I went to a second-hand book sale today. You know the kind of thing, like a jumble sale or trash ‘n’ treasure but just for books. Big trestle tables filled the local memorial hall in Yass and hundreds of books were spread across them in vaguely similar collections. This one was hosted by the lovely Jo from The Yass Bookstore in aid of Rural Australians for Refugees (some of my beautiful local clients have donated books to this group).

My partner and daughter joined me as we shuffled through everything from old play programmes and vintage novels to children’s books and cookbooks.

These places can often be a cause for concern when it comes to living a clutter-free life and you might be surprised to hear that I was there at all, let alone came home with a bag of new-to-me pre-loved books. In fact, on more than one occasion I’ve tried (and failed) to disguise my concern when a client has told me they’ve been to Lifeline Bookfest or got themselves lost in the bargains at a sale like this one. So, I thought I better share how to do it right and a bit of an “in defence of” for you and any other recovering book-buying addicts out there.

Firstly, let me remind you that, like so many other things, BUYING books and actually READING books are two very different hobbies.

If you’re a reader, you can get your fix without purchasing books. Libraries (council-run and free street libraries etc.), digital eBooks, or simply borrowing from friends are all low-cost low-clutter options, If you’re more like me, and it’s more about having the book than the actual consumption of the book, you’re going to want to have a gameplan before hitting the sales.

How to do second-hand book sales right:

  1. Know thyself.
    I don’t recommend going to any sort of danger zone while you are in the early stages of decluttering. Like a recovering alcoholic and a bar, you want to avoid going to places where you are going to be tempted away from your greater goal. However, once you have been working on your clutter goals for a while and you feel confident that you understand yourself better, you can test your self-control. After years of working my decluttering muscles, I know how these things can go and I feel pretty good about my ability to manage in these circumstances.
  2. No thyself.
    Say “No.” even to yourself when you know something isn’t what you want. It’s so tempting to pick up a few extra books because they are only $2 AND there’s a discount if you buy even more! Some sales will even have a set price by the box or bag load! What a bargain! How much can I fit in the box?!! DO NOT TAKE IT AS A CHALLENGE. At best consider these deals as a limit or container (see below).
  3. Contain thyself.
    Your container is your limit. How much can you carry? How much money are you willing to spend? How much space will you allocate to house these books once you get them home (ie. where does it go)?
    For me today, I had to be able to carry the books I bought comfortably home and I had one reusable tote with me – there’s a good physical limitation/container, Mitch had $20 cash on him – that’s an easy financial limit/container, and I know where the books live in my home and how much room I have and am able to make for new ones – a well established “home” for books is another physical limitation/container. Of course, I could have asked for another bag or box and had my family entourage help carry things, we could have popped out to the ATM or used the EFTPOS facilities, and I could always shove more books somewhere or even get a new bookcase, but I enforce these limits because I know that they are supporting my greater goal. With these containers, I get to have my cake and eat it too.
  4. Forgive thyself.
    Prepare to get it wrong. As hard as it is to admit we can’t get it right all the time and today might be one of those times. Before you buy ANYTHING think about what you will do if you get it home and you don’t have a place for it, it’s not as great as you originally thought or eeek you already have one. Mostly we end up keeping the item due to the sunk cost fallacy (the idea that you’ve invested so much you must keep investing) and the fear of failure in admitting you were wrong. If you can prepare yourself for this perceived failure with an exit strategy before making the purchase, you are less likely to suffer (stuck with clutter). For example, I am happy to donate these books back to charity tomorrow if they’re not right and consider the $20 spent a donation to the refugee fund that the sale was supporting.

So, what did I buy?

  • I picked up two novels by Dawn French – I’ve enjoyed her previous work and one of these has been on my Audible ‘wish list’ for a while.
  • Mitch chose a Stephanie Alexander cookbook – there were several others of hers but he chose this one because it was simple but tasty food to inspire our everyday meals as opposed to the memoir kind with a few recipes thrown in – we know we’re never going to read them, we just like cookbooks for inspiration. Turns out the one he chose was only published in 2022 so it’s basically new, best-selling author, exactly our style of cooking and only cost $5.
  • My daughter chose a book of dogs napping – she was literally squealing with joy and each photo of happy sleepy yawning or snoring doggos.
  • I also found a copy of Embrace Yourself by Australian of the Year, Taryn Brumfitt – She seems like my kinda girl and I figured I’d see what all the fuss is about.
  • A copy of Nickolas Nickelby by Dickens will be on display amongst my treasures simply because it is beautiful and filled me with awe.
  • Lastly, I chose a few “vintage” (read: old and literally falling apart) books for my friend Clare who is an amazing artist and currently recycling old books into her pieces. I can’t wait to see what she does with them.

As you can see, there are many ‘reasons’ for the choices we made today. There is no ‘wrong’ reason to choose to buy, keep, or indeed declutter a book – only the right or wrong reason for you.

Books are amazing. I love books. We use books to store and share information throughout history, to tell stories and share ideas. Books can inspire awe or creativity. They can spark joy as we consume their content or simply by having them on display. There is only every “too many” when they are not being treasured or appreciated.

If you feel like you are not enjoying your books anymore, it might be that you don’t have the space to spread them all out and organise them, you have so many you are overwhelmed and don’t even know what you have any more, or you feel like you never have enough time to read them all and this makes you feel guilty. Whatever the reason, decluttering your books will help you curate your collection to a manageable number and allow you space to truly treasure and appreciate them again. Bonus, you could donate your decluttered books to a charity that will sell them to raise money for a great cause AND you will know yourself better for the next time one of these sales pops up in your neighbourhood.

You may also enjoy: Op-shopping: an uncluttered wardrobe you love for less!

and Simplicity with Lauren Winzar, my signature program, is 12 Units for you to work through at your own pace, to take you from chaos and overwhelm to confidently managing your life in the way that suits you.