Moving with Books: Holding On and Letting Go

cardboard boxes opened and ready to pack

This week in the Bluestocking Salon, Bas Bleu editor KG shares an emotional experience that’s recognizable to book lovers everywhere. It is a dreaded, but often unavoidable moment in the great scheme of life.

I am moving.

Why is this news worth sharing with my fellow bluestockings? Because you understand just how stressful moving house can be when you have so many books. Currently, my books live on shelves…and on my bedside table…and under my TV and my coffee table. And did I mention the stacks of books lined up against my living room walls?

Any bibliophile who’s ever packed up and moved knows the pressure to downsize your book collection instead of hauling it all to the new abode. (Unless your new pad has All The Shelves, you lucky duck.) I’m trying to think of this as an “opportunity” to whittle down my stacks. But to what? How do I choose what to keep and what to give away?

Some books are obvious keepers: a second edition of Gone with the Wind, a birthday gift from a pair of lifelong friends; my late uncle’s personal copy of his favorite book, Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers; a dog-eared paperback edition of Persuasion, my favorite of Jane Austen’s novels (sorry, Darcy); a community cookbook I helped to write and edit; a fragile copy of my sister’s and my favorite children’s book, long since out of print; my ninth-grade copy of John Knowles’s A Separate Peace; the first romance novel I stole from my mother (please don’t tell her); an autographed edition of Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin… The list is too long to print here.

three stacks of books in front of bookshelves on hardwood floor

But what about my To Be Read books? This category is tougher to navigate, as my TBR collection is considerable. It’s a perk of working at Bas Bleu, where boxes of books arrive daily from publishers…but too many of those books come home with me. To shave down the TBR stacks, I opted to keep only books that a) aren’t easy to find in libraries or bookstores or b) have been on my must-read list for so long that I sneak them in between Bas Bleu reading marathons.

Once I’ve downsized the collection, I’ll need to rehome the titles not making the move. Because my books deserve to find a good home, too, in the hands of readers whose hearts and lives may be transformed—or at least transfixed for a few hours—by the books I’m releasing into the world. With that in mind, I’ve narrowed the recipients to:

  1. Little Free Libraries around town
  2. My dad’s hometown library. My local library branch is closed for renovations, so I’m sending hardcovers in good condition to the small library recently built near my father’s childhood home. Their buying budget is woefully small, so book donations meant for the library’s sales occasionally land on their permanent shelves.
  3. A woman-owned used bookstore that recently opened nearby and is still building up its stock.

I have the plan. I have the boxes and packing tape. I have the good intentions. But…I haven’t let any of those books go just yet!


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73 thoughts on “Moving with Books: Holding On and Letting Go

  1. I am a bibliophile😊😔
    I need to downsize my amount of books. I am
    80yrs old😲
    I need this article. 😊

  2. I’m moving, too. You have a better plan that I do. For some reason I’m hoping I can sneak all my books onto the truck!

    • Move them all. When I moved 15 years ago, all my books came with me and I held the record for the most number of boxes the mover had ever moved. I had downsized my library before and couldn’t bear to do it again. I may not live long enough to read them all, but they are there when I need them. By the way, if you live near a city, ask a bookstore to save boxes for you. Those boxes are built to hold books and are mostly of uniform size. My mover forgave me for the zillion boxes because they were so easy to arrange in the truck. 🙂

      • Well, girls, I’m 89 with failing eyesight. I’m reduced to reading on a Kindle. I mourn. Real books fell wonderful in your hands. BUT it is also good that there is a source where I can read by enlarging print and spacing more generously. I give my books to The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County’s used book stores. I remain a member of the Bas Bleu Society so that I have access to the wonderful things in your catalog. I also read your book reviews. I hope my membership fees are adequate for this information. We do what we have to do.

        • Life is ever-changing…and our reading habits change with it. We’re also grateful for e-readers that can help avid readers continue to enjoy books, even if in a different form. Thank you for being a Bas Bleu Society member, and we’ll do our best to keep sharing wonderful things!

  3. I have to leave my large home after the death of my husband of 47 years.
    We were both voracious readers and had amassed a great deal of books. The grandchildren took what they wanted and the children too but I was still left
    with enough to send 49 boxes of books to my local library. It was heartbreaking to say the least. I kept 6 boxes of my favorites. Out of about 300 cookbooks I
    kept only 42. The process was heart wrenching and painful. I hope I never have
    to do it again!

    • Oh, we hope not either, Carole. What an emotional situation to navigate. Hopefully all of the library patrons who benefited from your generosity are gaining as much joy from your books as you and your husband did!

    • I can really relate to the painstaking burden of departure of your books! I, too, had a similar situation when my mother passed away at age 97. Her library, especially of biographies, was massive. I attribute my love of biographies to her interest since I cared for her the last 10 years of her life. Since I lived with her eventually I read a lot during those years! Books often are like beloved friends, as we know, but there are always new ones that come along including audio books! The best to you, sweetheart.

