Donating Your Bookshelf: What to Keep and What to Give Away

Applying Marie Kondo's Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to Your Bookshelf

True confessions of a book-lover: one of my favorite genres is self-help. If there is a book out there on becoming more successful, happier, or healthier, I’ve probably read it. So when Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up hit the shelves, I was her ideal audience member. I had accumulated too much stuff, and I wanted to eliminate clutter. I followed all of her advice. I kept items of clothing that I loved and donated what I didn’t. I disposed of old hair products and unused makeup samples and successfully kondoed my jewelry. Easy. But the books were another story.

While other store-bought things are easily labeled as clutter, the personal library holds a special place in a book lover’s home. Print books have taken on even more meaning in the age of the listicle, serving as statements of our literary values. In our small apartment, my boyfriend and I had three large bookshelves full, with some volumes stacked on top because we had run out of room. Many of my bibliophile friends found the wall of novels charming. But I was determined to change my life by tidying up, and that included tidying my bookshelves.

Sure, I had donated my books before, but they were usually science textbooks or books I read for class and hated (Hard Times by Charles Dickens comes to mind). I had never undertaken a project like the one Kondo proposes: take all of your books off of your shelves and put them on the floor. Then take each one in your hands and, without opening it, ask yourself if it brings you joy. If the answer is an unequivocal yes, keep it on the shelves. If the answer is no, let it go. To my surprise, when I began intuitively assessing my own feelings about each book, only a small percentage of them made my “hall of fame.” There were books I had been planning to read for years, academic books I no longer needed, and books that simply hadn’t wowed me enough to warrant a second reading. I was keeping most of them around for reference, simply because I felt that I should.

In the end I donated approximately one hundred volumes to a library in Guyana, where I hope they will find many new readers.

Get recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.

As for what I kept, it’s limited to around eighty volumes, which is still much more than Kondo suggests for the average person. Among the shelves I have now are my absolute favorites, like Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I kept a few childhood books, including A Wrinkle in Time and a collection of Lewis Carroll’s work. I kept only a few unread books that are on my reading list for this summer.

kondo bookshelf

My Kondoed Bookshelf

Now whenever I look at my bookshelf I don’t feel guilt over what I haven’t read, but pleasure, because each spine reminds me of a story I have loved and would certainly re-read. In the future when I read a new book I will consciously consider whether I want to keep it or re-sell it.

What are your criteria for keeping and donating books?

About Brittany Goss

Brittany Goss

BRITTANY GOSS is a reader and writer living in Brooklyn. Her creative work has appeared in Confrontation, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and Bellingham Review, among other places. Follow her on Twitter at @blgoss.

[email_signup id="4"]