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What do I do with the books I purge?


My wife is reading a book right now about home organization. She is in her happy place. I’m much more okay with this one than I’ve been with some of the others she’s read, too; this is mostly because she is not deciding for me what is leaving the house. She’s dealing with her own accumulated stuff, and leaving it at that.

This is nice because she and I have very different ideas about what should stay and what should go—at least when it comes to my books. My criteria for whether or not to keep a book (which I shared here) make good sense to me, and actually do help me make real—and often difficult—decisions.

But some of you might wonder what do I do after I decide what should leave? What do I do with the books I’m purging—do I take them to the used bookstore? Do I throw them in the recycling? Do I use them for kindling when friends are having a backyard fire?

I’m currently adding to a new pile of books (something like 50-60 books), which has been a rewarding process so far (my bookshelves look much tidier!). Because of this, I’ve had a chance to reflect on not only my process for choosing what to get rid of, but what do I do with the books after I’ve removed them from the shelf. Typically, I follow four steps:

First, I destroy the really bad ones. If I don’t believe a book has any real benefit—whether because it’s full of heresy, or it’s just too stupid to be of any value—I strip the cover, usually tear it in half along the spine and recycle it. I can’t in good conscience pass along a really bad book if I know it’s bad.

Second, I target specific people regarding particular books. I have an idea of who might like certain books in the pile, so I set them aside for them, or I hand the books over at the first opportunity. So, some of my pastor friends will get small group resources, while other friends will get commentaries and others still might get a few books focused on contemporary issues or popular level theology books.

Third, I encourage my coworkers to take whatever they want. The HR manager at our organization is kind enough to let me bring in my piles of books for my coworkers to pick through and take. For me, this is really great, again, because it means books are getting into the hands of people who are (hopefully) going to read them.

Fourth, I take the remainder to the used bookstore or to the Goodwill. Rarely do I ever have to get to this point (thankfully), because my coworkers usually leave nothing but an empty box behind. But sometimes there are a few left. So, these get packed up and sent over to the Goodwill to be donated, and occasionally to the used bookstore (typically only for books I’ve purchased).

That, in a nutshell, is what I do with the books I purge. Hopefully learning what I do will help you as you look at cleaning out your own shelves.

Photo by Gioia De Antoniis via Flickr (Creative Commons)



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