwise give them to a charity shop that can sell them to raise money for the needy.
posted by smilingtiger at 4:24 PM on July 10, 2012

Donate them to a library. You say that a library wouldn't "accept" them, but libraries will often take books like these and sell them at annual (or semi-annual) book sales. I like Stephen King, for example, and have learned never to pay more than 25 cents for a Stephen King paperback due to their ubiquity at such sales.

Alternately, you could donate them to a nonprofit thrift store; there's a Goodwill store in my old neighborhood that has a large book section, for example.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:26 PM on July 10, 2012 [14 favorites]

Why not donate them to a local thrift shop. My Goodwill has tons of books, and they move.
posted by headnsouth at 4:27 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

list them on paperbackswap. That's what I do with books from my mom - think Dan Brown, John Grisham, WW cookbooks, Chicken Soup for your Special Snowflake Soul, etc.. Oddly enough, people will request them.
posted by spinturtle at 4:28 PM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Second hand shop, or some used book stores will recycle them for you.
posted by drezdn at 4:28 PM on July 10, 2012

Goodwill takes and sells books. So do most other general thrift stores that I've encountered. Donating them would be much more logical that burning them, which is messy, environmentally unsound, and wasteful.

You know you're being overly dramatic about this, right? And that by allowing yourself to frame the issue in overblown terms you're also framing your (disproportionate) reaction? They're stacks of paper with some, albeit minimal, monetary value and no practical value to you. Deal with them accordingly.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:28 PM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

A Books for Prisoners program in your area might be a great option for the self-help and paperback mystery type books.

Libraries often have an annual book sale for donated items that they don't want in their collection.
posted by k8lin at 4:34 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

You could make a little free library.

I suspect a lot of hoarding involves feeling guilt about getting rid of stuff so I have come to view overcoming that guilt as a useful exercise.
posted by BibiRose at 4:35 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have time & space, try having a book sale. Sell grocery bags for $1 (or 2 or 5) and let people take as many books as they can fit in the bag.

Post them as lots on craigslist and/or freecycle. Maybe try and hit up the "book art" angle for any book artists in your area looking for supplies.
posted by moxiequz at 4:37 PM on July 10, 2012

You can get a tax deduction if you donate them.
posted by brujita at 4:40 PM on July 10, 2012

All the while you hold onto them, boxed up in your basement, you are keeping them out of the hands of someone who would enjoy/appreciate/be grateful for them. Let them go and find their new place.

Your friends and relatives who gave them to you won't care. If they ask (unlikely) you can always tell them, 'Men Who Hate Cats and the Women Who Love Them' was so powerful I really wanted others to benefit from it too!
posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:40 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

People have given you all the suggestions I would which are

- libraries, for their booksales, if they take them [check first]
- paperbackswap, to trade for books you'd like or to just gift the credit to someone
- goodwill, Books to Prisoners, something else

Really it's important to give a shit about reading and books in a general sense, but it's a weird form of anxiety [which I also have, so I empathize] that keeps us from having a mechanism for getting rid of the things we don't want. I mean, I get it, you feel bad about tossing out a book or somehow not disposing of it in a loving and caring way. At the same time there's this self-martyrdom [which I also have, I am not calling you names] that you're going to hold on to the stuff to prevent this sort of catastrophe.

And really, it's okay. Mass produced paperbacks and the like will always be available someplace. I advise people sometimes to just soak them in parrafin and use them as firestarters because at least then they'll be useful. They are not useful to you. They might be useful to someone else or possibly not. If it helps, have a friend come around with a "magic disappearing car" who promises to take them to some nice rural library where someone will check them out every week and love them like they deserve to be loved. But really, end your own suffering and get rid of them because to not do so is to prolong your own suffering [unlike the books, that can not suffer] and that's karmically unhelpful. It's okay. Let me know if you'd like me to write you a note.
posted by jessamyn at 4:41 PM on July 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

I've been looking for a link to a CBS news story about an organization that accepts books, magazines, etc from everywhere to add to some massive digital collection. Apparently some libraries are using this service to free up stack space. Alas, my googlefu is weak at the moment.

