Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Let Go of Your Books When It’s Hard


If you love books, trimming your library may be one of the hardest steps you take on your path towards greater simplicity.  But, think about it for a moment.  How often do actually return to a book in your collection?

After hauling all our books cross-country (20 boxes), my husband and I sold, loaned, or gave almost all our books away when we moved to France three years later.  We “loaned” around 500 books on Buddhism to a Buddhist Center, as I couldn’t quite bear to make it final.  I sold my other titles – an assortment of health, personal development, and odd topics – as used books on Amazon.

I loved having a vast reference library on Buddhism.  Ironically, sadness and attachment welled up in my heart as the truck with all “our” books on Buddhism – all about non-attachment and impermanence – drove away from our apartment.

It was just a temporary feeling.  Soon we set off across the ocean with our 50 remaining books in tow, a small collection of core Buddhist texts.  I didn’t have a second thought for all the books we left behind.

Three years and three months later, that heavy suitcase of Buddhist texts traveled with us once again across one and a half oceans with a continent in between when we moved to Hawai’i.  After a few years, this essential book collection has ballooned to include titles on health, happiness, and healthy house design – probably 150 or 200 volumes in total.  This doesn’t include my husband’s books, just mine.

Live What You Read

Fortunately, the Kindle (affiliate link) came to my rescue a few years ago.  The Kindle represents an excellent solution for me because I’m sensitive to must, mold, dust, and printer’s ink (though better than before). Frankly, a library is a far better answer in terms of the environment, but it itsn’t a good option for me.

Despite having this electronic wonder, I don’t buy books willy-nilly for the Kindle.  I limit my book purchases because I think it’s important that I try to practice and live what I read instead of simply reading more and more.  And, in fact, all the wisdom I truly need is contained in a handful of books.

When I started my simplicity experiments last year, I reluctantly looked at my current library knowing most of it would have to go.  I began by attempting to divide my books into three categories:

  • Must have
  • Maybe
  • Give away, sell, or throw away

But, I didn’t make much headway.  I ended up with about 10 books in the give away pile and another 10 in the to be sold pile. Everything else was in limbo.

Go At Your Own Speed

This is what I discovered.  At least for book lovers, letting go of books is a process that takes time.  It won’t necessarily happen the first time you give it a shot. As time moved on, I became acclimated to the idea.  I found a few more to move over into the good-bye pile.  Then, a few more.  I promised myself that I could repurchase a book on Kindle if I really needed it.

When I recently moved into a 450 square foot studio with my husband, I allocated two shelves for books.  I’ve made a big dent into paring my books down to fit on these two shelves.  I’m a bit of a trickster though as they are wide shelves that can accommodate two rows of books.  I’ll probably end up with about 75 books.

Is this a failure or a success?  I consider it a positive step forward.  I can envision letting go of a few more of these books as time goes on, but I don’t feel I have to right now.  Downsizing is individual.  You make the rules that work for you.

Here are a few lessons to take away from my experience:

  • You won’t necessarily miss most of  your books when they’re gone.
  • You can repurchase a book if you really need it.
  • You’re library will just grow bigger and bigger unless you’re intentional about it.
  • Downsizing is a process.  Go at a speed that works for you.
  • Downsizing is individual.  You don’t need to go to an extreme – like zero books – unless that truly suits you.
  • Most importantly, live what you learn instead of mindlessly devouring more and more.

If you decide to downsize your library, I wish you the very best.  I hope it’s a positive learning experience for you as well.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. It’s interesting that I began boxing up books last week too as part of my decluttering efforts.

    Sadly, I never got around to reading some of them, but they must go all the same.

    The hardest ones to give away are the autographed ones, especially if I know the author. Guess I’ll save those for last.

    I know I’ll feel lighter once they’re gone, and won’t even miss some of them.

    Who will be the lucky recipient? I think I’ll give them to my local Friends of the Library.

    • Hi Flora,

      That’s a great choice for your books. I’m sure the library will be happy. You seem very upbeat about this step. There’s always some little block, like the autographed books, but if we see this as a process it is easier. I like the way you are visualizing yourself as lighter once they are gone.

