How To Get Rid of Lots of Old Books

If you’re reading this, you are in the situation I was in two weeks ago: in a fit of decluttering, I ended up with a hundred or so old books, almost all in very good condition, that I had zero use for. And not wanting to see the books go to waste, I wanted to donate them somewhere.

That proved difficult. But thanks to the readers of Now I Know, my free daily trivia email newsletter that you really should sign up for, I was able to get rid of all the books (without resorting to putting them out with the recycling). Now I Know’s readers made dozens and dozens of suggestions, which you can find below.

Selling Your Books

If you’re lucky, you can do this quickly. Otherwise, it’s doable but it’ll take forever. Either way, you won’t make a lot of money.

If you’re lucky, you live near a Half Price Books. They have about 120 stores but aren’t everywhere. If you have one nearby, just take your books to them — they say they’ll look through them and make you an offer.

Or: you could find a local used book sale. Book Sale Finder is a website full of book sales; maybe there’s one near you. Call ahead, though — as I learned, not all of them will let anyone sell books there.

For the rest of us, your best bets are eBay or maybe Mercari. And if you have an incredible amount of books, Amazon has dropshipping services — that will get the books out of your house, too, until they sell (and obviously, after they sell, too). I have no idea how the Amazon dropshipping process works, so if that page isn’t helpful, sorry.

Another selling option is a consignment arrangement with either a local store or, more likely, a company that runs estate sales. Now I Know readers said that consignment shops can be very picky (understandably; if they don’t think it can sell, they don’t want it). The two readers who suggested estate sales both warned that those companies will often only pay you if the books sell at their next sale; otherwise, you effectively donated the books to them (or more likely, the unsold books went out with the trash).

Trading Your Books for Other Books

This is doable but slow and potentially expensive. The easy way: if you have a local used book shop, start there — they may take many/most/all of your books and give you a store credit.

If not, there are a handful of websites that facilitate book trading, but you almost always have to pay for shipping:

Giving Away The Books

If you don’t care if you get anything back, it’ll be a bit easier to get rid of the books — but not much.

The easiest way is Better World Books. This is what I did. Better World Books is an online used book retailer, and they came up with a really neat idea: put huge donation bins all over the eastern United States. People like me can dump their unwanted books in the bin, they come by once a week or so to pick it up, and then they sort through the books. They sell what they can, they donate what they can’t, and they recycle what they can’t donate.

It’s really difficult to find a local institution that will take your books. Your local library is your best bet, but the vast majority of them have zero interest — they already have a lot of books and don’t have the staff or the space to handle all the donations. Call ahead first, and if they say no, ask if they know of any other local libraries that are accepting books. Also, ask if there is a “friends of the library” that they’re affiliated with — those groups, which effectively are volunteers that fundraise on behalf of the library — often run used book sales, and may take your books.

Similarly, while many local schools have libraries (and all have classrooms), few will take your books. It’s the same problem the libraries have — once one person donates, the whole town may follow suit, and the school isn’t set up to handle that.

Other institutions in the area may actually be more interested than your library or schools. Prisons and jails may be a good bet, and some will even take children’s books so inmates can read to their children when they visit. Hospitals, rehabs, and eldercare facilities may also take some books. Similarly, Boys and Girls Clubs may have libraries. Other readers suggested homeless shelters as well. But this is all hit-or-miss and based on the local institution’s specific need.

Also in this category, thrift shops/Goodwill may take your books. But in my area, neither wanted the books I had to give away.

Social media may be a good option. If you’re on Facebook, your community Facebook Group may be an option, and there’s probably a “Buy Nothing” or “FreeCycle” Facebook Group that covers a wider geographic range. Either one may find you a taker. Similarly, Nextdoor and Craigslist may be good options.

There may be a curbside solution — beyond the trash. Many communities have Little Free Libraries, which are basically roadside bins designed to hold about 25-50 books; anyone can come by and take a book or drop some off for others. The downside here: they’re too small to handle dozens of books, and they’re often full.

A lot of readers said they had success with a less formal version of the Little Free Library: they suggested putting your books on the curb with a sign that says “Free Books.” That wouldn’t work where I live, but it may in other places.

When all else fails, recycle them.

Originally published on October 29, 2021