Newsletter # 472 – Dismantling a Library

Since 2001 most of these weekly newsletter/blogs have focused on recent articles or books that have relevance to counseling, coaching or leadership. Most are books that I read, marked up and added to my library. Now, the shelves are filled and there are too many boxes of books accumulating in my basement. So I’ve started doing something with all those books. A good friend flew here from Guatemala to spend a week selecting books that would be useful for the Central America Theological Seminary library. I sold some books to a used bookstore but got only 17 cents for each volume. Perhaps 300 books were dropped into a used books receptacle and some just went into recycling. Even so, my bookshelves are still mostly full.

I was surprised at how difficult this process has been. Many of the books are outdated and of limited value to anyone. Old journals and many of the books are now accessible electronically. So why would dismantling my library be of interest to anybody who reads this newsletter?

• Letting go of valued possessions, books included, can be s struggle. Many of these books shaped my life, thinking, and career. As they went into that book depository box I felt a wave of grief. I was throwing away a part of my life.
• Possessions are more easily released when they can have value to others. Sending so many to a school library (and giving others to professional colleagues) was fulfilling to me. It also was good knowing that most of the outdated books will be recycled.
• Sometimes letting go is helpful. Houses are built to live in, not to store the carpenter’s rusty tools. I no longer need all of those books that built a lot of my life. Our value is not measured by how many things or books we possess (Luke 12:15).
• Even so, some possessions are worth keeping. I am a forward looking guy but like souvenirs of previous trips, selected books and other possessions are worth keeping as reminders of the people, writers and events that God used to shape us earlier in life.

How have disposed of the books or other stuff (including clutter) in your house and your life? Please comment.


  1. I have done the same as you. Given some books to my students, some to a Bible college in the central Philippines, and dozens of boxes to Salvation Army. I loved the knowledge that I gained from them, but I was no longer using them. It definitely felt best to pass them on to others whom I knew would profit from them. I think C. S. Lewis something like “You can’t take it with you, but you can pass it on ahead,” It’s hard to give away something of value, but I had gotten he knowledge I needed out of them. Now they needed to be used to impart knowledge to someone else. That is their purpose. And that is supposed to be my purpose. I should learn to love to do this.It is one form of discipleship, passing on knowledge.


  2. I have kept every book from the last three and a half year in my doctoral program. I wonder how long it will be until they are outdated, ha. Then again, some of my most treasured books are vintage Lester Ward sociology text that came from the Ohio University and Michigan University libraries. I’d love to have some vintage/classic psychology texts on the shelves of my library some day as well.


  3. Often I take a book with me whereever I am going for the day and simply “leave it behind”. Praying that it will benefit the one who finds it.


  4. This reminds me of when my mother-in-law (who has collected very valuable antiques over the years) moved from a large house into a much smaller condo. But she insisted on taking everything with her. Every inch of space is filled with “stuff”.

    During a time of prayer, I was asking the Lord to move. He asked me where there was room for Him to move. Then He showed me that my life is a lot like her condo. A lot of valuable “stuff”, like busy-ness, time constraints and needless activities were crowding my life.

    He asked me to get rid of the “stuff” so there would be more room for what was the most valuable – His Presence.


  5. So timely for me. Your newsletter caught us in the middle of sorting our library. We have transitioned from three decades of overseas missions to carrying for an aging mom. On one hand we are helping to whitle down the things that have filled the house. one the other thanking God for what he built into our lives, and asking ourselves what do we need to be reminded of as we move into our next phase. The books are like friends, we’ve heard their stories, we’ve interacted with them, and been introduced to new “friends” because of them. Yet in all, it is not how many good books are in the library, but how many of their thoughts have gotten into me.
    There is definitely some grief at the parting, but also some expectations for the future seeing His mercies are new every morning.


