Deciding When to Get Rid of Books

My husband and I have books in abundance. Would you like to read a biography? We’ve got everything from Walker’s William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman to Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi. If these don’t interest you we also have an account of Dr. Paul Farmer’s life and work by Tracy Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains) and a personal memoir by Tony Dungy (Quiet Strength). Perhaps you’d like to learn more about health throughout the lifespan? We have you covered with Maternal Child Nursing Care and Gerontological Nursing & Healthy Aging. (I even have a textbook on death and dying, if you’re interested.) Has your home computer network been breached? We’d be happy to lend you our copy of Incident Response & Computer Forensics.

If you love books, then you’ve likely noticed that it’s really tough to get rid of them. Should you limit how many you have?

Believe it or not, we actually have fewer books now than we once did—we got rid of many when we moved into our current house. Getting rid of books was difficult then and it’s difficult now. (We still have a couple boxes of books for which we do not have shelf space. Moreover, we’re hoping to soon convert our office into a nursery, so we may need to reduce the number of books we have in order to consolidate them into the spare bedroom.) Why do I keep so many books? I know I’ll read many of them again, especially those on marriage and Christian living. A handful are important because I use them regularly in my part-time employment with a healthcare organization. I can’t deny that it’s been years since a number of them were opened. However, when I did open them in the past, I learned from them. I hate to remove from my home the veritable treasure trove of ideas presented in the books.

When books become clutter

In general, I do not perceive books to be clutter. Books are an investment when they are procured for the purposes of learning, growth, and even recreation. When they continue to be used for these purposes, they have legitimate places in your home. However, I do believe there are times when books qualify as clutter and should be removed from your collection.

  • Any book you’ve never read and do not plan to read. Perhaps it was given to you as a gift or you purchased it at a time when your interests or needs were different from what they are now. Regardless, if you haven’t read it and aren’t going to, then get it off your shelf and into the hands of someone who will.
  • Any book you keep for the sole purpose of impressing people. I think that keeping anything for the sole purpose of impressing others is a concern because it indicates there may be some underlying issues that are sinful, such as pride, insecurity, or pretending to be someone you’re not. Let the act of getting rid of the book be a catalyst for addressing these issues.
  • Any book that is a second or third copy of a book you already own. Most of us wouldn’t intentionally purchase a second copy of a book we already own. However, a second may be purchased by accident or two copies may end up in your possession by other means. For example, my husband and I read a number of books while we were dating and engaged. We each had our own copies of each book, so now that we are married we have two copies of Sacred Marriage, Love & Respect, and several other books. We also have about a dozen Bibles. Even though they are all different translations, do we really need that many? I can rationalize having multiple copies by saying I may want to read a passage in more than one translation, but the reality is that I usually use websites such as Bible Gateway for this.

    Duplicate books

    We really only need one copy of each book!

  • Any book you’ve been planning to read for “forever” but have yet to open. If you’ve had a book for a year (or two…or three…) and haven’t managed to read it yet, are you ever going to carve out time for it? If you’ve had an exceptionally busy year, then maybe you could wait a little longer. However, if you’ve chosen to read other books over the one in question, then maybe you should go ahead and pass it along to someone else.
  • Any book with significantly outdated content. The classics aren’t going to change, but some books, such as those that address healthcare-related topics and biology, quickly become outdated. In my opinion, they don’t become outdated as quickly as the publishers are able to produce new editions, but nonetheless they do become less thorough and less accurate with each passing year.
  • Any book you are surprised to come across because it was so buried that you didn’t know you owned it. Unless it is a book you’ve been planning to buy (in which case it’d be a nice surprise!), then you probably don’t need the book. If it were a book you really needed, wouldn’t you have either read it soon after getting it or at least put it someplace where you would see it and remember to read it?

Getting rid of the books identified by these six points won’t be that painful for many of us, but what about the remaining books?

To keep or not to keep

When deciding what to do with your remaining books, it’s useful to determine your goal in thinning out your collection. Your goal can guide your approach. For example, some individuals get rid of books because their goal is a minimalist lifestyle. Subsequently, their approach is cutthroat: get rid of books you haven’t read in 6 months, get rid of any book that can be found in its entirety online, etc.