  4. I know what you mean KG about “downsizing” a book collection. So difficult when there are just so many hours in a day (& night) to read.
    Good luck, KG with your move & with your plan!

  5. I don’t know how I will do this. We’ve been in our current home for over 40 years. Some books I don’t want to get rid of may never be read but they have beautiful covers or design. Are gifts. Inherited from a loved one. It is all very daunting.

    • It is very daunting…which is why we usually only do it when we absolutely have to! The good thing about books is that, even when they can’t stay with you, they can find treasured space in another reader’s life. They live on with others.

  6. Great article-moved about 5 years ago and had cases of books! In fact, young Hispanic mover guys asked if I owned a library😊! I have since donated some and downsized a bit by given many to family snd friends-have kept signed copies and special editions!

  7. Love your plan! I, too, have to whittle down my collection. One of my favorite places to donate is the local library’s bookstore. They are a used book store and the proceeds go to raise money for the library. A win-win.

  8. I have recently put our house on the market. Where we will move to is still an open question, but my books! It is impossible to wrench them out of your life! When a decorator came to “stage” the house she started moving books willy nilly and I almost choked her.
    I think this borders on a sickness, but they need a good home. I’ve already given about 35 cartons to the university library, but when they told me anything that was not to be digitized would be destroyed I stopped.nit would feel like killing your pet.
    I am still debating how I can move with about 20 or so more boxes.

  9. I understand the struggle as well! I am excellent at the collecting part but terrible at the downsizing part. So much so that I once had a moving company say they would not want to work with me again. To be fair – it was from a 3rd floor walk-up to a 4th floor walk-up…

  10. Your house sounds like mine, but I would be delighted to send you my address for re-homing your beloved books!!! I keep a few, but most I share with good reader friends and the local library. My hiking club exchanges books instead of other gifts at Christmas. My husband has never stopped grieving the sale of most of his collection of books when we made an international move.

  11. I asked myself “Will I want to read or refer back to this book again?” And “Will I be able to find this book in a library or bookstore if I do?” It helped a lot to pick and choose .

  12. You all describe the difficulty so well.
    My son-in-law shakes his head but I think secretly appreciates the use of our “library.” We are moving temporarily while work will be done on our home and most of our books will go into storage. I notice, though, that the stack to go with us keeps growing as I have second thoughts. Then there’s the additional problem of the new books we add to the collection.
    I was a school librarian for many years and am trying to follow my own advice to keep those books that are special and may go out of print. Unfortunately, that is so many….
    Good luck to all of you.

    • Oh, you KNOW he loves having access to all of those books! He may be the one sneaking books into the “to keep stack”? Good luck with your book move!

  13. I recently went through all of my books (approx. 2000+) and sympathize with your difficulty in finding new homes for them. One solution for paperbacks is to donate them to your local jail. They can’t take hardbacks, but will accept paperbacks on any subject and in any language. I donated about 10 bags and received a nice letter from the jail saying how much they appreciated having new books for the inmates to read. I felt good knowing that the books would be read by a whole new group.

  14. My situation is different. At 89, my eyesight is failing, and it’s tiring and frustratingly time consuming to try to read a book with small print I have sunk to reading my Kindle, actually a blessing. My daughter-in-law has enlarged the print, and more importantly, increase the space between the lines. At least I can still read! But I miss the feel of a real book. So it’s time to purge my bookshelves. I will give my books to bookstores run by The Environmental Defenders.

    • E-readers are such a blessing for the visually impaired. You’re right, they don’t match the wonderfully tactile experience of reading a physical book, but we’re so glad to hear you’re able to keep reading.

  15. I just halved the library in a house repair crisis. Luckily I already know all the second hand book outlets and work at the friends of the library store. I found some rare treasures squirreled away by my late husband. It’s so wonderful to shelve a beloved book at the library store and find it gone the next week. I like to imagine the thrill of discovery for the new owner.

  16. Our house sold unexpectedly very quickly. We had to do everything at record speed. We gave most of our books to Goodwill from which many had come. They are wonderful to order used books from so I trusted them to find homes i’d never think of.
    It was awful and now I feel entitled to fill in the spaces….

    • That’s the beauty of books: They can be shared again and again among friends AND strangers, brightening all of their lives.

  17. My sister is moving and down sizing and before she retired she worked as a librarian (masters degree and all). When I started to read the blog I thought: she has to read this. But the more that I read I thought “no one knows or talked about collecting BATMAN. Not only books but comic books. And also collectibles: hot wheels, mugs, banks, bobble heads, Barbie dolls (Batman Barbies have got to be worth something). I could go on and on but you get this idea.

    • Our former coworker is helping a late friend’s wife sort through, value, and sell the friend’s substantial collection of comics and other collectibles. It is a major undertaking!

  18. Our local libraries (San Jose, CA) have donation bins. The books books are then shelved near the bin and people can take them and leave a minimal financial donation. Additionally several times a year, each branch will have a book sale. I have 3 bags of books I have pulled off my shelves to deliver to my local branch.

