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Getting Rid of Old Books

More than a year into our most recent move, we finally spent entirely too much money on bookshelves and took to the task of unpacking our books. We’re a dual-PhD/recovering academic couple, both in humanities disciplines. We are also compulsive media hoarders; my husband, who doesn’t have a sentimental bone in his body, nonetheless insisted we keep all our old CDs so that our then-hypothetical kids could explore our musical tastes. But our particular weakness (which our now-real kids exploit liberally) is our inability to say no to buying a book. Or ever getting rid of them.

All of this to say that it’s gotten so bad that the husband actually declared that we have too many [expletive] books while unpacking them.

Here at ProfHacker, we’ve written about organizing books and cataloguing books, most recently one by Jason on alphabetizing and other sorting methods. But when I took to facebook for advice about getting rid of books, I was told multiple times in multiple different ways that there was no such thing as too many books (I am friends with a lot of other humanities academics). A small minority sympathized with me and shared how relieved they were when they got out from under their mountain of books. But offered no real concrete advice.

This isn’t the first time I’ve asked this question. As far back as 2010, I was wondering what to do with all these books, particularly the extensive and eclectic collection of Canadian Literature and CanLit criticism I had amassed. I’m still struggling with what to do with that piece of my library, because it represents an important part of my intellectual history, but also the part that I feel most distant from now, the one I had to let go of the most, and the one that is the most painful to shed as a part of my intellectual identity.

Plus, it’s a really impressive collection.

But they don’t bring me joy anymore, and if we’re going with the Kondo-method, then those books are the first to go. It doesn’t make it any easier, especially given the marginalia (paratextual materials FTW!) that many of the books have amassed over the years. Opening each book might take forever, but there is often too many other things that have collected over the years that have been tucked away and forgotten.

(And then there’s this advice list that says you should get rid of Kondo’s book.)

Most helpful for me was this post on Breaking the Sentimental Attachments to Books (although the thought of only owning 20 books makes me break out in a cold sweat – WHAT IF I NEED THAT QUOTE?!?!?!). Complicating matters is saving some of the most important books to be able to share with the kids as they get older. I love how our basement room is now set up to look like a library, and I romantically think about the kids wandering through our stacks.

Which, of course they won’t.

So, so far, the CanLit theory goes, as well as the novels I haven’t read and never will. I will keep the “classics” as well as the books I love going back to again and again. First editions will never leave my side, even if they are never opened, especially the first edition of a book of poetry by the author who was the subject of my dissertation/book that my grandmother got for me one Christmas. That one clearly brings me joy.

No more anthologies and textbooks. Same with mass-market bestsellers that were basically like candy for my brain but that I can’t ever bring myself to read (and roll my eyes at ever reading them to begin with). The self-help books are just right out.

But I’m keeping my entire Star Wars book collection.

The next challenge is to decide what to do with all the books I don’t want or need anymore. Recycling seems like a last resort, so this is a helpful list of places where I could look into donating my old books.

How do you decide what books to keep and which to get rid of? And where do your unwanted books go?

Image Books by Susanne Nilsson licensed CC-BY 2.0

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