Shelf space: Books to keep; books to cull

Last summer, I had given up looking for a new house. We’d been looking for months, which in house-hunting time feels like eons.

How to choose good booksPin

We had seen so many oddities that I was losing hope. Finally, when we toured a house with side-by-side toilets I declared that I needed a break.

My 11-year-old, however, was undeterred. 

“What is that site with the houses?” she asked me one day.

“Zillow,” I said.

A few minutes later she was showing me a photo of a house with a library, or at least that’s how I thought of it – it was a room surrounded on 3 sides by bookshelves.

It seemed perfect, but out of our price range. And then, within a few weeks it somehow wasn’t. And so we bought it. 

Finally we would have a room for all of our books!

Too much of a good thing?

I would have never thought I would say this, but something I’ve learned is that sometimes there is such a thing as too many books.

Unlimited by space, I quickly filled our shelves with tons of novels, homeschool books, non-fiction, cookbooks and picture books that were more early childhood souvenirs than current favorites. 

Soon we were all a little overwhelmed. For so long I had cycled and rotated our collection because of space restrictions – now EVERYTHING was out and it didn’t feel quite right.

I had to think about this a bit, but what I decided was that a home library that is part of your living space all the time is just different than heading to a regular library to peruse the shelves.

For us, it was like the Jam Experiment – too many options left us choosing none at all.

How to choose good booksPin

And so I decided that just because we had the space, we didn’t need to display every book in our vast collection. Also, it was clear that a bit of editing was in order. All those years of storing half of our books in bins had made me a little complacent about culling.

Some of our books were very much “us,” but others we had gotten as gifts, outgrown, or simply didn’t need to own, i.e. novels that were good, but that we would probably never read again.

What makes the cut?

I took some time to consider what would make the cut in our new collection. As a lifelong book lover, I had always laughed off the idea (with books) about holding each to see if it “sparked joy,” but I found that honestly, a lot of it did come down to following my gut.

There were certain books that I just didn’t think we would read again. If they were also readily available from the library, I let them go.

Out of print or hard to find books I handled differently – yes, a book may be out of print, but sometimes it’s for good reason. 

Sentimental books I decided held a lot of value for our family. If a book evoked particularly warm memories, it earned a place in our collection.

I also decided that some books could be stored carefully – especially the sentimental ones. 

What to do with the other books

One thing that had kept me holding on to so many books (even the kind of junky stuff people lovingly gave us, “because you homeschool!”) was the stress over what to do with the books we didn’t want.


Selling books

But it turns out there are tons of good homes for the books that no longer serve you:

  • First, you can often resell homeschooling curriculum and books. Try Hoot Book Revival, Homeschool Classifieds, or Ebay.
  • Second, some communities have homeschool or teacher supply stores that will take books on consignment.
  • Some co-ops also allow you to bring in books to sell

To sell non-homeschool books:

  • Try listing them on Amazon or Ebay or try local used bookstores or Half Price Books
  • Host a good old-fashioned garage sale

How to choose good booksPin


There are tons of places to donate your books:

  • First, check local community groups and think within your co-op to see if your books could bless another family. But remember, they are only a blessing if the family really wants and needs them! 
  • Little Free Libraries are wonderful if you have one in your community. We are always thrilled when we find a treasure on one of our neighborhood walks.
  • Churches often appreciate books for their children’s rooms and nurseries
  • During a recent hospital stay for my daughter, we discovered that the children’s floor had almost no books – only a few worn, outdated, paperback picture books. Ask your local hospital if they could use your books.
  • Doctors’ offices and other locations with waiting rooms are also often in need of good quality books.
  • For the ambitious folks out there, start a Book Fairy Pantry in your community!

What’s working now

A couple of things have helped us with our new and improved library. First, I save some shelf space to put books face-out.

Next, for years I rotated our books by storing ones we weren’t currently using in bins. I kept a list taped to the top of each bin to be able to quickly know what was inside.

It was not a perfect system (I didn’t cull books as frequently as I probably should have) but it did keep us from being overwhelmed by too many books at once, so I have reinstitute book rotation.

So if like us, you are not a family that does well with every book in sight, take heart. It’s best if you can make your collection work for you.

And if you are a family that loves your giant library, stay the course! What a beautiful gift you are giving your kiddos to grow up surrounded by book friends!

Either way, happy reading to you and yours.

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  • Rebecca S says:

    Another way to get rid of books is You list your books; if someone wants one (or more!) you ship the books off to them – you pay for shipping. BUT you earn credits for each book you send, and can use those credits to choose your own books from others (plus a fifty cent swap fee). It’s a great way to get rid of books you don’t want and to pick up books cheap!

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