While I believe there are many benefits to a minimalist lifestyle, that is not what I’m seeking. Even if I were, I don’t feel that my books add to the complexity of my life. If anything, they can bring clarity to it! My desire is to eliminate extraneous books in order to remain organized and free up needed space. When deciding whether or not to keep an inessential possession of any type, I always ask myself if it’s valuable for me to keep it. My books are valuable because they serve as resources on a plethora of topics (they contain more information than I’ll ever be able to learn!). They were relatively affordable to purchase, yet provide hours of entertainment. They communicate that my household values learning. My husband and I have sentimental attachments to some of them. Quite frankly, given the other benefits of the books, I’d rather have shelves of them than shelves of trinkets and figurines.

When you do determine that some of your books are extraneous, what should you do with them? Tossing them out in the trash seems wasteful, but what other options are there? There are actually quite a few and we’ll take a look at some of them next week.

Do you have a lot of books? Is it ever difficult to make the decision to get rid of them? How do you decide which to keep?

Shared on the following link-ups:

Inspiration Spotlight, Creativity Unleashed, Think Tank Thursday, Home and Garden Thursday, Teach Me Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Monday’s Musings, Blog Fair, One Project at a Time & Frugal Crafty Home.


  1. It took me until I’d been out of college nearly 15 years to get rid of some of my textbooks. In that time I had never opened them. Wish I’d gotten rid of them sooner!
    We do keep a lot of classics around the house. Some of these we consider to be “classics,” even if a literature expert wouldn’t classify them as such. We’ll hang on to these…we hope our boys will read them someday!

  2. Books are my biggest weakness! We’ve purged duplicates and outdated books, but we have a lot that fall into the other categories you mentioned. Thanks for this list! It will make the process easier. Now I’m off to check out your post on what to do with books we purge!

    • Shannon says:

      Hi Hilda,
      They are definitely our weakness, too! I hope you find the list helpful as you go through your books.

  3. This was so helpful. Thank you. I’m in the process of combining my home (books, books, books) with my boyfriend’s (more books, more books, more) and we keep putting off this topic of what to do with all of them.

    • Shannon says:

      It sounds like you have your work cut out for you! Hopefully this will give you some direction for what to do with the books.

  4. My father was a journalist and had tons of books (3 bedrooms full). I love books and have over 2,000 in my house; they are everywhere: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, living room, family room and office. When my husband and I met, I came with a good measure of books. When my Dad died, I inherited around 600 of his books. Every book I have, have been read including the encyclopedias – when I was young, they were on the dining table and we each had our turn to read aloud, to the detriment of my mother who tried hard not to put spaghetti sauce over them! The thinking was, if you have a book, how do you know if you need that book if you don’t know what’s in it? the books are shelved by categories and by author: biographies, finances, text studies, etc. I have a spreadsheet with all the info of the book and where they are in my house. If I lend it, I also write the name and the date. I insured the oldest ones and get rid of given books not to my taste, out of date, and collections.

    • Shannon says:

      That is an impressive way to organize the books. You and your family must have a lot of knowledge from these books!

      • Nic Nor says:

        Thanks Shannon. Needless to say, all my children are book readers. My Dad’s books were organized by the Dewey System (even better than mine) and he had library cards and little drawers so he could find what he was looking for.

  5. Wow, do I ever need this advice! Now just to make time to start sorting before ALL the bookcases have double rows!

  6. Lots of greatideas here. I have health and baby books from the 90’s which are probably irrelevant now… time to get rid of them.

  7. I love books. But, I have paired down a lot. My daughter is a book worm and although we pass them down we have enough to start a free little library. Hoping to do that soon. Thanks for the tips. Pinned & shared. Hope to see you again at the Inspiration Spotlight party.

  8. Wonderful post! I will be featuring your postin this week’s Home and Garden Thursday,

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  1. […] I kid you not, just today I started attacking my bookshelves that were bursting at the seams. Books from yardsales, relatives, school book sales, handed down from friends. It may just be one of the hardest things… to get rid of books! Why?! You can always head to the library and borrow them and giving the gift of reading by donating to a local shelter, school or library should fill us with joy. All the same, it can be such a daunting task.  Thanks to Shannon  from Of The Hearth, the task takes on a whole new meaning and ease. For the encouragement to purge your book stash, click <HERE>. […]

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