Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reduce. Reuse. Remix.: Books

The list

Aug. 28

Sept. 4

Sept. 11

Sept. 18

Still to come

  • Comforters, dishes, electronics, graduation gowns, tuxedos and other special-occasion wear, toys, trophies

Junk. With the exception of perhaps the very young or the very newly parentally liberated, we all have it. It's everywhere -- at the office, in the bedroom, in the kitchen. Well, it's time to do something about it. While it's not exactly spring cleaning season, it's never too late (or early?) to take inventory and take charge of your stuff. Good starting places for junk removal are found all over the Web. The old standbys, eBay ( and Craigslist (, are great if you know you've got something others want. One Web site you may not be familiar with is the Freecycle Network ( If you're looking to give something away or get something for nothing (literally), this is the site for you. But for the rest of the stuff? The junk that sits around day after day because you just don't know what to do with it? That's where this column comes in. It is here to help you

clean up the clutter of your daily life. This series will focus on one thing each week that many of us have too much of. For 10 weeks, it will focus on one specific junky item that doesn't need to be sitting around collecting dust for one more minute. From Beanie Babies to bridesmaids dresses, all of us have something to lose -- right?

The list

Today we'll start with something most people admit to having way too many of -- books. You'll find the rest of our ideas below.

Old jeans and T-shirts
Graduation gowns, tuxedos and other special occasion wear
Greeting cards and photographs
Wine bottles and corks

The options

REDUCE: First things first -- everyone needs less. Get ideas on how to get rid of it, recycle it or store it away properly.

REUSE: One man's trash is another man's treasure, and most of your junk will be well-loved by someone else. Even though you're not wearing those size-2 designer, barely worn blue jeans or reading Dr. Seuss any more, there are some things that don't need to be thrown away willy-nilly.

REMIX: The idea here is to keep the memories but lose the junk. If there is any way to turn something you already have into something you need, not only will you be saving money and helping out Mother Earth, you may even get some compliments on your creativity.


Personally, I do not throw away books. I also do not donate books, sell books or even lend books to friends and loved ones without a tremendous amount of forethought and intense reassurances that the borrower will (a) undoubtedly love the book and (b) he or she will return the book in precisely the same condition in which it was received.

Books, to me, are part of who I am, or at least who I was when I was reading them.

But come on people, how many books do we really need, right? Every once in a while, the bookshelf needs to be purged.

First, get all your books together. Choose a number of books -- the number will vary from book lover to book lover -- that you will allow yourself to keep regardless of time, taste and space. Set those aside.

Get rid of the rest.

No, seriously, get rid of them. Allow yourself a certain number of books to accumulate each year -- again, it will vary, but try to aim between two and 10.

Other than those special books, make a deal with yourself: For every book you bring into the house, another must leave. Simple.

If you really, truly cannot bear to part with certain books, but don't exactly pull them off the shelf except to dust, you may as well store them properly.

Never store books in basements or attics. In fact, your books will thrive in a dark room that is neither too dry nor too humid and tends to stay in the 60- to 65-degree range. Keep them in plastic, rather than cardboard, boxes if possible and in a room that is unlikely to flood or overheat.

On the other hand, if the books are something you'd like to showcase (but rarely read), think about adding shelving around the top of room. That way they're visible (and everyone will know that you really do have an entire decade's worth of Encyclopaedia Britannica and the complete Nancy Drew series) but still not in the way.


Remember all of those books you're not allowing yourself to keep? There are plenty of people, places and organizations ready and willing to take anything you have to offer.

The first place you can go is to friends and family. Give old kid's books to new parents or books you loved but won't ever crack open again to those you think will also enjoy them. Make each read special with a personal inscription or notes on particular pages.

Many municipalities recycle paperbacks the same way they take magazines or mixed paper, but if the book is in readable condition, there's probably someone who wants to read it before you toss it, even in an earth-friendly fashion.

A great place to start is your local school library. Many libraries have occasional book sale fundraisers and will take donations, and schools (pre-K through 12) love having new books for students to read.

Another one of the many organizations using old books for a good cause is the American Association of University Women. The Roanoke Valley branch has an annual book sale, and the proceeds provide scholarships to women of all ages pursuing higher academics. This year's sale is Sept. 12 to 14 at Tanglewood Mall. The organization is still collecting books, and if you have too many to handle, pick-ups can be arranged. Call 774-2693 for more information.


So you can't get rid of them for whatever reason. What now? If you're not going to read them, use them for something else.

End tables: Stack larger, sturdier books in an eye-catching way. Top with coasters, a place mat, fabric or even a small tabletop.

Book ends: Every so often, stack books horizontally on the book shelf-- strangely shaped ones work great. It will help stabilize the rest of the books while still displaying the ones that don't fit quite right.

Secret hiding place: Select a big, thick book and cut identical hollows out of the center pages with a utility knife. Leave a few uncut pages at the front and back. Pack in cash, jewelry, letters, gifts or whatever it is you need to hide. Stick the book back on the shelf.

Do you have any more ideas or suggestions? Send them to

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