Back to School, Back to Downsizing: Selling and Donating Books

Getting Rid of Books

Bye, bye, eight more boxes of books! Thanks for all the great reading!


It’s back to school time, and for me for the past few years, that has meant buying and selling used books.

Late August and early September are prime times for selling books, especially textbooks, as everyone goes back to school (including to college). As before, I’m using Amazon to get rid of the textbooks my sons no longer need. We have also been buying many of the textbooks they’ve needed in high school and college through Amazon used books, as well.

The system is quite well-organized, user-friendly, and easy to set up. Anyone who is used to using the Internet can do it quite easily, but here are a few of the most important things to know:

  •  Sellers are expected to ship their orders promptly once received. So be sure not to list books for sale, and then go off on vacation. You have to be ready to ship within a few days when the orders roll in.
  • Check competing offers. If the book you want to sell has more than 100 copies being offered for a penny, yours is not that likely to sell, unless it is in pristine condition and you still want to sell it for a penny. It may make more sense to just give the book away, to a school or library. Or maybe (if you’re really lucky) you could sell it in a yard sale for 50 cents or a dollar.
  • You have the best chance of selling a book if you “match lowest offer,” especially if your book is in better condition than most of the others ones listed.
  • Consider the weight factor. Selling a very light book for a penny can work out fine, because the way the cost is structured you will still be able to make a decent profit on the book. (This is because you may get more of shipping allowance from Amazon than you need to pay for shipping at the media rate). But for heavier books, you may end up actually losing a little money on some sales, if you haven’t priced the books high enough. (This sounds more complicated than it is. If you have as many books as I do, you’ll quickly see how it works, and when it doesn’t.) I’ve had to send one or two books where I lost a little bit on the deal (never more than a dollar). But I’ve more than made up for that in the money I’ve earned from all the other books I’ve sold–for an amount that would be hard to get for used books anywhere else.

This year, in addition to selling my son’s textbooks from last year, I’m also continuing the process of “proactive downsizing” of my own huge book collection. Although I have no immediate plans for a move, I know that my days in the place I am currently living are probably numbered. As I have previously discussed here, many of the reasons I wanted to keep books I had already read on my shelves no longer exist. So, although I know I will always have plenty of books with me wherever I go, I really do want to minimize the number I take with me in my next move, whenever that is. I’d much rather do it now than under duress and in the midst of all the chaos of moving. As I give away books I know I’d really rather keep (but at this point in my life shouldn’t), I remember that question my mother was always asking me as a child, in the early days of my book-buying ways: “Why don’t you just get it at the library?” (Finally, though sadly she’s not around anymore to hear my answer, the answer is: “You’re right, Mom!”)

Here are a few more tips for good ways to thin your book collection:

  • After my brother died, my sister and I shared the task of emptying out the storage locker where he had stored hundreds, perhaps even thousands of his books. We ended up selling most of them at Half Price Books. If you live in one of the 16 states where Half-Price books operates, that can be a great way to get cash for your books. The system they have organized is efficient, and feels pretty fair too. You bring the books in and wait while they evaluate them. Then they pay you–cash, on the spot! (Note: my sister and I cannot swear this to be true, but we do think that maybe you get a proportionately higher cash amount when you bring in just a couple of stacks of books, rather than a truckload, as we did once. 🙂 And that would kind of make sense, wouldn’t it?)
  • If you’re not moving right away, but you want to start getting rid of some of your books, you might want to consider building a Little Free Library, a way of sharing used books with others. The concept is simple: you place books you don’t want anymore in your Little Free Library: others take them out, and leave books they don’t want anymore for you. Some Little Free Libraries are very simple, and some are wildly creative. That’s up to you! But all of them function sort of like placing your books outside on the stoop or sidewalk for the taking–with the added benefit of offering the books protection from the elements while they’re waiting to be read again.
  • Libraries and schools are excellent places to give away the books you don’t want anymore and can’t, or prefer not to sell. And think beyond the obvious: churches, preschools, nursing homes, hospitals, homeless shelters. Most of these places have libraries, reading rooms, or at least some open bookshelves–and most of them welcome donations. Prisons are also an excellent place to donate books. You can find out how to go about doing so here.
  • This post, by my coauthor, has some great tips for other places that welcome used books, many of them places that share books with people who can really use them.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to give away ALL your books. I certainly didn’t. Before loading the eight boxes of books I just hauled off to my local library’s used bookstore, I plucked out a few I decided I just wasn’t quite ready to part with yet. I may be ready to let them go when I really do move. For now, they’re not taking up very much space, and seeing them makes me smile.

Books I Kept


And there are still plenty of books left in my home. I think there always will be. 🙂

Still Got Books 1still got books 3

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor, writing coach, travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.

One Response

  1. […] Or ones you never will: give them to friends or donate at one of these places. […]

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