Every year, I torture myself debating about what books I should keep and which ones I should give away. It doesn’t matter that they’ve been sitting on the shelf collecting dust, parting with any precious book in my collection is still almost as hard for me as paying shipping costs on a product you know should be, like, $5 cheaper. If you find your bookshelves to be a bit overcrowded, allow me to prepare you for the road ahead. Here are the stages I go through when making space for—let’s face it—more books:
“I know I read this way back in the sixth grade, but it brings back so many memories.”
I’m sure we’ve all thought this. But, unless you have children in mind to pass it on to, who you know will actually read it, get rid of it. Especially if the only thing it’s reminding you of is lengthy book reports and that the teacher hosted in-class readings of it because the only person who did their summer reading was you. Do you really want to keep that memory?
“What if I give a book away and they don’t read it?”
You might hope that the people you gift books to will appreciate the gesture and read them. You might also secretly hope that one day, one person might come back and engage in a full-blown three-hour café conversation about it with you, so you can talk about all your favorite parts, and all the characters you love and hate. But let’s be real, there’s a strong chance it may not happen. So, out of sight, out of mind! Otherwise, if you kept all the books nobody else is going to read, you’d likely end up on the A&E series Hoarders.
Maybe you’re not that extreme. Maybe you’re just a perfectionist and don’t trust anyone else. Well, it’s OK to feel that at this stage too.
“No one else will take care of the books like I do.”
Fair enough. Not everyone is careful not to rip paperback covers and dusts their books from time to time. However, it’s not your responsibility to ensure that every book in the world is kept in mint condition. While we may want our book babies to be in good hands, we can’t always be sure they will be. If there’s just some books you don’t think you can let go, it helps to sleep on it. Think about it a little longer, and then you can decide.
“Well maybe I can keep these…”
Evaluate what you will really read and what you won’t. What have you already read? Which ones did you leave off reading halfway through? Did you ever pick it back up? Which do you want to hold on to for a loved one? Which will be better off in a library? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself when facing this stage. It’s easy to say you’ll get around to reading—or rereading—a book. But, unless it makes you itch in your seat to read it, you should probably let it go.
“Okay, I’m just going to put them aside in this corner until I’m ready.”
It’s not easy to say goodbye. This is probably the longest stage of book-letting-go grief, and that’s okay. Maybe you, like me, have difficulties parting with a certain book because, frankly, it’s always been on the shelf. It has now become a staple of your collection, and it seems preposterous to be without it. Think about it for as long as you need. But eventually, you will forget that the book—along with a pile of others—is even there. Once you do, you will know it’s time to let it go. There’s a reason you forgot about it in the first place.
But letting go is always the hardest part, and sometimes you need to ease into it. Take your time, and fully process what you’re about to do.
*After donating* “Why did I do that? I need to get them back.”
It’s possible, after donating books, that you may feel some guilt about letting go of something so precious to you. After all, you have been tethered to those books, sitting on your shelf, for a long time. In those moments, it’s best to think about where your attachment is rooted. Was it really a favorite or just decoration for your collection? If you analyze yourself, your motivations and attachments, the next part will be a little easier.
“Well, at least now I have more room for the new stuff.” *Adds books to Goodreads list*
After everything is said and done, you’re inevitably going to get more books and the cycle will repeat itself. Donating not only allows you opportunities to get rid of clutter, give your bookshelf a thorough cleaning, and reorganize your library, it also allows you to refresh your collection with books you eagerly want to read. Plus, even though it can be difficult to part with some of your books from time to time, the ones you donated now belong to someone else’s precious collection. In one way or another, you and that other reader are now connected. And your space is just a little more liberated. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?
These seven steps are a process every book lover will likely go through at some point in their life. Still, there are certain books that you should never give away if you own them. The prestige of your library may just depend on it. Here are examples of some of those books for me, from my collection, ranging from classic literary works to up-to-the minute engaging fiction to compelling journalistic nonfiction.