Attempting to pare down a book collection has a way of blinding us to our actual reading habits. Sure, that 600-page history book has made it through multiple moves without so much as a quick first-chapter skim—but how dare you suggest getting rid of it?
I would never. But unless you live in a castle with unlimited bookshelf real estate, it’s impossible to both keep every book and buy new ones. Instead of thinking about what you might read someday, consider whether you can get any more use out of a book. Do you actually reference it on a somewhat regular basis? If so, maybe it’s worth keeping around. But if you’ve gotten everything out of a book you can reasonably expect to, it’s time to let it go. These four genres are the most likely to outlast their usefulness, making them the perfect place to start during any bookshelf decluttering project.
DIY and hobby books
When you’re just starting out on a new project or hobby, how-to guides can be valuable resources—but as you inevitably outgrow their advice or gradually abandon the hobby altogether, those books get shoved to the back of the shelf. Letting go of these books is a no-brainer, provided you can actually find them. Make sure to look in the darkest, most obscure corners of your book collection so you don’t miss anything.
Travel guides from old trips
Another book genre that’s easy to part with: Travel guides for places you’ve already been. Even if you plan on going back someday, a book that was passably up-to-date before the coronavirus pandemic hit is now officially useless. Unless you want to keep them as souvenirs, it’s best to recycle your old trip guides or sell them to a collector on eBay.
If you cook a lot, you’ve no doubt received a number of cookbooks over the years from people who don’t quite get your taste. Just because you don’t use a cookbook doesn’t mean nobody will, so set them free. You could donate to a library or thrift store, but cookbooks usually sell pretty well—which means used booksellers tend to buy them back, especially if they’re in like-new condition. Take a stack to your local bookstore and turn them into store credit to fund future purchases.
Out-of-date reference materials
Finally, rid yourself of old textbooks, style guides, technical manuals, and other reference materials that you just don’t use anymore. They take up a ton of room and offer absolutely nothing in return—why keep them around? Just because you’ve kept those college textbooks for two decades doesn’t mean you need to keep them for another two decades.
Keep in mind that truly outdated books may not be worth reselling or donating, even if they were expensive when you bought them. In this situation, recycling is probably your best bet. Paperback books are usually accepted along with mixed-paper recycling, but hardcovers need a little extra preparation. Check with your local recycling service to see what they recommend, and if you get stuck, feel free to ask a librarian. They discard books all the time, which means they exactly how it’s done in your area and will be happy to help you out.