What To Do With Old Books When You Declutter

Wondering how to get rid of books? If you have a ton of  books, I have a few tips to help deal with them.  From donating them to libraries to making upcycled book crafts, learn how to cull books from your stash and what to do with old books when you declutter.  

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Is there such a thing as too many books?  

Books are the one thing that I don’t mind spending money on,  however,  after a while the bookshelves just get a bit too full. As  I look around my house deciding what areas to declutter, I wonder what to do with them all. There are only so many shelves on them, right? But I would never throw one away…that just seems like sacrilege!

Eco Friendly Decluttering: What to do with old books

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As we strive to reduce clutter in our lives, we need to take a long, hard look at how much stuff we really need.  But, how do you decide which ones to keep or get rid of? 

Getting rid of books is hard. Here are a few easy tips to help you thin the collection this month.

  • Series don’t have to stay together.  If there is only one story of a series that you really like, ditch the others. 
  • Copy recipes from cookbooks if you only use one or two.  No need to keep the whole thing if you don’t use most of the recipes.
  • Don’t keep old textbooks.  They might remind you of your glory days as a college student, however, do you really need them?  If you don’t use those textbooks in your current profession, recycle them, or donate them.
  • If you finished it, ask yourself if you will read it again.  Do you really want to read the biography of your favorite sports figure more than once?
  • Transition to an e-reader.  You can get many of the classics for FREE as an e-book.  Ditch the paper version if you really think you will read them again. E-readers can be green alternatives to actual paper books. 

used books with text overlay 'Book Donation Tips for sustainable decluttering'

Book Donation Tips

The written word is precious. Don’t let it end up in landfills!  Of course, not all books are worthy of a second home.  Sometimes, your old-school textbooks just have no further value. 

How do you know whether you should look for book recycling bins or sell it on eBay? Here are a few book donation tips that might help.  Throwing them away s is NOT a good way to deal with them! If you want more sustainable decluttering tips, check out my post on recycling resources

  • Don’t donate books that are water damaged, smell like smoke, or are otherwise damaged.  No one wants them, trust me. 
  • Most book donation programs accept only BOOKS.  Not photo albums, used sticker books, or old newspapers.  In addition,  don’t donate old library books.  That’s just not cool.  Give them back to the library if at all possible. 
  • Ask yourself if it’s out of date.  For example, old encyclopedias (more than 5 years old) do no one any good.  
  • Have questions?  Call and ask.  Contact your local book donation center and ask about their acceptance guidelines.  Don’t waste their time donating things that they don’t need or want. 

pile of books being thrown in the trash

Should you throw away books?

Throwing away books is a crime, in my opinion!  There is no reason for a beautiful story to end up rotting in a landfill somewhere.  If you absolutely have no way to re-home or reuse old books, at least recycle them.

Paperbacks can be recycled, binding included.  However, if it has gotten wet or the pages have turned brown, they should be thrown in the trash.  You can’t recycle pages that have aged to the point where they are turning tan.   

How to Re-purpose Old Books

Easy ways to recycle old books

Make sure your books don’t end up clogging the landfills. Wondering what to do with books after reading them? Here are some tips that will help you learn how to get rid of books without tossing them in the trash. 

Sell your old books on eBay  

It’s easy to do…all you need to do is set up an account. Once you have that, enter the ISBN number of the book you want to get rid of and all of the details about it will pop right up! This is a great way to make a little bit of money if you have some best sellers that need a new home.

Where to donate books

Many thrift stores, including GoodWill, accept books. You can use this as a tax write-off so make sure to get a receipt or proof of donation to include with your tax paperwork.

Donate to places like local hospitals, homeless shelters, adult literacy programs, and nursing homes.  Look for book donation bins near you. 

Sell them at consignment sales. 

I used to do this with the kid’s books quite a bit. Our sales have a ‘bag of books’ section where you can put 5 or 10 similar books into one big zip lock bag and price it as one piece. Saves lots of time!

Donate your books to someone on Freecycle. 

This is a great website for trading with others in your local community! You donate a science fiction thriller and maybe someone will give you some garden stuff you need this spring!

Eco Friendly Decluttering: What to do with old books

Find a second-hand bookstore in your area.  

Wondering what to do with books that can earn you new books? Earn credit for your donations at most second-hand book stores.  Use that credit towards purchasing other books in the store.

Use them for a social good project.

Encourage your library to get involved in the Better World Books program.  They work with over 3000 libraries across the US, Canada, and the UK to keep used library books out of landfills and put them in the hands of people who need them. There is no charge for participation in this group.

Host a neighborhood book swap.

This is a great way to get to know your neighbors while finding some great new reading material at the same time! Check out Book Riot for tips on how to host a book swap. 

Ask about book donation programs:

If you have a lot of children’s books, talk to your local library or school media center and see if they are interested in accepting them as a donation. Maybe your elementary school could hold a fundraiser with all the donated books?
Eco Friendly Decluttering: What to do with old books

Do a random act of kindness.

Join Bookcrossing.com and make someone’s day a little brighter with a random act of kindness!  All you do is slap a label on the inside of your book, leave it in a public place to be picked up by random strangers, and track its progress online! How far will YOUR favorite mystery go?

Look for libraries in need.

Check out Adopt A Library They have a long list of libraries in schools, on American Indian reservations, and even in prisons that need all types of books.

woman shopping in store looking at books

What happens to books that aren’t sold?

Do you remember when Borders Bookstores started having financial trouble and they began closing stores? There was a huge backlash against the company when it was discovered that they intended to tear the covers off of perfectly good, brand-new books and throw them away.