As others have mentioned, there are various donation programs out there that welcome free books. Here's a story about a Montana library sending books to Myanmar. I know that shipping them yourself would be costly, but maybe there's an org near you that is doing some sort of similar project?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:43 PM on July 10, 2012

When I first started working in a library, I had the same urge. Even if a book was crammed on to an overfull shelf and hadn't moved in years, I couldn't help but think, "but what if somebody waaaaaaants it in the future?!?"

But then I realized that sometimes books just reach the end of their life cycle. It's okay! People don't live forever, and books don't have to either.

It also helps me to think of my personal book shelves as a curated collection, not an archive. I don't have to hold on to every single book I've ever read or gotten as a gift (that's what archives are for, of course!).
posted by itsamermaid at 4:45 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a former book hoarder turned Library coordinator in public schools I will tell you this- old books are dirty and can carry mold and bugs especially if they haven't been stored in optimal conditions. Secondly, as a former hoarder bred from generations of hoarders- stuff can take up vital energy that can be used else where- all this thinking about the books and storing the books and thinking sad thoughts about the books take up your energy that could be used elsewhere (like from reading new books via your Ebook reader). Finally, books older then 10 years old especially nonfiction books basically include information that is no longer true- the longer you keep these books the more outdated the info is and no one really deserve books that have out dated info (even starving children in Africa deserve relevant, up dated books not moldy out dated book.) You can recycle these books asap, I give you permission.
posted by momochan at 4:49 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Go to and see if they have value. I made 2k on books when I moved. Just made a few hundred in my most recent move. Write off the rest though donation.

Here's the thing - if you want to read Catcher in the Rye again, there are dozens of ways you can get it in minutes or hours.

Think of all books in the world as being a part of a huge library. You just borrowed them for the last X years and now someone else needs them. You can check them out again though.
posted by k8t at 4:53 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, if you have a fireplace, use them as kindling. If you're crafty, there's all kinds of things that can be made from old books. Or, if you really don't want to destroy them, donate them to the Goodwill (they'll probably toss them eventually anyway) or see if someone on Freecycle wants them. You may not think they're good books, but someone else might like them.
posted by patheral at 4:53 PM on July 10, 2012

I have a very large library of real books, good ones, and do not see a circumstance under which I could replace it with "technology." That said, you seem very discerning about what is junk, and should feel no remorse at turning it all over to people who can pick through it for themselves. (The only category I can agonize over is rare oddities that I haven't room for yet I feel no one else will appreciate or notice and save.)

I have discarded many books to the places people have mentioned above. I feel lighter, and delight in my well-stocked library.
posted by lathrop at 4:54 PM on July 10, 2012

If you don't want to recycle, how about upcycling instead?
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:57 PM on July 10, 2012

Leave them in public places. Someone will take one or two and so on. Release them into the wild and let them run free.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:02 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

These are the ideal material for carbon sequestration. They just need to end up somewhere free from rot (eg dry, or underground)

Also, by removing these crappy books from circulation, you make it easier for people to find good books and thus to develop a love - instead of a suspicion and resentment - of books.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:07 PM on July 10, 2012

The library in my town has a freebie bin that people can use and the Friends of the Library accepts donations for its yearly sale. The books that don't sell at this sale get purchased by several book dealers a few days later.

How about donating some to nursing homes, too? Also, the local hospital might accept a stack or two, the waiting rooms here could use something beyond the golf and RV magazines on the tables.
posted by dragonplayer at 5:17 PM on July 10, 2012

Does your area have an active freecycle community?
posted by lovelygirl at 5:19 PM on July 10, 2012

Well, idiotic suspense thrillers should go to the local cheap used book store (you might have a cheap one and a snobby one--look for the one which is cheap). Someone out there wants a 25c book to take to the beach without worrying about accidents happening to a really nice book.

