Giving Away Books Sparks Joy

I mentioned Marie Kondo lately, and while I never did get around to episode 2 of the Netflix series, nor have I embarked on a large-scale de-cluttering operation, I can’t help but think about her, basically just from the zeitgeist. Most recently, she’s been given a hard time about de-cluttering books in an internet tempest that was basically based on a joke based on a misunderstanding. Whatever. The point is, I was thinking about how just having books–a lot of books–sparks joy.

The bookshelf just behind my desk holds some of my favorites and I hope-soon-to-be favorites

and upstairs we’ve got shelves for the picture books that have stood the test of time, the girls’ recent YA picks, and whatever books I’m currently recommending to someone.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a big ol’ stack to be read next to my nightstand.

Oh, my gosh, y’all. I give up. I took a picture of that stack, but WordPress is bitter and angry and only wants to show it lying on its side. Forget it.

The point is, I have many, many books in the house, and that’s not going to change. On the other hand, it’s a constantly-evolving collection. In fact, I could potentially get zeitgeisty all over again and express my book philosophy as, basically, “thank u, next.” So I’m constantly getting rid of books.

I realized that getting rid of most clutter feels like a real pain in the neck, but getting rid of books almost always sparks joy, either for me or for someone else. Here are my favorite ways to get rid of books.


We went through so many books as the girls were growing up. Once both girls had a chance at them, maybe only one in four books felt “worth” keeping for nostalgic or re-reading purposes. The rest would go straight back to school. While the girls were in elementary school I’d give first dibs to the school librarian, then any rejects would go to whatever teacher was at the appropriate level. In my experience, the librarian was a little more discerning: she only wanted the like-new hardcovers or the high-demand series books that kids were constantly checking out. But enthusiastic teachers, especially reading specialists or newbies just building up their classroom stock, are shockingly grateful to receive books. Adult books can work, too. I had a massive collection of dusty nonfiction history tomes from graduate school years ago, and when I mentioned to a teacher that I’d like to pass them along to another teacher, this person scoffed that there’s no way anyone would want them. Wrong! Turns out that if you are a true history geek, you really do want dusty tomes, and the first high school history teacher I found was just as absurdly grateful as other teachers had been with the 4th grade readers. I presume it’s the same for most subjects. Now, that leaves behind, say, random adult novels, but those are great to donate to a school or teacher with ESL students.


I like to have some non-candy alternatives for Halloween, and when I have some kids’ books around that I haven’t already given away (like Halloween board books that I’ve stored with the decorations), I love to offer up books. Every time I have books available for trick-or-treaters, there’s at least one kid who is astonished by their great good fortune in acquiring a book. Yes, some kids just take a book instead of a Snickers and say thank you, but we have kids from other neighborhoods who come to our street for its combination of high density houses, good treats, and sidewalks, and some of these kiddos don’t have our extensive home libraries. Every time, one or two of them is thrilled, and watching their reaction is pretty wonderful. Talk about sparking joy!

PaperBack Swap

If you’re looking to get rid of books and stop the influx into your household, this one isn’t for you, but I love-love-love PaperBack Swap. Looking back at old posts, I realized that I’ve mentioned PB Swap without actually explaining how awesome it is. You create an account and then list books that you don’t want anymore by typing in each book’s ISBN number. If someone else would like one of the books you’ve listed, they’ll request it. You mail it to them, paying the postage, and that gives you a credit for a book. They make mailing it super-easy: you pay money into an account, and then you can print out two pages that include the address and postage, then just tape it around the book to send it out. The real way to work this system is by creating a Wish List. If there’s a book that I’d like to own but that I don’t need urgently, I add it to my Wish List. In fact, one industrious evening I cross-referenced my Want to Read list from Goodreads and added all of those books to my PB Swap Wish List. Then, if and when someone else lists the book, I’ll get an email asking me if I still want the book. So what ends up happening is that every few months I’ll list a whole bunch of books on PaperBack Swap, and within a day I’ll get a bunch of emails requesting many of the books I’ve listed. In other words, I have made people’s wishes come true! See how this works? It is somehow much more satisfying than just donating to the library, because you know someone’s eagerly waiting for the little gift you’re sending across the country. And then, every once in a while, you’ll get an email asking if you’d like someone to send you one of your Wish List books, and then it’s like a little surprise gift that you get in the mail. It tends to cost, oh, about $3 or $4 per book to send the books out, so not as cheap as the semi-annual library sale, but still pretty darn cheap, and it’s great for hard-to-find or out-of-print stuff.

Little Free Library

I’ve mentioned how much we love our local Little Free Libraries before, but in addition to the joy of finding books there, it’s a quick-and-easy way for me to get rid of books without schlepping far. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have one of these right on my block, and there are three others that I pass by frequently (the one featured in that earlier post, a new one by the JCC, and one near the girls’ old nursery school). Like with PaperBack Swap, I feel like giving books here is a bit like a karma deposit. I add enough books to Little Free Libraries that I feel quite comfortable just helping myself whenever I see a book that I like.

Family Swap

Whenever I get together with my extended family we bring books along to swap. Sometimes I’m ready to just give the books away and other times I’ll label them with my name so I can share them and still get them back someday.

When I’m done with a book, if it’s unbelievably awesome I immediately begin lobbying for M, J, or Cute W to read it. The next level is to put it on my shelf to keep or bring it, labeled, to swap with the family and get it back some day. If it’s not a keeper, I’ll throw it into the family swap if I’m getting together with people soon, and if not, I set it aside. Once I’ve got 6 or 8 books, I’ll list them on PB Swap. Usually I’ll end up swapping at least half of those, and then if a week goes by and no one’s claimed them for swapping, I’ll pull them off my PB Swap virtual bookshelf and drop them off at a Little Free Library. Of course, this means that I’m not exactly decreasing my book holdings, because I’m getting more books from family, neighbors, and even random strangers across the country.

But getting them, keeping them, or giving them away, all these books are sparking joy.


  1. Mr. Delaney has gotten SO MANY books from me over the years, and every time he’s been super-thankful. Last year Ms. C-S got a bag from me, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *