Decluttering Books: Making a Buying Plan

In a magical world with endless public libraries in every city, we would buy only the books we want in our personal Hall of Fame. We will have previously read these books, likely more than once, and know that we love them and that owning a copy of each will make our homes more joyful places.

However, in reality, we sometimes have to buy books in order to read them. And being part of the publishing industry can mean that we support other writers by buying their books, whether those are e-books or hard copies.

Also, buying books is fun, and resisting their call can be hard. (Clearly we are blessed to have such problems.)

So our final step in KonMari-ing our book collections is making a plan for under what conditions we will or won’t buy books. Here’s my plan.

Books I Haven’t Read

As a general rule, I want to get books I haven’t read from the library. But if a library checkout won’t work, such as when the library doesn’t have the book I want to read, here are my go-to places.

  1. Indie/local bookstores or author websites/booths. Purchasing from the author maximizes the author’s earnings, and buying from local bookstores preserves bookish environments that host writers and events. My preference is for used books if I go to a bookstore.
  2. Amazon: Amazon is great if you can’t find a book locally. Once you pay for shipping, a book from Amazon is likely not much cheaper than a copy from a local bookstore with used books, but the savings can be significant if the book is eligible for free shipping through Prime (and you have Prime or use another person’s account).
  3. Chain stores. Barnes & Noble and other chain stores don’t offer the same charm or benefits to small businesses that shopping locally does, but they’re still bookstores. Chain stores, which at least in my case are where I can buy new books, are great for gifts, donations, and situations where you need a book immediately because you didn’t plan well for a baby shower or something.

If a local store is having a sale that I want to take advantage of because I have a thing for buying books, yet I don’t need a book, then I can buy books that a charity I’ve worked with wants. For example, Pioneer Book has a yearly deal where you get stocking-stuffer coupons worth the same amount as you spent on books before Christmas. With this deal, I can buy others books and then give the organization the coupons to use at their leisure.

You can also shop at book fairs, library book sales, writing conferences, book signings, and so forth, but for me these situations involve slightly different rules.

The Siren Call of Spontaneity

The dangerous thing about library books sales, writing conferences, and book signings is that if you don’t go in with a plan, you can end up with a giant pile of books you haven’t and may never read, plus budget violations. Here are my personal guidelines for navigating these events.

Library Book Sales

If I find a book I know I love and definitely want in my collection indefinitely, then I can buy it. However, I’ve made a rule that I can’t buy myself any other book here unless I know I’m going to soon buy it elsewhere anyway. No buying books I haven’t read but that look good because they cost 50 cents.

However, because I love buying cheap books, I do let myself use these sales as an opportunity to shop for books that charities I’ve worked with want. The thing about having no shelf control is that I’ve gotten good at finding great books for free or cheap, and that’s a valuable skill when it’s put to the service of universal literacy. You can call organizations if you want to help but don’t know what kinds of books they want or accept.

Book Signings

Generally, I try to make my purchases here adhere to my general rules for book-buying, though I have become slightly more flexible when it comes to author signings.

A few years ago, I went to an AuthorLink event with Gail Carson Levine, and while I loved the event, I decided against buying a copy of Ella Enchanted and having it signed because autographs aren’t usually my thing, plus I’d need to buy a brand-new book that I hadn’t read since I was a kid. And the line was really long. While I don’t stay awake at night tortured over that decision, if I were to have the same opportunity again, I would buy the book. Author signings like that don’t come along every day, so I’ve decided to give myself some grace there.

Also, I can plan better so that I’ve re-read the books before the event and thus buy (or not) more deliberately and confidently.

Writing Conferences

Writing conferences, with or without signing from the author, can also be hard to control your spending at because the energy at the event and the authors’ presence encourage you to support fellow writers and rejoice in the greatness of new books. My saving grace here has been my phone. When I’ve spent forever in the conference bookstore area agonizing, I could look up listings at the public library and remind myself that I don’t need to buy books that I’ve never read and that are readily available elsewhere.

If a book looks awesome, isn’t at the library or commonly found in the area, and is at the conference being sold so that lots of proceeds go to the author, then I could give myself a little wiggle room. But it’d better look so awesome that I will read it immediately and not leave it on my bookshelf unread for two years.

Guidelines for Gifts

When it comes to giving gifts, my goal is to check myself and make sure I’m getting a book that the receiver definitely wants, not just something that looks cool and that I convince myself they’ll want as a random gift.

Additionally, I can let others know that my donating books I’m given is part of the gift, not an insult to the giver. My family members can still get me books for Christmas and my birthday. I’ll just give them titles that’d I’d have to buy to read and let them know that I’ll likely donate the book once I’m done reading it.

These are my current book-buying guidelines. What are yours?


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