Culling a lifetime of Paper Books

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It is time. I have to cull 4,000 of the 5,000 business, technical and non-faction books that occupy our home.

I have not read a paper book in over six years. Yet, I keep thousands of books to surround myself with millions of words and images.

All of my reading occurs on the Kindle app on my iPad. I now have >5,000 Kindle books. One of the benefits of my Kindle books is that all 5,000 of them are on my iPad. They do not occupy a large percentage of the floor space of our house.

In the post “What is a book?” I provided several images of some of the many places we have our books tucked away.

Skip’s Library of Books

Six months ago the universe sent us a message to clean up our mess when our ground floor flooded due to a burst water heater. We are almost through with our reconstruction.

The upper left image of book shelves space now looks like:

By cleaning our book mess up now, we are saving our children from having to do it in the next few years.

Before bringing all the books back into the house from the ground floor, I start my culling by going through the upstairs book shelves.

Before the culling

Somehow I have to cull 80% of these books to make room for the keeper books from the 3,000 books that are now in storage.

My first box of culls:

After culling to five boxes of books and keep a couple of 20% of the books, the first column of our bookshelf looks like:

Pull the books out. Check for any stray receipts or papers in the books and toss the stray papers away. Decide on whether to cull the book or keep it. If a cull, put the book in a cull box. Once a shelf is cleared then clean the dust from all the construction of the last six months. Move to the next shelf of books.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

I am sure I have done harder things in my lifetime, but it is hard to part with 80% of my companions through ferry rides and hundreds of thousands of airline miles.

The hardest part of this work is not being able to find anyone to take my lifetime of books. I hate that these books will most likely end up in a landfill.

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5 Responses to Culling a lifetime of Paper Books

  1. bweinberger says:

    I feel you. Went through a similar issue – twice – while downsizing – twice. First, while going from a large home to a townhouse. Second, while going from the townhouse to a condo. Hundreds of books and magazines sold, donated or recycled.

    These days, I’m reading a lot on Kindle (a Paperwhite, not an iPad), because it’s much easier to use while traveling and during the middle of the night (built-in light). But I still like the feel of a physical book (and enjoy supporting my local bookstore in the process). And I’m trying to stick to the rule of 1 (or more) out for every 1 that comes in (also applies to non-books). We don’t have room for more. Music and movies are also transitioning to (almost) all digital.

    • Skip Walter says:

      Thanks Bill. You give me hope that I can make through the next couple of weeks of culling. I like the one in and one out strategy. I am too attached to my iPad and the ability to go back and forth between the Kindle app and good notes for my handwriting, copied book quotes, photos, and drawings.

  2. Geoff Bock says:

    Yup, a huge problem for those of us who bought books once upon a time and now find that they are aging display devices & “boat anchors.”

    FWIW, there’s an organization in the Boston area — More Than Words ( — that accepts books as donations. It’s set up both as a business and as a non-profit that helps troubled youths get some practical business skills. I believe the organization serves as a conduit for the second-hand market on the Internet.

    You might want to check & see if there’s a comparable group in the SEATAC area. If you have 6 or 8 boxes or more, they’ll send a truck over, so you can save wear and tear on your back to boot.

    Good luck!

  3. Chris Duval says:

    Hi Skip! Looong time. I also went through this process a few years ago, and am glad to hear you’re not dumping everything — you have “keepers”! A decade or so ago I also primarily moved to Kindle reading (the killer app feature of picking up on my phone where I left off on my device), but have of late come to realize how much I miss and love physical books. The mental map of where I first read a name/concept. The feel of the pages; the weight of the book. Noticing that I only have 3 pages left in a chapter. My son is an avid reader and his room looks like your library. I find it interesting that as much as he loves (is addicted to?) screen time, he also much prefers physical books.

    Here’s a quick blog post I recently enjoyed about digital vs. paper:

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