Downsizing Your Bookshelf, Sans Tears

by Laura Brennan
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I recently downsized. Without second thought, I easily purged clothes, DVDs, and relics from junior high. I sat with a large collection of CDs from the mid-'90s, and, one by one, piled up their little plastic cases and donated them to the library. Done.

Then I looked at my two large bookshelves. This should be easy, I thought, since no one needs to own this many books. On the first round, I removed three titles. A joke book, a spoof of a children's book, and a mass-market copy of Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark.

Then, I realized maybe I DID NEED TO OWN ALL THESE BOOKS. Ramona Quimby, novels I analyzed in college, my signed Chelsea Handler collection, gift books, four titles about Cher, books about how to write other books, my childhood copy of Snow White that had no cover, poetry books I purchased in order to look smart... books I've read, books I haven't read, books I will probably never read, I NEED ALL THESE BOOKS! What if I get rid of Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin and then, like, two weeks later I decide I want to read it again!

And thus...

If that paragraph made you reach for a bottle of Xanax, I feel you. However, there's going to be a time in your life during which your bookshelf is going to need a purge. So, I sourced some tips from pros: librarians. Turns out there is a method the professionals follow. Give it a whirl.

Get rid of it if...

It's falling apart

I mean REALLY FALLING APART. I know The Pokey Little Puppy was your favorite Golden Book, but if it is missing its cover, has crayon scribbles on four pages, and was chewed on a little, toss it. It will be OK.

It was a gift, and you are only keeping it out of guilt

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I know your mom meant well when she purchased Chakras for Beginners for you last Christmas. If you never plan on reading it, however, out it goes. Donating it for someone else to find gives you four Karma points.

It is a college textbook

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My undergrad books alone cost more than my pre-owned SAAB. I hung on to them for a while thinking, “These contain so much information! Surely I will sit down one day and take another look at Anthropology and Family and Child Studies. I never got to all the poems in my $80 Yates book, so I’ll hang on to that, as well. These cost so much money — I can’t just get rid of them!” You can. Unless you become a professor on one of these topics, you will never crack open a college text again.

You’ve read it — and you didn’t like it

No explanation needed. It’s just taking up room.

You’ve had it for more than two years and you haven’t read it

If you want, make a not of it so you can check it out of the library later if the thought strikes. I find most books I buy but never read looked super appealing one day in Barnes & Noble when I was in a mood. Impulse book-buying, you feel?

You have more than one copy

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In high school, I was obsessed with Greg Louganis and owned the made-for-TV movie of his life, and had two copies of his autobiography Breaking the Surface. One copy I used for a report, so I had pages folded down and notes written in it — and I bought the second copy so I would have one to keep brand-spankin’ new. This is excessive. Among other things.

Now that you have a stack of books to discard, there are a few ways you can get rid of them. Donate anything in good condition to your local library, your favorite second hand shop, or a used book store. Toss books that are falling apart in the recycle bin. If you feel up for a little work, Amazon has a pretty cool buy-back program (remember those textbooks?), and you can always use eBay. Or, if you’re feeling crafty, there are a zillion ways to upcycle books into useful, funky stuff. (Hello, Pinterest.)

And now you've got a ton of room to buy more books.