  19. WHY exactly do you think you need to downsize your collection of books when it gives you so much pleasure? There is so much talk re: “decluttering” these days that it feels like a moral imperative! But what constitutes clutter and how it affects an individual is strictly a personal judgement! I LOVE my books. They exude an energy that feeds my joy and well-being – even books I’ve thoughtfully collected but never read! I, too, have books neatly stacked under tables and against walls, etc., in my home. And they’ve moved with me often. They’re NOT clutter in that they soothe rather than discomfort. The rule would be to only divest yourself of a book if and when it no longer gives you joy in the having of it.

  20. Thank you for your lovely reflection and for the suggestions made by other replies.

    By the time we moved from our home of 46 years, I’d downsized my chaplain’s collection twice. Now that I’m retired and in a home office with only 2 1/2 bookcases, I’ve saved only a few of those books, the ones whose spines alone inspire me: Mary Oliver, Atul Gawande, Jerome Gropman, Harold Kushner, Madeleine L’Engle, Barbara Crafton, C. S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, George Herbert, other poets and medical and theological pros…

    But what to do with the downstairs books, my cherished fiction and non fiction, and my husband’s? I’ve begun to have 19th C and early 20th C classics restored and given to grandchildren so they’ll have books owned by their great, and great-great grandparents.
    I think of this as sharing, rather than losing, my connections to these family. How I’ll manage when we move into a retirement community, I have no idea.

  21. I had a lot of kids books and gave them to my mothers husbands daughter now I have grand kids and thinking back I should have kept a lot of them I only say that because the books my grand daughter is into my daughter was into and I never thought about now I have to look for them and buy them

  22. No true booklover ever wants to let go of their books which have become as close as friends! I have found that keeping my book diary helped me let go off books I’ll never read again. I write down title,author and when read and that way I can encourage myself to read as many books as I can each year. It is amazing but just seeing titles and dates helps me remember the story or contents. It’s sort of a memory re-read if you see what I mean. Then I donate the books to my library for resale knowing they’ll find a home! Good luck to all booklovers everywhere that sooner or later have to let go. Isn’t that just life?

  23. In the middle of this myself — almost 60, need to downsize, living in a small space, blah blah blah — but No!! Yes, I have hundreds of books; I’ve been collecting since I was in my teens….I LOVE BOOKS! It makes me happy just to look at them; reading gives me JOY. I love to reread and drag out favorites. I’ve truly tried to give more away, but finally said WHY? I may live another 30 years; why should I deny myself this great pleasure? I’d rather be cramped with my books than be without these treasured friends. My library is willed to a nearby Native American community upon my death, but for now, Yipee!

  24. May I recommend Paperback Book Swap? It is a way to find homes for your books with people who really, really want them – I have been on the waiting list for years for certain books. You do have to send your book to the person who is requesting it, for this you will get a credit that you can use to get a book from someone else. But this way, the book you love will find its way to someone else who will love to have it. And they will probably pass it along to someone else who has requested this beloved book.

  25. I love to hear anything about books and book experiences. Every now and then, I get on what I call, “a literature kick” and read one of the great ones, with something lighter in between–looking forward to hearing from you!

  26. I had the same dilemma last year when I moved from a 3000sf house with a basement library to 1500sf and no space for a library. It was devastating… like giving up half of myself even though I managed to keep 58 boxes (I know…I’m a book junkie). Unfortunately, our local library system wouldn’t take any of them! I finally ran an ad in the paper and set up a book giveaway in my garage.

    • We like your initiative, Cynthia. Here’s hoping you had a wonderful collection of readers “adopt” your books.

  27. Great topic. As I have read this, I made a decision about what to do with some of my books. I live in West Texas not far from the Mexico border. There is a school down there on the US side that took much effort to build and staff. It continually grows, but the finances are not in that area to purchase the good stuff.” Thanks for the insight and helping me make this decision. Keep on.

  28. Brings back sickening memories of 2 yrs. ago when I moved here . I am a bibliophile. I went from a small house to a 1 bdrm. Sr. apt. My friends always told me it looked like I lived in a library. Although I didn’t have all the shelves a library has. I was delighted to learn of a small library on the premises of the apts. I was told it needed donations! Aha! A way to keep my brand new unread bks.!! I packed 9 boxes! They were taken to the library the day I moved in. I volunteered to be the librarian. “ thanks the cleaning lady does that also.” After days of unpacking, went down to visit my beloveds. The cleaning lady donated my 9 boxes of new bks. to her library miles and miles away! Haven’t spoken to her since.

  29. I, too, recently donated a couple hundred books to the library in a type of downsizing. Husband had passed and I was getting some new furniture so books had to be sorted to make room. I did find an author autographed book from a professor colleague of his and offered it to his wife rather than put it in the donation pile. She was delighted! The book was out of print and they had only 1 copy to be left to their 3 children. Now they have 2 and she is on the search for 1 more!

  30. I live in a 55+ community, and although it pains me to let a book go, I have been donating some of my books to the Community Library, so that others may find the same kind of joy and pleasure that I found in them.

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