Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: books

Discard Books with KonMari

I love the KonMari Method, which Japanese cleaning guru, Marie Kondo, outlines in her very popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I’m following her technique as closely as possible and that means starting with a giant pass through all of my belongings, category by category, to discard items that don’t “spark joy”.

Last week, I started with my clothing. Even though I’d been discarding items as part of my minimalist project for months, I found the KonMari Method to be, by far, the most effective way to shrink my wardrobe. Not only that, but I’m incredibly happy with what I have left: just the essentials, but the essentials I love. The next step after clothes is books.

Steps to Discard Books

  1. Gather all of your books from every corner of your house.
  2. Handle each book, one-by-one, and decide whether it sparks joy.
  3. Discard those books that don’t spark joy.

It’s so simple. Don’t try to tackle photo albums or other mementos yet. Leave those for after you’ve gone through every other category.

Reasons to Keep Books

Unlike many other techniques that urge you to discard books you won’t ever read again, Kondo recognizes that books can bring you joy even if you never intend to read them again. It’s OK to keep them if you look at your shelf and are happy to see them. In fact, she lists out the following two reasons to keep a book:

  1. It belongs in the hall of fame. These are the books you truly love. Books that you read over and over.
  2. It inspires pleasure. This list of books might change over time, but keep the books that spark joy now.

Books to Throw Out

  1. Books you haven’t read. “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.” Otherwise, you likely never will, so toss it.
  2. Books that inspire “moderate pleasure”. While only you can decide what to keep and toss, Kondo has noticed that she doesn’t need books that only inspire “moderate pleasure”. She never looks at them and they don’t spark enough joy to justify a space on her shelf.

How To Get Rid of Books

 Once you’ve figured out which books to keep and which to pitch, you have a couple of options for disposal.

  1. Sell them using Bookscouter or Amazon.
  2. Donate them to a local library or a non-profit.
  3. Give them out to friends.
  4. Throw them out. Kondo doesn’t outright tell you to just pitch everything, but she implies it every time she mentions filling up garbage bags with your discards. Most books can be recycled after you remove the covers and bindings that contain glue, so I urge you to pitch them responsibly.

The whole process, for me, took far less time (around 30 minutes) than my clothing project last weekend. I’d already done a great job getting rid of books, but I still found more to discard!

Discarded Books

Discarded Books

I kept about the same number of books as I threw out. Most notably, I ended up with Spanish reference books (which remind me of my semester in Spain), a couple gardening books, and a few of my favorite books on starting your own business (which I’d like to do someday). If everyone else in the house would do this too, we’d be getting a much smaller bookshelf!

Now it’s your turn! Which books would you keep?

Why I Love the Library

Library BookWhen I first bought my Kindle, I used it all the time. I could have most books delivered in a matter of seconds and could take a dozen of them with me on vacation (or on my lengthy commute) by carrying something that was less than the size and weight of one typical book. I still think this is pretty amazing.

However, my Kindle got me into the habit of buying books whenever I needed one. I wouldn’t even look anywhere else; I would just buy.

Years later we had kids and that reminded me of a wonderful pastime from my own childhood: our family’s weekly trips to the library. Kids go through so many books that there’s no way you can pay for them all. Suddenly, instead of being a forgotten building that I never used, the library became a treasure trove of not only books, but quality time spent with my children. When money started to feel tight after we moved to DC, my habit of spending money on my Kindle was one of the first to go. I used to spend at least $20 a month on books, but now I only make a Kindle purchase when I absolutely have to and I almost never buy a regular, physical book.

Why I Love the Library

  1. It’s free. Enough said.
  2. Book delivery: Large library systems (like ours in Fairfax County, VA) have many branches and will deliver the book we want to our local branch. It takes a few days, but it saves you lots of time.
  3. Holds: Hold requests allow you to get in line for a book and be notified when it’s available. Then, you can just pop into the library, grab the book, and pop out again. Yes, you do have to wait for popular books, but that just gives you time to finish the stack you already have.
  4. Quality Time: Most libraries have a great children’s section with comfy chairs and small tables. My kids can spend a lot of time there.
  5. Reading programs: Libraries put on great, free programs all the time. It’s the perfect way to entertain your kids on a cold winter day.
  6. Requests: Many libraries let you request books they don’t have. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll get them, if you can wait, this is a nice alternative to buying the book.
  7. Donations: Libraries also accept donations! You can bring your stacks of unused books to the library and write them off on your taxes. We traded in at least 30 books last year for an estimated tax deduction of $2-$9 each.
  8. E-Books: Most libraries carry a limited selection of e-books, so you can still enjoy the benefits of your kindle without paying a cent.

How to Search the Library’s Website

There is one thing I really hate about the library. Most of them have horrible website search systems that are nearly useless. While I am optimistic that someone will improve this system and make it easier to find books, my best advice is to know which book you want before trying to find it at the library. For me, that means searching on Amazon first, then, instead of using the library’s “Subject” search, search on the author or exact title in quotes.

Library Search

Library Search by Title

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for ahead of time, find something close, figure out which section of the library it’s in and then browse the nearby similar titles.

I estimate I’m saving $100-$200 per year at the library. Are you?

Find your local library here.