The really non-useful books (meaning they won't even sell it for 25c) should be recycled. Because if it's that non-useful, giving it away (and you can) just transfers your pain onto the family of some hoarder (meaning my grandfather will bring it home)... But just think, it can become recycled paper, which can have new words put on it! Yay!
posted by anaelith at 5:21 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just moved a thousand miles and sold or gave away over a thousand books. It hurts! It's OK that it hurts -- you're making a big change that affects your self-image and the image other people have of you. (I've kept a lot of books, but I'm not planning to be the person with several walls of books again anytime soon.) It's also OK to have the feeling of relief that comes from getting rid of all these paper anchors. And it's OK that you want the books to go to good homes!

I'm impressed with the work you've done selling the good books! I didn't have the time to work at paring down my collection as much as I'd have liked for profit (selling books online takes time and effort, even if you go with one of the used booksellers that'll pay your shipping on a box full). My moving sale was unsuccessful in attracting many book buyers, but I got a few. There were even a couple of dealers who showed up and bought a decent number of the ones worth some money online.

I did enlist my friends to take all the books they wanted. I made sure to tell them what I kept telling myself: They're books, not pets. They don't need a forever home. Read it if you want, or not, and pass it on again.

I ended up donating most of them to local organizations that do book sales. Just because they might not be appropriate for a library collection doesn't mean that they're necessarily worthless -- the library's friends organization makes a lot of money on book sales that goes toward buying new books for the community. And these organizations typically manage paper recycling for the books that remain unsold. (If you've got really dated material, look into doing that.) Giving the books away in bulk made it sting less for me at the end -- it's like ripping off a bandage quickly. I advise against dragging it out by giving them away a few at a time.

What works for you with getting rid of the books will vary by where you live, but try not to feel too guilty about it. You're not getting rid of the last remaining copy of anything here -- it's all archived somewhere for future historians. If it's not useful to you, and you're not personally making it accessible to those future readers, then you shouldn't have to own it and care for it. It really is OK not to keep them all.
posted by asperity at 5:21 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have ditched most of my books (I had a large collection) over two things: I realized I wasn't going to read/use all of them and that they didn't need a forever home AND I moved, which made me think about what was worth paying to keep in my life. In the last move, the question was explicit: would I rather have more books or have more room in a new house to see people? I chose people.

(Practically, I live near Half Price Books and they take bags of things that are absolute crap and will pay you in credit or cash. If someone really wants it, they can buy it from Half Price.)
posted by immlass at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2012

Leaving a restaurant a few months ago, I saw a homeless woman settling in in her bed on the street with a book. It struck me as surreal, as she was exhibiting the same behavior I do when settling in for the night with a good book. You could tell she was about to savor the experience. But she was outside and had no bed. And was homeless.

If I were homeless, I would want to read anything I could, for the escapism alone.

I don't know how to do it, but I bet you would have much less guilt than burning them as kindling.

('books for the homeless' is something I would love to see happen.)
posted by Vaike at 5:54 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Donate them.
posted by heyjude at 5:55 PM on July 10, 2012

A great thing about Paperback Swap is that you can give away your credits, too, once someone accepts your book. (The down side is that you pay the postage.) If you know someone who wants your credits, let them list the books and pay for the postage. Or if you are feeling lush, list & pay yourself, then give away the credits to an elementary school or something.

I used to be fiercely protective of my dead trees, but lately that has faded. And since I got an iPad I have felt much freer to let the town library sell my books and keep the cash for their general fund.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 PM on July 10, 2012

Is there a physical book swap near you? I have variously disposed of books I don't want at large, organized spaces, on a few ramshackle shelves in the laundry room of my apartment building, or at a local restaurant that happens to have a few bookshelves set up for community give-and-take. Releasing them into the wild is the only way I've found really effective at getting rid of books (though the risk is being able to resist the urge to "just pick up one or two" while you're there).
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:33 PM on July 10, 2012

In my basement are three boxes full of nothing but books.

