How To Actually Get Rid Of Books, Because You Really Can't Hold On To Everything

Cindy Prins/Stocksy

I have books. A lot of books. Until very recently, I had six standing bookcases, five floating shelves, one over-crowded nightstand, and innumerable, amorphous piles of reading material that roamed across my bedroom floor at random, picking up stragglers as they went. As a friend put it to me recently, "I take it you've never heard of a public library?" So when I started to pack up my entire book collection in order to move it across Manhattan to a much smaller room over a hundred blocks away, I came to a horrifying realization: I was going to have to get rid of some of my books. Many of my books. And I was going to have to do so quickly, with minimal crying. Here are some of my battle-tested tips for accomplishing this lofty goal.

I mean, look, I know that it's 2018 and I'm supposed to be living in a white, empty room adorned by a single succulent as I Marie Kondo away all of our extraneous possessions... but that's never worked for me. I am a maximalist. Every book I pick up sparks joy in me (it's a book! I love books!). So when it came to narrowing down my own home library, I tried to balance the tough love approach with the gentle, sentimental sap that I am. Join me on this harrowing journey of literary purging:

1Get real

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On the one hand, get real about the fact that you are actually going to get rid of many of your books. Accept that. Grieve if you must. But make up your mind that today is the day, or else it'll never get done. And on the other hand, be realistic about how many books you can actually part with in one sitting. If you're a misty eyed nostalgia monster like me, you're not going to get to that empty-room-with-one-succulent look overnight. Adjust your goals accordingly.

2Start with your TBR pile

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I don't know about the rest of you, but my TBR pile is more of a conceptual, loose grouping of books that I obtain and then hide away on my shelves to be ignored while I reread His Dark Materials again. It might help to start by making an actual, physical stack of books that you intend to read. Put them all on the same shelf and make sure that they are easily visible, constantly shaming you for your TBR lies.

3...and set time limits

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This is a crucial step of the TBR shelf: set a "shelf life" for each book. If you have not touched that book in a year, you are not going to read it. Give it away. It is perfectly OK to get rid of books that you are not actually going to read. Let that poor book go live with someone who's going to enjoy its company. Don't make it stay on your bookshelf, gathering dust, just because you feel like you *should* be the sort of person who's read the unabridged Les Miserables.

4Host a book swap

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Invite your friends over for dinner, and then lock the doors and refuse to let them out until they have all picked at least five books from your shelves. Or host a "book swap" with all your literary friends, and be sure to give away three books for every one you pick up. Or just "lend" some of your old favorites to the cool people in your life. You will feel like your precious book children are going to a loving home, and you will also never see them again because no one in the history of linear time has ever returned a book borrowed from a friend.

5Make gift packages

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If you have a lot of friends and family who live out of town, this is the perfect opportunity to surprise them with a gift. Pick out some books that you think they'd enjoy, wrap them up, send them and voilà! Those books are now their problem, the fools. And also you now appear to be extremely generous and spontaneous while also clearing off valuable shelf space. Plus, making those cute little thoughtful gift packages will distract from the existential pain of giving up your books.

6Give yourself permission to keep your favorites

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You can be ruthless when it comes to those books you bought eight years ago and still haven't read. But don't throw out your absolute favorite books just to punish yourself. You're purging your book collection, not annihilating it. Pick a few meaningful favorites to center your new library around, and display them proudly on your shelves.

7Sell those fancy textbooks

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If you're on the fence about whether to keep that old biology textbook (what if there's a mitochondria emergency?) or those avant-garde poetry collections from that one college class (what if you need to impress a hot poet?), just remember that you can sell most school books for money. You can even sell non-school books for money (but not as much money, because our education system is broken).

8...and use the money for ebooks

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Or audiobooks. Or digital comic books. They don't take up nearly as much space. Even if you're not a huge ereader fan when it comes to your regular reading material, ebooks are a good option to replace huge tomes like dictionaries and encyclopedias and complicated Russian novels that will otherwise dominate your poor defenseless shelves.

9Pick ONE box for childhood classics

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As a sentimental garbage person, I will freely admit that I still have quite a few of my childhood favorites. But when the time came to move all those Dr. Seuss books out of my parents' place and into my actual, adult apartment... I felt a tad silly. I already know how to count using various colored fish, thank you very much. I am a firm advocate of keeping childhood mementos, but I am also an advocate of picking one reasonably sized box for said mementos. Keep the beloved classics that fit in your box, and give the rest to actual children.

10Design a cute bookshelf

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Purging your book collection is not about having more space or freeing yourself of the burden of material possessions. It's all about that Instagram-worthy bookshelf. Design an intentional, adorable shelf that will make you feel excited to display your books, and not overwhelmed by the sheer number of novels crammed onto one Ikea shelving unit.

11Make a meaningful donation

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Do a little research to see if there are any book charities you'd like to support in your local area. Many schools and libraries accept donations, and there are plenty of literacy organizations and prison library donation groups nation-wide. Some will even pick up your books for you. Knowing that someone else needs that old copy of Eragon will make it a little easier to part with.

12Go to the library

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Guys, did you know that you can get books for free? And you don't even have to keep them on your sad, crowded shelves forever? If you download the app Overdrive, you can even get the free books on your phone. What a world! Rather than replace all your former books with more books, schedule a weekly library trip to start reading more and buying less.

13Say goodbye

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Letting go of a book can be sad, even if you've already read it and you don't particularly want to read it again. Heck, it can be sad even if you've never read it. You just got so used to it sitting there on your shelf, providing consistency. So if you're struggling to let go, take a minute to say goodbye—leave a note inside for the book's next lucky owner (on a post-it or in the margins, depending on how daring you are), thank it for the good times, and, most importantly, get it the hell out of your house.