  2. Books would be the hardest material possession for me to give up. I have a kindle, which I love, but I still prefer a book, whose pages I can turn, dog-ear, highlight, check-to-see-how-many-pages-left-in-the-chapter, lend out…must I go on? To me, books are a comfort and a joy. I do (occasionally) go back and revisit beloved books. Friends always know they can come to me – “Do you know anything about…?” Yes! I have a book on that very subject (or several). I would live without furniture before I live without books. *Sigh* Does that make me a bad person?

    • Hi Beth, Absolutely not! It doesn’t make you a bad person at all. I appreciate your love of books and, like you, I do revisit books from time to time. I also find that reading on the Kindle isn’t the same as reading an actual book, it’s much harder to have sense of orientation for one thing or to find that magical passage unless you remember to highlight it Kindle style. I’m just at the stage when I would like to simplify my life and letting go of books actually works for me as long as I allow it to be a process. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. Great article and one that is dear to my heart. Books must be one of the hardest things to part with, at least it was for me. There can be quite an emotional attachment to them, especially if they had a profound influence on your life. Still having parted with almost all my books I can honestly say I don’t miss them. I know that if I want to reread any particular titles I can probably order them through my library. I have found it quite liberating to let them go. As a librarian I just want to make a heartfelt plea. Before you stagger up to your local library with a truckload of books check first to see if they can use them. I would say that we discard about 80% of all donations. We simply don’t have room for everything and sadly there isn’t much call for books over 2 years old. When people dump boxes of old books on us we are left with the problem of disposal and that has caused a lot of headaches and expense for us.

    • Hi Sharon,

      It’s wonderful to hear how liberating it’s been to let go of your books. That’s great encouragement for all of us. We’ll definitely heed your reminder not to try to just dump our books at the library!

  4. I looked over at one of my bookshelves after reading you post and thought well I did a cull recently and we gave some books to out local library and others to the hospital for a fund raising fete. Yesteday I saw a table on out local shopping centre with secondhand goods and books where the proceeds go an orphange in Bali. Your post has inspired me to make a time to release some more books out to be enjoyed by others.
    I gave away my Brandon Bays signed copy of The Journey to a woman in hospital who had as Brandon had ovarian cancer. Last week a friend referred to Brandon’s story and I then realised I no longer had a copy. Well I can always purchase it again or borrow from the Library.
    Sandra is there a book you have let go that you go to the shelf looking for? Recently I went looking for an art book I wanted to refer to and then I remembered I had sold it many years ago.
    Thanks I may start to follow you:)

    • Suzie,
      I’m so inspired by the way you give your books away, especially to help those in need or who are suffering in some way. You seem far ahead of the game, but if you can cull more, why not!

      I’ve kept my main reference books or essential books so I rarely go to the shelf looking for a book I’ve given away. But I understand how your experience of looking for an art book as they can be very special indeed. It would be lovely to have you follow me.

  5. Sharon Engel

    I hadn’t even considered giving away any of my books until I read everyone’s posts here. Now I’m panicked. Oh dear, I will have to give away my books someday. 🙂 We haven’t moved in over 20 years, so things are piling up. A move now and then helps to clear things out. I like others have a personal attachment to my books and I go back to refer to them often. Mostly, they are books on spirituality and health. I rarely read fiction and those would be easy to give away. Since I don’t have to move or give away right now, I would love to read Robin Easton’s book. I’ve recently “friended” her on Facebook and like what she has to say there. Thank you, Sandra, for having the courage to part with your “babies.”

    • Hi Sharon,

      I’m glad you enjoy your books so much. I’m so like you, my main books are on spirituality and health and I go back to them all the time. That’s why I’ve kept a core of them. Robin is awesome! You’ll definitely be included in the drawing.

  6. Pam Prince

    I am on my own personal inner Journey…I have been following Robin Easton and would love to have her book…in 2010, everything I owned left my presence…now, I am building a New Life…Thank you for this great offer!

  7. jean sampson

    Hi Sandra. I think it is wonderful that you are giving away Robin’s wonderful book! It is truly life-changing! I loaned my copy to my homesick Australian friend and she is reading it through the 2nd time. I think I will let her keep it! But please give the book to someone else as I will order another if I need to. I want everyone to read Robin’s book! I am now waiting for my copy of Simon Hay’s, The Disciple. Well, so much for downsizing books! 🙂 I think, in light of the fact that I have lived in the same house my entire life, that I might as well keep most of my books. I might “prune” them every once in awhile, but, for the most part, I think I will leave them alone. There are other things I might get rid of, though. I think I have a few too many mugs in the kitchen, so I might start there! Can you say YARD SALE?? 🙂

    • How beautiful it is to share our books with our friends! I loved Robin’s book so much and now I hope it will go to someone else who loves it as dearly.

