Too Many Books? Is That a Thing?

By Laura Oles

Karen Heller’s article, “We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking.,” speaks to a key truth many book lovers face. 

She went for it right in the article title.

Included in the piece are several quotes from Fran Lebowitz, the fabulous humorist and social critic who graced us with this gem early in the article. “Constitutionally, I am unable to throw a book away. To me, it’s like seeing a baby thrown in a trash can.”  She continues, “I am a glutton for print. I love books in every way. I love them more than most human beings.” Lebowitz then explains how important her 12,000-book collection is to her and the hurdles she must clear to make sure her books are properly displayed each time she moves into a new apartment. 

I love you, Fran.

Great books can bring comfort, entertainment, education, and joy. They are more than simply stories and greater than the sum of their pages, their worth far exceeding the price spent.  For many, they are touchstones that represent key moments in time, relationships, experiences, and fond memories. 

They also, in physical form, take up a lot of space.

Marie Kondo of KonMari organizing fame, swept through our lives with her passionate clutter busting method, and I was with her right until she addressed the clutter of books. Books as clutter? Those are fighting words. When Kondo advised that we should own around 30 books, I realized it was at this point we would part ways. My wish list is larger than that.

Currently, my office bookshelves are filled, and it takes a great deal of discipline to not add more to the stacks (I cheat by stacking them in a separate pile on the counter).  When I travel, I have both a print book and my iPad in my bag. I feel exposed, somehow, without a book in tow.

While my collection of books is nowhere near the five-digit range, it’s enough that I try regularly to find homes for those I have read and think others will enjoy. Still, it’s a struggle to explain why I brought home four more books when my TBR is taller than I am.   Is this a problem?


Oh, good.

For those who are seeking homes for collections that have outgrown the space their owners have, there are several ways to get the right books to the right people.  Here are a few ideas:

Local Library Book Sales:  Many libraries have sales one or more times per year as a fundraising effort. I have worked several of these events in my hometown (and must promise myself not to take books home), and they are a wonderful way to support a local institution while also getting loved books into new hands.  The books should be in good, readable shape, though.  Water damage and other injuries mean the book doesn’t meet the criteria. 

Free Little Library:  This is one of my favorite ways to donate books, and with a little searching, it’s easy to locate one or more in your area. I enjoyed setting up a free little library at my local gym and love watching other members drop off a book or take one home.  According to the Free Little Library website, there are currently over 150,000 libraries in over 110 countries (and the number is likely higher due to how many aren’t formally registered online). So, consider loading a box of books in your car and taking a quick tour of your city to find a FLL that would benefit from your contribution.

Books for Development “addresses the book famine that prevents children and adults in many developing countries from learning to read. We do this by building library collections since we believe that the best contribution you can make to people’s development is to promote their literacy. As a non-profit, we take donated books, use volunteers to sort them and then ship them to poor countries to create libraries. We leverage our efforts–using free labor and donated books that might otherwise be dumped in a land fill.”

Better World Books: “Better World Books is a for-profit, socially conscious business and a global online bookseller that collects and sells new and used books online, matching each purchase with a book donation. Each sale generates funds for literacy and education initiatives in the U.S., the UK and around the world.  Since its launch in 2003, Better World Books has raised $33 million for libraries and literacy, donated over 32 million books and reused or recycled more than 397 million books.”  You can donate by checking their website to locate the nearest BWB drop box.

Donation Town:  Donation Town is an “online directory of charities that offers donation pickup services. You can search the website for charities in your area that can pick up or accept your book donations.

Goodwill:  Some Goodwill locations across the country have proven to have robust mini bookstores, and the company donates proceeds from sales to community outreach programs.  You can find a drop-off location here:

Half Price Books: You can sell your books to HPB but don’t expect to get much for them (we know the value of the book can’t be measured by price anyway).  In some cases, it may be best to simply donate them. HBP will take those donations and then pay it forward to other community organizations.

Side note:  If you haven’t seen Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It’s a City, I highly recommend it. You can find it here:  http://:

If you’d like to read Karen Heller’s article in the Washington Post, you can find a gifted link here:

Do you have a favorite place to rehome books? Post in the comments below!

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