Weekend Project: Selling Books on

I’ve found quite a few books around the house that need a new home, so I decided to try selling them using There are a lot of websites like and that will quote you a price for your books, allow you to ship them for free, then pay you a small amount upon receipt. Bookscouter aggregates the quotes from around 20 preferred vendor sites so you can see where you’ll get the best deal.

The buyback process varies from site to site, but in general works like this:

  1. Enter the ISBN of the book, located just above its Barcode, into Bookscouter. ISBN Entry

  2. Bookscouter will return a list of quotes from several online buyers, starting with the highest price. It also tells you whether the buyer cuts you a check, submits your payment to paypal, sends you a free shipping label, and pays for shipping.Bookscouter Buyers
  3. Pick a buyer. Read the reviews, buyer reputations vary widely. Also, most of these sites have a minimum sale of $5 or $10, so if you have a lot of paperbacks to sell, you may have to sell a few to the same buyer, even if they aren’t the highest bidder.
  4. You’ll now be sent to the buyer’s site.
  5. Print out your shipping label. Follow any special instructions.
  6. Box up your books.
  7. Drop them off at UPS or FedEx.
  8. Wait. Many of these sites take a couple weeks to get back to you.
  9. Profit!

Case Study: Does It Work?

The following is my experience selling books from start to finish.

First, I searched for each book and noted the top 2-3 buyers and what they would pay. Next, I checked the top buyer’s reputations and noted any issues. Most of the companies have a least one complaint saying that they either “lost” a book or received a damaged book and wouldn’t pay. In general, I decided to take a chance on companies that had around four or five stars, assuming that accidents happen, but that these ones are generally honest.

Research Results

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini


Some of the books came back with zero bids across the board. Those I’ll donate.


Quiet by Susan Cain – $1.77 – $1.77
Bookbyte – $1


Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Chegg – $4.05 – Chegg had a lot of recent low ratings, so I’m passing on the extra $.05. – $4 – $2.31


Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly

Chegg – $2.36 – $2.00
Powell’s – $1 – Powell’s is notorious for only taking immaculate books. I’m afraid to try them!


National Geographic Pocket Guide to Birds of North America by Laura Erickson & Jonathan Alderfer – $1.80
Powell’s – $1.75 – $1.65

One hour later this book was worth NOTHING. Weird! This one will be donated.


Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – $3.60 – $2.24

There’s a $5 minimum to sell to, so I’ve decided to donate this book instead.


Conservation in the Progressive Era by David Stradling & William Cronon

Chegg – $2.02 – $2.00 – $1.16 – $1.16


A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants by Christopher Brickell – $10.25 – $8.86
Chegg – $8.70


The Verdict

Despite the somewhat lower review scores for, I decided to try selling my most expensive book to them, The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.

Many of my other books were worth money on and given the almost universal $10 minimum, I decided to aggregate and sell them Conservation in the Progressive Era, Under the Black Flag, and Last Child in the Woods. However, I needed $2 more and quickly ran downstairs to see if there was anything I’d missed.  Soon this book was on the chopping block:

Caring for your Baby and Young Child Birth to Age 5 by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Chegg – $3.03 – $3


Shipping the Books

After reading both websites’ specific instructions (Bookbyte had the easier process) and packaging all five books I am thoroughly questioning my choice to sell five books for a total of $21.25. The time it took me to get this far exceeds the total buyback rate, but I wanted to see this through.

The shipment method is UPS. uses FedEx. I did this on a weekend and so I went to both the FedEx store and UPS store on Sunday to drop-off my boxes, assuming they have a dropbox at each location. Business never stops, right? Well, surprisingly, FedEx was OPEN and it was easy for me to drop my first box off at the counter. UPS was closed with no dropbox in sight. There was a dropbox at a local business building, but it only accepted packages that were less than 16x11x3 inches. My four-book package didn’t fit. Now, I’m schlepping that box with me on my regular morning commute, which consists of one bus and two trains, so I can drop it off at the most convenient UPS center during its open hours. Sheesh.

Results: Getting Paid

I mailed the FedEx box to on Sunday (9/21) and mailed the UPS box to on Monday (9/22).


On Thursday (9/25), I received an email from saying that they received my books. Later that day, another email indicated which books and in what condition they received them. They said I would get a check in the next two weeks (which is interesting given that I requested a Paypal payment).

I never heard anything else, so on Thursday, 10/2, I decided to check my Paypal account. What do you know? The full $11 from was already there; it had been transferred on Monday (9/29). Funny that they wouldn’t take the opportunity to give their customers the good news (Congrats! Your money is available!), but they did pay the full amount promised. In total, it took them only 7 days from package send to money in the bank.


It took a full week to hear back from The following Tuesday (9/30), I got a text message from BookByte saying they received my book, processed my order and that I would be paid in 48 hours! Bookbyte delivered my $10.25 to paypal (as expected) on Thursday (10/2): 11 days from package send to money in the bank.


While the entire process of selling my books worked as expected, it wasn’t exactly hassle-free. For a mere $21.25, I spent an hour researching options, some time dropping off my boxes (en-route to other errands), and then several days waiting anxiously and fully expecting to hear some excuse for why they couldn’t pay me the money or that they hadn’t received the books.

Unless you have valuable textbooks to sell, donate the books. You can write-off the donation at tax time and earn back more in refunds than you can by selling most books ($1.50 for paperbacks or $3 for hard covers in good shape is the going book donation rate).  You can donate to your local library or many other charities.

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