I'm currently preparing to move. I have thirteen boxes of books. My fiancee has a bit more than twice that.

You do not have a lot of books.

But if you want to get rid of them, and you've sold the ones you think you can sell, just drop 'em off at Goodwill. They'll take 'em, no questions asked, and you can claim a deduction on your 2012 taxes.
posted by valkyryn at 6:33 PM on July 10, 2012

In my experience Half Price Books (if there is one in your area) will take pretty much anything. They may not give you really any money, but they will at least take them.
posted by Bonky Moon at 7:25 PM on July 10, 2012

Leave them in public places. Someone will take one or two and so on. Release them into the wild and let them run free.

If you decide to use ideefixe's idea, you might want to check out You can assign unique IDs to each book, release them, and track their journeys.
posted by bunderful at 7:51 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hospitals are a good idea, they're full of people with time on their hands who could use a distraction. If you live inan apartment building with a common laundry area, leaving a box marked FREE can also work.
posted by peppermind at 8:31 PM on July 10, 2012

Would it help at all to create a little catalog of the books you're getting rid of - a LibraryThing shelf or WorldCat list - so that you have a listing of those oddball titles? Sounds like they certainly have some value as links to good (or important) memories, and if it was me, I would kind of like to keep track of which edition each item was and notes related to who gave it to me, etc. And then if you want to revisit them for some reason, you could borrow them at a library or buy a used copy somewhere...

No one's mentioned Better World Books yet (I think) - an online used book store that uses proceeds to support literacy programs worldwide. Fill out the donation form, and you'll get a postage-paid label for the box you're shipping.
posted by hms71 at 8:34 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would NEVER throw out a book because I have too much respect for them and so many have given me so much pleasure over the years. So why don't you extend this pleasure (assuming you feel as I do) and donate them?

I give books to Goodwill all the time and feel great about it.
posted by bquarters at 8:57 PM on July 10, 2012

Give them to - it's easy to find local bookcrossers and they are always happy to have popular fiction etc to give away to all sorts of people. And are usually glad to get a source of books. When someone donates to me I note who they came from when I register them and then let the person know if the book travelled somewhere cool (if they want me to).
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:02 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been running physical book swaps about once a month for the last year, and it has been a great way to send my extra books to people who are looking forward to reading them.

As an added bonus, I do get to bring home ones that I just want to read (novels) or others that I plan to keep (local travel guide). The invitation says to bring a book and take home one or more. Mine is organized through another online activity (couchsurfing), but surely you could get friends, friends-of-friends, or your neighborhood into the idea for a time or two.
posted by whatzit at 3:25 AM on July 11, 2012

Our county library takes any books in decent physical shape and puts them out on the free book rack at the entrance. I have seen every kind of book there including books in Chinese.
I just learned that the cancer center at the hospital takes books to have around for patients to read. Some nursing homes will take light reading books. Nursery schools will take children's books. Several town libraries in this area have yearly book sales and love to get donations. There are many places you can donate your books and they will keep being read and enjoyed by others, just look around.
posted by mermayd at 3:35 AM on July 11, 2012

Many of the local booksellers - like Half Price Books - will offer you something (cash, or a greater amount of store credit) for them en masse, and will take ones you no longer want. My local secondhand bookstore donated them to various schools and prisons, for example. Besides that, Paperback Swap and Freecycle are both viable as well.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:21 PM on July 11, 2012

When you sell books online through sites like Amazon or, the buyer pays shipping. So you would make a profit, albeit probably a small one.

Amazon bills the buyer quite a lot for shipping, more than shipping actually costs for book rate.

That said, if you aren't in financial straits, this probably isn't worth your time and one of these other ideas might be better.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 10:45 PM on July 11, 2012

My Y has a free-book shelf, where you take whatever you want and leave whatever you want. My Y is especially great, but perhaps a Y near you has one, too.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:06 PM on July 14, 2012

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