Add libraries and publishers to the mix and the number of books being tossed in the trash every year gets rather staggering. This article from National Public Radio takes a rather in-depth look at the library system and its disposal policies.

Approximately 30 TO 40 PERCENT of books that are shipped to bookstores for sale are returned to the publisher every year.   Between 65 and 95 percent of them are pulped (AKA destroyed by publishers). That is a HUGE number of books that get trashed, simply because it is cheaper and easier than finding alternative solutions.

Eco Friendly Decluttering: What to do with old books

Keep Used Books Out Of The Trash!

While it is certainly understandable that libraries and retail stores want to keep their stock fresh and offer the most current titles, there are a lot of people in this world who would love to be given the chance to read our ‘castoffs’! 

Try as I might, I could not find a single organization, petition, or environmental group working toward getting publishers to stop pulping brand-new books. You can read more about the industry’s dirty little secret and if you find any information on how the public can help put an end to this policy, PLEASE let me know! Have any other tips on what to do with excess books?

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More sustainable decluttering tips 

Don’t want to throw your books away? Of course not. I get it!  I don’t like throwing ANYTHING away if I can help it.  If you are trying to declutter the house, here are some more tips for eco-friendly cleaning:

Best Tips for Decluttering Your Child’s Room Find the best tips for decluttering your child’s room. Keep reading and see what I have learned over the years! 

What Can You Do With Old Hangers? Decluttering the house this month.  Have you cleaned your closet and realized you have way too many hangers?  What can you do with them?  I thought I would share a few ways to repurpose hangers.

How to Recycle Household Items That are Creating Clutter in Your House! Start decluttering your home! First, learn how to recycle household items and reduce your carbon footprint as you clean.

Looking for cool things to do with old books? 

There are tons of crafts that turn your books into new creations.  

Have more ideas?  Let me know if the comments below!

23 thoughts on “What To Do With Old Books When You Declutter”

  1. We all love to read & I cannot imagine tossing a book. There is always someone who wants it when you are done with it. We donate a lot to our local library or offer on Freecycle.

  2. Wow I have never thought about what happens to unwanted new books!!

    I recently sold alot of our over flow of books on Craig’s List.

  3. What a shame. I never knew this. We are avid readers as well and usually we donate our books to goodwill. I have done freecycle as well. But I totally want to try that Book Crossing! I bookmarked it! We have never thrown a book away that I know of.

    This is definitely something to think about.

  4. Wow i did not know that about the books being returned what a waste and that’s great that you get to help out at your kids school i did that when my son was in the first grade it’s so rewarding I know when i use to order my books from the book fair i couldn’t wait for them to arrive.

  5. Those are all great ideas. Thanks for sharing. We usually sell ours at our garage sale, and then donate what’s left to a local thrift store that helps battered women.

  6. The thrift stores usually dispose of the book sin the dumpster. I was told that the receive way more than they’ll ever sell, so they throw them out. Please confirm with your local ones, and keep that in mind.

    Paperbackswap.Com helps you trade your books.

    • I brought some really nice books to Barnes and Noble once. They have a section where they sell used books. And I stayed a while and then asked if they were going to be sold and she said well they really didn’t need them they put them in the bin to be trashed. I was very upset about that and I asked for the books back. They said they already had one like one I gave them and it was an historical older book.

      • I hope the entire book industry is working towards reducing the things they throw away. I have a feeling it is a LOT.

  7. I have never heard of bookcrossing before!! I know when we travel I try to find places to leave books after I read them on the trip instead of flying them back with me. I had no idea that many books get sent back.

  8. Those are all good ideas. I like to try to get rid of my old books on PaperBackSwap.com. I’ve also recycled them in our recycling bin. Paperbacks can just be tossed in, as is. Hardbacks need to have the covers taken off. The covers can then be used for crafts or whatnot. Even the paper inside could be used for paper crafts.

  9. My mom worked for a different national bookstore chain years ago and the publishers had them tear off the covers and toss the rest of the book. Employees could take them home if they wanted to, so I had a LOT of books with missing covers.

    It is hard to toss books out for me as I love them so much. But, some books DO reach the end of their life. Although, I did see someone selling cupcake holders (need another liner inside) that were made from the pages of books. THAT could be something cool to do.

  10. My library operates a small used bookstore where many books are super cheap and they have a free cart they put out when the store is closed (but the library is open). However they DO NOT WANT old textbooks. If you give a charity something they cannot use- all you are doing is sticking them with the disposal costs (foodbanks have this problem with expired goods all the time – people just drop off without checking dates). Don’t take money away from charity! Be thoughtful with your donations!

  11. I have an old world book encyclopedia that I had for many many years since I was young. And I did advertise it and some place like Freecycle and mother took them For a child. I hope she got good use out of it. I have not looked at it for many years. I still have another encyclopedia and I don’t read but I kind of like look good on the shelf. Some of the newer people like my children don’t have many books at all in their house. Seems like computers to go over reading but it’s really not the same thing. Recently I pulled off a book from my Shelf I didn’t know I had. I decided to read it and it was actually very good book. So maybe I’ll look for some more books I haven’t read in a long time or never read. Problem is my eyes are not so good anymore and when I read while everything becomes kind of blurry

    • My mom has a house full of books and can’t stand the idea of reading on an electronic screen. And my son is exactly the same way! Some people love the feel of an actual book in their hands. But, yes, as I get older, I find it harder to read actual print books. The old eyes are getting tired!


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