      If you are happy with your library, no need to downsize, but the idea of pruning every now and then is a nice one. Mugs can indeed collect endlessly. I think they are the perfect start.

  8. Jean Herley

    Sandra, what a great way to downsize – by passing on your treasures to someone else who can treasure them! I grew up across the street from Robin, but only knew of her. As a teenager, I hung out more with her younger brothers. I’ve gotten to know Robin more in the past year from following her posts on Facebook. Her energy and insight amaze me. I would love to read her book “Naked in Eden” and can’t afford to purchase a copy at this time.
    I am a practicing believer of downsizing because the more things we have, the more time we must spend maintaining them. I am always looking to see what more I can weed from my belongings. Ideally, I’d love to exist with only a few basics, but it will be a long time, if ever, before I reach that goal. Like you, I have some things that I am not ready to part with. It is definitely a process, and I know that weeks, months, or maybe even years from now, I will eventually loosen my grip and pass some of these things on to other people who will enjoy them as much as I have. Thanks for sharing one of your treasures with one of us.

    • Hi Jean,
      How interesting that you’ve lived so close to Robin. Her FB stream is amazing. You seem to have a really healthy approach to downsizing. You are so right, our ability to let go of our things changes with time and as we change. You’re very welcome and I’m happy to include you in the drawing.

  9. Pam Kowal

    I would so love a copy of Naked in Eden to add to my personal library. It’s a wonderful read–full of grounded insight borne of direct experience, and is filled with Presence, of touching the sacred in the extraordinary ordinariness of daily life and recognizing it as the same stuff of one’s own being. It’s the type of book that bears re-reading periodically to re-center one’s own connection with the natural world as the perfect expression of our interconnectedness within the realm of ‘one whole thing’.

    • How beautifully articulated! It is an amazing book and an important one ot read especially in this time when nature is becoming a foreign entity in our lives. Thanks for your thoughts.

  10. Sandra I have to downsize in spurts…recently I went through the many garden books I have and gave away several to garden lovers on my blog…the others I gave to the library. Of course I have many in limbo and I bought more. And that is just garden books. It doesn’t count the about 1000 mysteries I have many unread…yes I have a book issue but I love my library. Now I have been downsizing other things and as I retire I will be purging much of what I don’t need. But as you say it takes time and is personal as to how much and how fast you can go.

    The book you are giving away sounds wonderful. I should do another garden book giveaway in 6 months as I purge more.

    • Hi Donna,

      Downsizing in spurts is a great description. You seem to have a good handle on it and are moving at a pace that’s right for you. That’s the key, isn’t it! How wonderful you give your gardening books away on your site.

  11. Dearest Sandra, I am so moved, not only by your refreshingly generous heart, but also by the fact that some part of me (in many ways the deepest part of me) will be going out to one of your readers (in book form). I am also touched by the whole idea of “GIVING away” anything, freely, no strings. I just love that.

    Since I had no children and there are no nieces in my family (all nephews) I have given certain meaningful pieces of jewelry or other family items to young women whom I’ve known since they were 4 – 6 years old (now in their early twenties). It is such a joy to not only “let go”, but to know that what we let go of, or give, is so wondrously appreciated.

    I am in a stage of my life where I am letting go of SO MUCH, feeling a really deep need to do so. I could almost life monk-like and I would be at great peace. Give me my camera, my bare feet up a mountain, my knapsack, the great outdoors, a computer for sharing my photos and writing, and I am happy. This is my summer of letting go.

    You are a truly unique and magical soul, Sandra. I love how unpredictable or free thinking, and yet how predictable you are in your ability to love and offer compassion. You have been one of the “rocks” in my life, just in being YOU. That is enough. It’s everything. Much love, Robin

    PS: TO YOU READERS: I am honored to be able to share this unforgettable time of my life with whomever wins this book. A part of me will be with you as you read.

    • Dearest Robin,

      It’s so joyful to share you book with someone who would love to read it so much, as several people have said in this thread. I couldn’t believe how captivated I was after just a few pages. It’s truly an adventure story on top of being a profound inner journey.

