Decluttering Old Books? Here Are 16 Things to Do with Them

Clean up your crowded bookshelves by donating, recycling, or upcycling your old books.

pink home library living room with built-in bookshelves

Brian McWeeney

Books are treasures that hold memories, stories, and knowledge. But there comes a time when you have more books than shelves and you need to part with some of them. Deciding what to do with old books can be challenging, whether you are moving, downsizing, or simply decluttering. Here are some ideas for parting with your books responsibly, either by recycling them, upcycling them, or finding new homes where they will be loved.

1. Start a Little Lending Library

You’ve seen these small public bookcases full of free books. Start one on your street and fill it with your titles from your own shelves. Encourage neighbors to bring and borrow books to build community, inspire readers, and allow you to clear your clutter. Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization, has tips on building a library along with a map of more than 150,000 public book exchanges.

Don’t have time or HOA approval to start your own little lending library? Donate your books to someone else’s.

2. Donate Old Books to a Worthy Cause

One person’s old book is another person’s unread treasure. Pass along old books to your local library or a thrift store that benefits a good cause. Goodwill and The Salvation Army both accept donated books, and many churches and human societies run local thrift stores that will turn your books into money for a good cause. Put your books into a Better World Books dropbox and they’ll be sold online to benefit non-profit literacy groups around the world. Pickup Please will take small boxes of books in the cities it serves, sell them, and donate the proceeds to charities.

3. Mail Old Books to New Readers

You can ship your old books to organizations that will distribute them to people in need. Books To Prisoners is a nonprofit that sends donated books to incarcerated people. ADERC  sends donated books to communities in the Congo, Reader to Reader donates your mailed box of children’s books and young adult books to under-resourced schools and libraries across America, and Kids Need to Read sends your donated books to needy U.S. children.

4. Make a Planter Out of an Old Book

With a utility knife, cut a hole into an old book big enough to hold a small potted plant. You will only be able to cut about 30 pages at a time, so be patient and keep going until you have made a hole deep enough for the potted plant. Line the hole with plastic, drop a potted plant in the hole, and you’ve got a planter that will please a book lover.

Put a drought-hardy plant in your book planter so you won’t have to water much. We recommend a succulent or an air plant.

5. Make a Bookmark Out of Book Spines

Some people get squeamish at the idea of cutting up a book and turning it into a craft project. When upcycling old books, choose books that are not vintage or rare. Use books that were mass-produced and would be turned into pulp if you didn’t transform them into planters, bookmarks, or lamps. Use a craft knife to slice the spines off of old hardcover books. Drill a hole in the top of each spine cover and thread a strip of leather or a ribbon through the hole as an accent. These make nice gifts for book lovers.

6. Recycle Your Books

If your books aren't in great shape, consider recycling them. Some local recycling programs accept paperback books and hardcover books that have had the covers removed. Your old books fall into the mixed paper recycling category. Recycling books is also good for the planet. According to, each ton of recycled paper saves 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 380 gallons of oil, 17 trees, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 gallons of water. Find a place near you that takes recycled books with this recycling locator.

7. Craft a Book-Page Wreath

Turn your old books into door decor. Cut pages from an old book into small pieces and pin or glue them onto a wreath base. There are many video tutorials on making a book page wreath, so find one you like and get snipping and folding. You’ll get more shelf space along with the satisfaction of making something with your hands.

8. Make a Book Clock

Turn an old hardcover book into a wall clock. It’s an easy project you can create using a clock movement kit (available at craft stores). Drill a hole in the book cover, glue numbers on the cover, and insert the clock movement kit. Display your book clock by standing it on end or hanging it on the wall.

9. Turn a Book Into a Secret Box

Hollow out a hardcover book and transform it into a box where you can hide items like a spare key, secret note, or money. Pick a hardcover book and glue the pages together. When the glue has dried, open the book and use a craft knife to cut a hole into the glued pages. Be patient—you will only be able to cut through 20 or 30 pages at a time. Keep cutting through the layers of pages until you’ve got a hole that’s the depth you want. Brush a glue and water solution on the inside of the hole to seal it. Once dry, fill your secret book box with treasured items and put it on your shelf with other books. Only you will know this book has a hidden compartment.

10. Make a Stacked-Book Table Lamp

Upcycle old books by transforming them into a table lamp. Buy a lamp kit and lampshade. Stack and arrange 8 to 10 hardcover books, depending on how tall you want the lamp to be. Drill a hole in the middle of each book. With a craft knife, cut a channel in the bottom book—this will be the lamp base—where the electrical cord will go. Attach the rod from the lamp kit to the base book, then thread the other books on the rod. Assemble the lamp kit parts according to the manufacturer’s instructions and attach the lampshade for a one-of-a-kind book lamp.

11. Sell or Donate Books to a Secondhand Bookstore

If you live near a secondhand bookstore, you may be able to sell, donate, or trade-in your old books. Some used or secondhand bookstores specialize in specific topics, like children’s literature, science fiction, or textbooks, so check with your local store before you show up with a box of your old books.

12. Turn an Old Book into an Art Journal

Turn an old hardcover book into an outlet for your creativity by drawing, painting, or collaging right over the printed pages. Altered books are a whole genre of craft. It respects the book and often creatively incorporates printed words into the art, transforming an existing book into an art object.

13. Host a Book Swap

Gather up your book-loving buddies and have a book swap. Trading books saves you money and gives you a chance to socialize. Since you’re trying to lower your total book count, make it your goal to give away more books at the swap than you take home. If you already belong to a book club, incorporate a book swap at your next meeting.

14. Give Books Away

Post an ad listing the books you have to give away on, NextDoor, a Facebook group, or on Facebook Marketplace and invite people to come get your books for free. If you live in an area with a lot of foot traffic, go analog and put your old books on your porch or front stoop with a “free” sign. Passersby will stop to browse.

15. Sell Books Online

If you have rare, out-of-print, or vintage books, it may be worth your time to sell them to an online bookseller like BookScouter or AbeBooks. You can enter your book’s ISBN into a search bar to get a list of online vendors willing to buy your used book. Print out your prepaid shipping label, mail the books to the vendor, and get your payment. You could get extra cash and more shelf space, plus your book gets a new home where it will be treasured. You can also sell used books on Amazon.

16. Re-Gift Your Books

Give your old books to people who would appreciate them. Personalize your gifted book by including a note as to why you chose that book for that person.

Was this page helpful?

Related Articles