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What to Do with Your Old Books

Girl arranging different types of books in descripted boxes

We  have a lot of books in our house. This isn’t, given what I do for a profession, entirely surprising. We tend to hold on to books because I’m sentimental about them (much, much more than my children are). I’m sentimental about everything having to do with my children. I cry when I change over their drawers every season, moving out clothes that now seem impossibly tiny.

I remember stashing prized books on my bookshelves early in my career, thinking, “One day I’ll read this to my own child.” Those books made a lot of moves from publisher to publisher before they were toted home, awaiting the arrival of our first. Naturally I’m attached to them, even if my children actually hated some of them (seriously, how can you hate Blueberries for Sal?).

There comes a time, though, when our many bookshelves and book baskets are bursting and we have to figure out how to make room for the incoming books. It is beyond me to throw out a book. I have done it precisely once: when I was so enraged at a book’s contents that I threw it down a garbage chute, listening to it clunk, clunk, clunk down twelve flights of steps. But that was really more of a protest. I have a hard time parting with books. We are lucky to have an abundance of them and when I think about the many children who don’t own their own book, let alone enough to books to cram on a bookshelf, the task of sorting and donating becomes very easy.

Donate. My first suggestion always is to donate. I hear about book drives a lot during the holidays, but books are a year-round need for kids. Find a shelter, a local children’s agency, or plan now for seasonal book drives (put an empty box in a corner, closet, or garage; start filling the box now and you’ll be ready by December). If you have trouble finding an agency, contact a local food bank or food pantry; sometimes they also take books or will know of another agency in need.

Contact your pediatrician’s office. Ever take a look at some of the books in your doctor’s office?  Yeah, they need replacing (who tore out the last page of the Elmo book I was reading to my inconsolable sick child? That was just mean). In my experience doctors have been exceptionally grateful to have books in their waiting rooms, so see if they are open to a donation or if they know of another doctor who is.

Try your local hospital or children’s hospital. Many have restrictions, but you’ll find some who would love books for their libraries.

Inquire at your local library. Many libraries accept books in good condition (usually hardcover books or picture books).  Libraries are strapped for funds these days, so depending on what you have they might be able to add it to their collection.  They may also know other libraries in need and can guide you where to pass the books you have.

Do a book swap. Text a few friends and see if they are in the same boat (I’m guessing they are). Then organize a book swap; set your books out and kids can exchange their old ones for someone else’s old ones. (Parents can join in with their books, too!) Kids love setting up a “store” and you can make it a fun, festive event with snacks. If this works out you can make it a regular thing, like a spring cleaning book swap or a “we-have-nothing-to-do-in-the-middle-of-winter” book swap or a getting ready for school swap. It’s hilarious to see kids start talking like booksellers and reviewers (I have seen a few kids talk themselves into keeping a book they were hyping; not ideal if it comes home, but hopefully they won’t all come home). I love this idea because kids introducing their peers to other books is a great way for them to find new titles they love.

Other places that may be open to donations include daycare and childcare centers, nursery schools, your school library, or the library at your house of worship.

There are books I’ll never part with, like the one I bought, tentatively, when I first found out I was pregnant. The ones we read Every. Single. Night. The first book my child read on his own. I’m even holding on to the ones my kids hated and I love. Maybe one day I’ll have grandchildren who have better taste.

Baby books I can’t ever part with: