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Downsizing Dilemma: Why Getting Rid of Books is So Tough

By Ann Richardson December 19, 2023 Lifestyle

Finally, you have reached the age when you are beginning to think about downsizing. Perhaps you have familiarized yourself with all the practical and even emotional difficulties involved and have decided you are not quite ready to take the plunge.

Is there anything you can do in preparation for the eventual day?

Downsizing Dilemma: Culling Books

Few people reach their 60s without accumulating a lot of things they know they could throw or give away without great loss.

There are the clothes that don’t quite fit, but might do so if you lost those extra pounds that you are working on. There are the gifts that you never use, but have sentimental value because of the friends who gave them to you.

And then there are the books.

Books Take Room

If you like to read, you probably have books all over your house or apartment. Perhaps you sorted through them 10 years ago (or longer) because you had moved then or simply had a fit of eagerness to clean up.

In any case, there they are, in piles here and there – in the living room, by your bedside, in odd corners, including some in the bathroom.

Whatever cataloguing system once existed has probably long lost any cogency. When you are looking for a book you know you own, you get annoyed because it is nowhere to be found.

You have long thought that books don’t take any space, but you know you are kidding yourself. Indeed, for years, you proudly collected books to make your home feel properly lived in and loved. Each addition was like another brick to a house.

Perhaps it is time to cull.

Culling Can Be Painful

Deciding to get rid of books is harder than you might think. There are the books you always meant to read and are sure you will get to one day. There are those you started, but then stopped, and you like to think you will indeed finish them.

There are some you may be keeping for the children or for when you are sick and need something not too demanding. There are a lot of reasons to keep books.

And, if you are anything like me, it is a dusty job. You keep the house generally clean, but how often do you pull out the books one by one? So not only is it an emotionally difficult business to decide to give away books, but it is also a physically unpleasant one. Every reason not to do it.

But go for it, nonetheless.

How to Start Downsizing Your Book Collection

It is possible, of course, to simply go to any shelf and pull out books you don’t really want any more. I would urge you to do it more systematically.

If you have a lot of books, mentally divide them into categories – perhaps something simple like fiction versus non-fiction, but you might have more elaborate sub-categories.

Start with just one. Search your house for all novels, say, and put them in one place. Then, to feel productive, put them in alphabetical order (and remove any duplicates of books you bought a second time, because you forgot you had them in the first place!).

Then begins the difficult part. You know how old you are, and you know how many books you tend to read in a year. You can guess that however good your intentions, there are a set of books you will never re-read or read for the first time. Put them in a separate pile. Then look again and find some more.

Continue in the same vein with other categories. Depending on the size of your collection, this may take a few days. You should find yourself with a few cartons of books at the end of the process.

Dust the shelves, and put the books back in some organised system that pleases you. Offer the discarded books to friends, family, charity shops or even to passers-by. There, you have done it.

The Gains

Believe me, there are gains. In the first place, your rooms immediately look cleaner and tidier. With luck, there are no books piled on the floor, and you may even gain space for that knick-knack you were wondering where to put. Also, you know where your books are, next time you are looking.

Best of all, you will have found many books you didn’t have any memory of buying, but would really like to read – or re-read. My high school English teacher used to say, “If a book is worth reading once, it is worth reading twice.”

Put them on your bedside in an inviting pile. Take one out and pour yourself a glass of wine.

Time well spent.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are you downsizing? Do you have too many books cluttering up your rooms? Is letting go of books the most difficult part of your downsizing journey? Please share your thoughts below.

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I’ve been looking for advice on why I can’t seem to get rid of books. I love your suggestion of knowing yourself and asking which books have I not read and which books will I most likely not re-read. This was a light bulb moment that I can now place books in this new category and it’s working!


I luv reading, & own hundreds of books, but they are not in piles all over the house, stacked in the lounge & bedroom, nor bathroom (shudder), they are on bookshelves! Within these bookshelves, I have categories of books, so I know where to look when I want to find one in particular.
Some of us ladies are organised!
This article could have been written for 12 year-olds.

Haha culling books has been painful for me, but just last week, giving away about 20 novels freed up some badly needed space for me. My new rule is to not hold on to novels which can always be reread via the library app Libby, but to just keep non-fiction that I might want to reference when writing my blog posts. To me, many of my novels felt like art pieces, the covers can be so beautiful! And I love having them displayed in my bookshelves. But once they were out of my house it felt fine to be rid of them. I took photos of the books in case I want to be reminded to reread them in the future. Thanks for this timely post!

Catherine Vance

The books we have define us. It pained me to give up my beautiful theatre history and art books because of the rich, gorgeous art therein. Giving away other books reminds us of that time in our life. It is emotional. I have a new hodge-podge of books that it is time to let go of, so I think of the people who will be enriched by them. If there are books you can’t bear to donate to a library or thrift store, try gifting to a friend—after that—it’s up to them!.


ah the hardest part is what to do with all the books you are ready to part with. The salvation army and veterans are not taking books

Irene Wilson

I donate mine to the Mennonite Central Committe in Winnipeg.

Debra M Ballentine

There are many organizations that take books. Do a search on google. I know there’s an org that sends them to Africa. Another one to incarcerated people (In the past, I hesitated on sending to prisons until I found out there are many innocent people in them).

The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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