      I’m so inspired that you have declared this your summer of letting go and your willingness to live like a monk. How beautiful, indeed. I wish you ever happiness on this journey. Life is always demanding us to let go, isn’t it? By giving away our possessions, we can practice for the “big” letting go at death when we won’t be able to take any of this along.

      You have found your niche on FB, where you sparkle with beauty and wisdom. I’m so happy to follow your stream there and love and appreciate you so much!

  12. Thanh

    I admire and like your idea of giving away books. The past year, I started giving away my stuff and recently gave away one of my books to one of my relatives. It is hard for me to give away my books, I love to read. For me books are treasures for the soul.

    • I agree so much that books are treasures for the soul! It’s not easy to let them go, but it’s become easier for me with practice and time. Giving away one of your books to a relative is a generous step. I fully believe we each need to go at our own pace. Thanks for your thoughts.

  13. Diane Puckett

    I have read over a hundred books on my iPad via the Kindle app, but I have purchased almost none of them. Our state public library system offers 2-week lending of more ebooks than I could ever read. They even offer about 150 current magazines. I cull my books several times a year, donating them to the local library. The books they cannot include in their collection are sold and the proceeds used to support the library.

    • That’s fantastic, Diane! Our local library is a resource we can all check out as chances are most have a similar service. I think it’s a smart idea to cull your books several times a year. Tonight, I was looking again at a few more of my books realizing that I can probably let go of them too!

  14. Sandra,
    I love the idea of a book give away. I am a horrible book hoarder. I can everything else away except my precious books. I could relate to creating the piles. I, too, have slimmed down my collection over the years only to rebuild again.
    Your comment about limiting book purchases so that you can practice what you read instead of only reading more struck a chord within. Thank you for re-inspiring me!

    • Carrie,

      I understand fully how difficult it is to give away your precious books! I’m not giving away my most important spiritual books, but I’m learning to let go of the others.

      This idea of actually practicing instead of reading is one I need to work on! Reading is inspiring, but it’s not the same as working directly with your mind. In that way, reading can become a distraction.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  15. Hum… I’ve never heard about this book but I am really considering give it a try and see if it fits my style.
    I am new on your blog but it seems that you have a really engaged audience. By the way, I loved your observations about not missing a book when you are gone. Brilliant!
    Nice post Sandra, thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Steve,

      Thanks for visiting. There is a wonderful community of people who share their perspective in the comments here. I feel very fortunate indeed. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and hope to see you again.

  16. Reading through your post made me glance suspiciously sideways to my small home library. I had to purge them of several titles when I moved out from our family home to a new home (to “find myself”) and each title took me 20 minutes worth of internal debate whether I should take it or give it away.

    At that time, I was a struggling artist and thought Buddhism was a bit loony (I was 21, please forgive my ignorance). I really did believe that my personal library defines my personality. I think that’s where most of the resistance comes from and I think that’s where we’re most attached to… to a sense of a certain personality that we have.

    Of course, back then, I really didn’t think about it that way. I just felt comfortable having them around like a pacifier or a blankie.

    But on a more technological side, sometimes, particularly when I’m feeling a bit lost, I tend to shy away from reading books off of my Kindle because it’s so easy to click away from whatever you’re reading to some cool new app that you’ve just installed. And of course, when you’re in a place where you’re battling with yourself, sometimes you get tempted to drown all the voices in your head with a good few levels of Angry Birds!

    I’m sure that’s not the case with a lot of people who can exhibit a lot more mindfulness, but hopefully, I’ll get there too.

    Thought I’d share… thanks for the space!

  17. Hi,

    I completely understand your point: that our books are so entwined with our personality and that is another reason why they can be difficult to give us. Thanks for bring that to the foreground.

    I’m not very technologically adept, so I didn’t realize there are other apps for the Kindle. I’m lucky that way because if I am on the Kindle, I stay on the Kindle. Thanks for your thoughts.

  18. Books are my one indulgence, Sandra and to think of giving them up is always hard. In an effort to go lean on our collection I moved to a Kindle. But I must seriously think of thinning out our collection and more importantly work with the idea of letting them go.

    • I know it’s not easy, Corrinne. It’s get easier for me though and I hope it goes that way for you too. Good luck, whatever you decide.

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