Is It Okay to Ever Get Rid of a Book?

Getting rid of books is hard and, for some book lovers, may even seem like a form of sacrilege. However, every book has a natural lifespan and, sometimes, it simply is time to recycle–or even toss–a book. Here are some scenarios where books just can’t be donated.

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The book has mold or mildew.

If a book has mold or mildew on it, its lifespan is sadly over. Donating the book or trying to keep it on the shelf will only risk spreading the mold to other volumes, and destroying them, as well. If you see mold on your book, you will, unfortunately, have to throw it away. It cannot even be recycled.

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The book is otherwise gross or in poor condition.

When donating books, consider whether the volume is something you yourself would want to read or buy. If the books are, for example, being pulled out of a ten-year stay in the basement and, as a result, are torn, water damaged, or covered in basement gunk–don’t donate them. The library or store where you drop these volumes off will then have to spend time and money disposing of them for you. Save yourself the time and effort, as well as the volunteers, by disposing of the books in the first place.

Other signs a book should not be donated: missing pages, broken bindings, excessive highlighting or note-taking, stains and dirt, and excessive odor.

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The book has outdated information.

Few book lovers want to see a book tossed into the recycling, but some books have simply outlived their usefulness. Nonfiction books with outdated information cannot be sold or circulated not only because the information is no longer relevant (think software no longer in use), but also because the information could even be harmful (ex. medical advice). If you try donating outdated books, the library or store workers are going to have to dispose of them, so you should save your time and theirs by doing it in the first place. If the book is in good condition, see if your local recycling will take it, and do some good for the environment in the process.

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The textbook is no longer in use.

No one likes getting rid of a textbook that cost a whole bunch of money. However, the reality is that publishers quickly update to new versions so that they can make some sort of profit in a market where they are competing with used book sales. As a result, most instructors upgrade to the most recent version (the one readily available for purchase), and the older versions are typically then no longer useful to students. Because no one wants an old textbook, almost no donation site is going to accept textbooks at all. You should check with your local recycling center and see if you can recycle the books instead.

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The book is just not going to sell.

Have you ever walked into a used bookstore or your library’s book sale and noticed 50 copies of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, or another once-bestseller? The reality is that some books are just not going to move off the shelves because there are too many copies in circulation. So if you own a past bestseller that seems like no one will want it anymore, do not feel guilty about finding another use for it. Try recycling it or even up-cycling it into some cool book art!

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If you have to recycle or even toss a book, do not feel guilty! Not every book can last indefinitely, and sometimes, a book’s lifespan is simply over. Do your best to recycle or up-cycle when possible. And be kind to yourself when you realize that you are going to have to let a book go.

12 thoughts on “Is It Okay to Ever Get Rid of a Book?

  1. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    I’m glad I haven’t been in a situation where my books got mildew or mould. Right now I’m in the process of clearing out my shelves and unhauling a few books, so this post has been very helpful and I’ll keep it keep in mind!


    • Krysta says:

      I haven’t had any mold or mildew yet, either, but that tends to happen more when people don’t store books correctly and toss them in boxes in a basement or attic. Then people try to donate the books when they finally clean out the space, but it’s too late at that point.


  2. Ari Augustine says:

    I’ve only ever had to toss books out when an old landlord of mine needed help cleaning out his basement. He had all these lovely first editions, but most were so moldy, there was no way to save or sell them. Unfortunately, he didn’t know their worth at the time when he chucked them in the basement 😦 which had flooded repeatedly over the course of 20ish years.

    Pretty sure it hurt me more than it hurt him LOL


    • Krysta says:

      Oh no! I have seen some horrible books fished out of attics and basements. I think maybe if you aren’t going to read the books and are just storing them 20 years in a basement, you should just donate them in the first place, before they become unsalvageable? If only we all had such foresight…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ari Augustine says:

        I did manage to save a first edition LOTR copy, but everything else was so far gone, it was sad. I definitely agree that it’s probably better to donate the books if you’re just going to store them away long term.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies says:

    All valid reasons! I recently recycled some very old textbooks that I’d kept more out of nostalgia than anything else, but I realized that they were very out of date and would be of no value to anyone. I’d also include old travel guides on the list of books to get rid of — after a few years, way too much of the information would be out of date, and might even steer people wrong!


    • Krysta says:

      That’s a good point! Travel books also have a limited timespan of usefulness. I think my library tries to replace them every one or two years, from what I can tell.


  4. Jess @ beyondthefrontcover says:

    I had damp in an old house that I used to live in, meaning mold got to a few of my books – I was devastated! Luckily the majority survived and are still safe on my shelves today. As you say the moldy ones had to go in the bin, but it just felt wrong doing it.


  5. BookerTalk says:

    Good point about the condition of the books. I organised a book sale a few years ago to raise funds for our community (volunteer-run) library and asked for donations. Some of the stuff people brought in were so badly damaged that we just had to throw them away.


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