Decluttering Books: Donations and Joy-Sparks

Kondo says we want to focus on what to keep, not what to get rid of, which is generally a solid plan. But donating books is one of my favorite things, and it’s positive enough that in the case of donation, I think focusing on what I’m letting go is great.

So here’s a post all about the joy of giving.

Give Things You Love

I know that a lot of people wouldn’t dream of giving up books they love. You know, because they love them. However, in many cases I’ve realized that I get more joy from giving beloved books away than from keeping them.

I used to be a coordinator for a program for children from low-income families, and I was always buying new books for that program because a) we always needed more and b) the donations we got often weren’t great. People tend to donate things they don’t love or that aren’t in great condition, so the books the kids end up with don’t always inspire a love of reading.

Still, I usually just loaned, not gave, the kids copies from my personal collection. Now I’ve found that mining my personal collection for books to donate is fun.

For example, despite Daniel Handler being terrible, I enjoy Lemony Snicket’s narration and have had a carefully preserved set of A Series of Unfortunate Events, complete with books like The Beatrice Letters, since middle school.

When I decluttered my books, I realized that a) I would be perfectly happy checking out the books from the public library if I wanted to read them again, b) the books are clever enough for older kids to enjoy, and c) they help ease readers into longer and more complex novels. A complete series like that would be really good for the program I worked with. So getting rid of it was awesome.

Donate Mindfully 

Dropping off books at the thrift store isn’t necessarily super fun, but giving more carefully is. Some places you can donate your books include:

  • Programs for low-income families and children
  • Jails and prisons
  • Title I Schools
  • Thrift stores

Even if an organization doesn’t advertise a need for donated books, they often take those that meet their needs if you talk to the administrators. The keys are to have an idea of what those needs are and to offer only books in decent condition.

Women’s Shelters

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of self-help books about healing from abuse and managing health problems triggered by said abuse because I haven’t been able to get most of them from the library or because I wanted them for reference while I stabilized my life.

When I decided to let go of those books, I gave them to a women’s shelter. They didn’t advertise the need for self-help books, but they were still happy to take a small library that was in good condition and targeted for the demographic they help.

Jails and Prisons

Jails and prisons tend to accept only paperback books, and books that help people develop career skills are particularly helpful. Also, all the novels, because everyone loves novels, right?

Additionally, if you have books about writing, editing, or publishing, a prison is a great place for them. A lot of people write books while incarcerated.

Children’s Programs

Programs for low-income kids tend to need diverse books, especially #ownvoices books, and short (but not embarrassingly baby-ish) chapter books that help kids get used to longer reads.

Any program that interfaces with children, even if the target demographic is adults, might need children’s books. For example, community action centers and food banks often have books in their waiting rooms or to give out to families so that low-income kids have a better chance at reading time with parents and a solid foundation for education.


Old-to-you anthologies and such — if you don’t sell them because they cost you several months’ worth of food — can sometimes go to nearby universities that still use them as textbooks. You can contact professors directly, and they’re often happy to take your books and give them to students who can’t afford the textbooks for their classes.

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are my go-to for books that I know people will want but that aren’t a good fit for any specific organization that I know of. Like, don’t give thrift stores things like moldy books and things no one will buy, but I don’t think it’s wrong to donate books that you don’t like but that many people want to buy.

A lot of hardback books fall into this category for me, as do problematic books, like Little House in the Big Woods. If you feel you need to recycle a book because it’s the worst, then do your ethical thing, but I imagine that donating copies of good quality is fine, given that many people will buy new copies if used ones aren’t available.

And that’s it for today. Next week we’ll talk about making a buying plan that pleases your lack of shelf control and your commitment to the publishing industry but doesn’t involve keeping 5000 books forever.

What other places do you donate books to?


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