Monthly Archives: December 2015

Maintaining Personal Libraries: “Is It Possible to Buy Too Many Books?”

Sorting through books


Most successful business people are regular readers.  When I stumbled across a question on Quora asking, “Is it possible to buy too many books?” I realized that quite a few people are dealing with this problem.

Speaking as a book lover with a massive personal library, I would say yes, it is possible to buy too many books under the following circumstances:

I.) If you are going into debt through your book purchases.

II.)  If your book purchases cause problems in your relationships, such as taking away needed money for other family expenses which are lacking.

III.) You are accumulating so many books that you are not able to take care of them (have space and facilities such as shelves to store them), such as dusting them at least once or twice a year (or hire help for such).  If you have too many for the number of shelves you have, and they are  just piled around, they can become a health hazard in several ways.  Mice can get in the house and eat them, and leave droppings around, and dust and dirt can accumulate.  Lack of storage space can become dangerous when they “take over” the home.  All these things are health hazards and fire hazards.  They can also cause rooms in your house to collapse if the weight is too much for the floor to support.

IV.)  People who love books and accumulate to the point of never giving a book away (we all go through this stage when first building our libraries) need to take care to consider whether you might have borderline (or full-blown) hoarding disorder…one of the first few episodes of hoarders actually dealt with people who accumulated books to the point that their entire living spaces were filled with books from floor-to-ceiling in every room, leaving only tiny, walk-through spaces.

V.  Those of us who are expats have special reasons for keeping EVERY BOOK.  Anyone who lives outside their home country and who loves books tends to accumulate a library in their own language, which is very hard to come by in the country where they may be living.  Many of us started our libraries in the days before the internet, and when we purchase books, we generally have to purchase them new from overseas as well as pay mailing and postage costs.  This can make the cost of a single book triple the price what someone back home pays.  This makes the books even more valuable, and even harder to give away.

In spite of this, even expats can become overwhelmed with books taking over their house.  Expats also need to sort through and give away books, with some special suggestions given below.


Get several laundry baskets (a convenient maximal size for moving groups of books around the house, or loading into the car), and sort through some books using the following criteria.  I used these, and suggest them to others:

laundry basket

a.) Will I really read this book again, or use it again?  KEEP.

b.) Did I LOVE this book (which I why I kept it)–but do I HONESTLY think I will ever read (or refer to it) again? (Our interests move on and evolve as the years go by. Books we enjoyed at a younger age, often are not so interesting one or two decades later. Sometimes we keep every book by a favorite author, too.)  IF you think YOU WILL NEVER READ IT AGAIN, put it into a give-away basket.

If you are keeping all the books by a favorite author (particularly fiction), pare down by keeping your FAVORITE two or three by that author.  Think about friends who may enjoy these books, to whom you could pass them along as gifts.

c. UNREAD BOOKS, which are NOW UNWANTED: Sometimes we buy books with the intention of reading them, only to find that our interests change over a few years and we now have NO INTEREST in that subject. Sometimes we may have accepted books as gifts or even picked them up at garage sales, or purchased them new. Again, ask yourself, “Do I really think I will read or want to read this book in the future, with my current interests?” If no, put in the give-away basket.

woman sorting books


If UNSURE, put the books in the ONE-YEAR basket, or make a special shelf or even two, and call them the ONE-YEAR shelf.  In my case, these were books I thought I might read some time, but they weren’t my favorites.  They were generally books given to me, or picked up somewhere, but not as first choices. Generally, I find the whole year goes by and I haven’t touched ONE of them, and STILL have no desire to read them, so then they become MUCH easier to put in the give-away basket.


I.)  Call your friends who are readers and tell them you need to give some of your favorite books away, and ask them to come by and see if they would like to have any of them. Many of my friends took favorite fiction, or child care books if their children were young (while mine are grown). This accomplishes two things. First, you know it is going someplace where it will be appreciated and enjoyed. Second, some of those books, if you later really wanted to read it again, you could borrow it back from that friend.

You will feel REALLY GOOD if/when your favorite books are taken by friends because you will feel they are being APPRECIATED and you can make specific recommendations to friends as they look through the books.

II.)  QUICK SOLUTIONS.  If you need to pare back your library, I suggest finding a fairly QUICK solution, or else it becomes an exercise in futility.  These might include a “book garage sale” or calling a used book dealer and seeing if they might be interested in taking some.

Usually, the BEST books will be taken by friends, book sales, or book dealers.  The problem is what to do with the left-over books.  Here are some suggestions:

a.)  Library donations (sometimes libraries receive too many donations).

However, if you are an expat with English-language books, most libraries (or school libraries anywhere) would be happy to have donations of books in English (and in many other languages, if they are in a major world language).

If you are a foreign expat (or immigrant) in the United States, or in an English-speaking country, and have books in a more obscure language, the MAJOR libraries in big cities actually do have sections of foreign-language books and WOULD appreciate books to add to their small sections.  Many times immigrants can’t read English, but appreciate the few books in their own languages in large public libraries (even cook books).

b.)  Many school libraries (especially in poor school districts in America, and especially in countries outside the United States) are DESPERATE for books (check private schools).

c.)  Consider battered women’s shelters, old folks’ homes, even homeless shelters.  (A homeless person has no money for entertainment, and is not clean enough to go into a public library.  But they might very much appreciate a good book to read, if they are a reader.  Even children’s books might be helpful for homeless families.)  If unsure, call the place you are thinking of in advance and ask if they would like to have donations.

d.)  If you can’t find a place, in the United States, there are always Good Will  and Disabled Veterans.  Both of these groups will pick up your items, if you have enough.  In foreign countries, there are often “Used-Item” sellers who will come to your house, look at all items, give you a price (not a lot, but something) and take the items away for you.


You should pare down until you actually have about TEN PERCENT EMPTY SPACE on your book shelves. Why? Because it LEAVES SPACE for you to buy the new books you really want, of course! Now you will not feel guilty buying those books!

bookshelves with some empty space

Is it necessary to say that you’ve read every book in your library? OF COURSE NOT! Who wants to walk into their own library, only to find nothing fresh to read? At any given time, I’ve read about 70% of what’s in my library, and 20-30 percent are books which I haven’t yet read.


Keep in mind, that unless you have shelves with glass fronts, that books need to be dusted two-to-four times a year.  This is another reason for not keeping more books than you can handle.

Books can be kept vertically, or horizontally (useful as a stacked bookend), but in no case should they be allowed to be LEANING on shelves, as the spines will break over time.  If you have someone in to help you dust or care for the books, this is what they REALLY need to understand!

I currently have about 3,000 books in my personal library, and they are organized by subjects, on shelves now split between several rooms. If I want to find a particular book I can usually find it within 1-2 minutes maximum, and that includes the time walking to that room. If your bookshelves are well-organized and clean, they can be used as decorations for the room, as well. My living room and dining room are just two of the rooms filled with book shelves, but I feel proud to display them when my friends come over, or when we have dinner parties or book club meetings in rooms with well-organized book shelves. Of course I have friends who appreciate books, too!


The BEST benefit of paring down your home library to the books that:



is that when you go into your library, IT WILL FEEL TEN TIMES AS AMAZING AS IT EVER FELT BEFORE.