It's spring, and home improvements and cleaning are in the air. • In the name of renewal (and family peace), my husband and I repurposed our rec room into a master bedroom and let our girls, ages 12 and 6, have their own rooms. In the process, we had to redistribute everyone's books. We shuffled them from room to room and set them on newly installed shelves, but we still had a lot left over.
I was forced to admit it: I had too many books. And books can be harder to kick out than termites.
"Of all the stuff I try to get rid of as an organizer, books are the most difficult," says Leslie Josel, owner of the home organizing service Order Out of Chaos, in Larchmont, N.Y. They are not usually worth much money, and they are heavy.
The first big hurdle of book purging: emotional attachment.
Unlike termites, my books were invited into my house or bestowed as gifts. My kids had classics inscribed to them by their grandparents. I had important, canonical works. The problem was, some of them were never liked, or even read. Years of accumulation had resulted in unwieldy towers and double-loaded shelves full of novels, parenting books and travel guides, some from trips never taken.
"Organization of books brings clarity into a person's life," says Nicola Walter, of Nicola Walter Design & Decor Inc. in New York City.
She suggests arranging volumes by topic, and stacking those of current interest on a coffee table or nightstand. Then, "make a visual composition of the bookshelf." That means stacking books vertically and horizontally, and leaving some space in between for pretty bookends, photographs, sculptures or vases.
Once you've reordered your newly spacious shelves, you meet the second big hurdle of book purging: the sheer physical challenge of what to do with the castoffs.
One key is using boxes small enough that you can carry them when they're full of books. Collect them in one pile placed so inconveniently that you're forced to do something about it.
I thought it would be easy to find a good home for my beloved books, but I was wrong. I was turned away from a retirement home, a library and a day care center. There are no used bookstores near me. I started leaving books at the commuter train station, as if someone's commute would be improved with a little French existentialism.
My town sanitation department will throw the books in a landfill but not recycle them, which just seemed wrong.
I'd never had such a hard time giving something away.
What to do with books
"With clothes," says Josel, "it is easy to donate them, as you can bag them up and have them picked up from your home."
The Salvation Army is one service that does pick up books in my area, so I gave most of my books to them. Call in advance to arrange pickups, or go to www.salvationarmyusa.org. I was limited to three boxes, so I transferred the smaller boxes into three big ones.
Other nationwide services with free pickup in many locations include Vietnam Veterans of America (www.vva.org), Goodwill (www.goodwill.org) and Big Brother Big Sister Foundation (www.bbbsfoundation.org).
Some charitable organizations give books to shelters, prisons and schools. Examples are the Reading Tree (www.readingtree.org), Books Through Bars (www.booksthroughbars.org) and Books for America (www.booksfor america.org), though you'll have to pack up your books and pay to ship them.
To send books to troops, contact Operation Paperback (www.operationpaperback.org) and Books for Soldiers (www.booksforsoldiers.com).
If you want to try selling your books, Book Scouter.com lets you compare prices at various book-buying websites. TextbookRecycling.com can help you buy and sell used textbooks.
A last option: Play! At Bookcrossing.com, download a label for your book and leave it in a public spot. When someone picks it up, they can log on to say so. That way, it's not really saying goodbye.