  6. I’m a bibliophile and have bought many books since my seminary days in the late-80s/early-90s; biblical reference, commentary, and study texts, business books, novels, Civil War books, and dozens of popular Christian books. Unfortunately, most have been stored in boxes for much of that time because I never had an office or library. I recently built a small office and have been going through my many boxes of books. I’ve learned four things: 1. I bought many books because I wanted to have “the answers” readily available, but I’m no longer asking those questions. 2. I bought books because I wanted to study certain topics, but most of them no longer interest me. 3. I still love books and have a hard time deciding which I’m going to let go of. My shelves are crammed and some have double rows, but I did manage to donate 10 boxes of books to a non-profit, while putting a few boxes back in storage. 4. While I hope to migrate most of my reading to an online format (I recently got a Kindle), I still can’t resist buying and physically holding a good book in my hands.


  7. I have been getting rid of part of my comic collection and also some of my wargaming figures.

    Part of me is still thinking I might use those someday but the other part is telling me that you have not used or read those in a year or more, do you really need to keep them.

    I have a good idea of what I will be reading and using but once I start to think about some of the fun I have had with them I find it hard to let them go.
    But I do let them go and there is a freeing aspect to this. It is like a heavy weight is being lifted off .

    I also have a wonderful wife helping me to make good decisions about what I am getting rid of.

    Her words of wisdom to me are:

    If you are not sure now, you can always get rid of it later,but you may not be able to get it back.

    It helps alot in the times that I struggle with realesing some of the items.



  8. I had similar emotions when I depleted most of my library … and was also surprised at how much work, hard work, it took! I saved a few books that represent spiritual milestones but most are in Christian college/seminary libraries now …


  9. It’s time. We have begin the process of reducing our library, but there is a long way to go. Some have gone to Good Will to be re-sold. Some have gone to a free exchange book-shelf in the fitness center. A box is awaiting shipment to my grandson. Some have gone to the happy hunting grouond. Some, mostly novels, I am about to read again after three or four decades.

    There is much more: worn clothes, old furnishings, equipment from an office now closed, ect.

    Today Kathleen and I walked past a house with a decaying travel trailer, a rotting speed-boat, a 1950s Jeep pick-up, and a number of other things scattered about the yard. We surmised that the owners have quitely aged and no longer have any use for most of those things, but have not seen fit to part with them. Will we end up there too?

    Rodger Bufford


  10. I need to do the same. Get some of the clutter out of my life. My wife would be appreciative. Mine junk is more in notes from seminars and training that will never be referenced again.


    1. THANKS TO ALL OF YOU WHO WROTE RESPONSES. I think this is the greatest number of replies that have come since I started this newsletter. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you wrote. Clearly we all have similar struggles. But keeping books is not always the best answer. Passing them on is a better idea. But where do we send them and what do we do with old books that shaped our lives but are no longer relevant? Let me know how you are progressing on this. I have done a lot but still feel I have a long way to go. And thanks for sharing how painful this can be.


  11. Having recently downsized our home and my library, I can really empathize with the comments posted. Although I have tried hard to periodically “weed” my library over years of teaching, moving forced me to realize how much more needed to be passed on. The article and the posts have encouraged me and perhaps even motivated me to get back at it! Thanks.


    1. Go for it Miriam. This process takes time. At least you work in a seminary where some of your books might be useful – or you can have a sale to the students or a “give-away.” I am learning to keep some books that have limited value except to me. Th key word in the previous sentence is “some.”


  12. A couple of times I have cleared my space a bit by sending books to servicemen overseas. At Christmastime, my local chiropractor collected books and mailed them to the servicemen/women. They had been provided lists of what would be of interest to them and what was permissible to ship to them. I even chose some of those beautiful books that have lots of colorful pictures in them (some people call them “coffee table books”)…to send a bit of beauty in the midst of the horror they were surviving in.


  13. I am the friend from Guatemala who will be taking many books for our library. I think that what happens with our books happens with our life as well; we do “lose” it but we do so by investing in others and so the end result is a multiplication that goes beyond anything we might imagine. We have at the Central American Theological Seminary around 1500 students from 25 countries from all around the world. These books and your vision (Gary) for all that we have accomplished in the field of counseling will continue reaching so many people through the years and our graduates will be more effective as a result of your generosity sharing your books, your vision and your knowledge, which is sharing your life with all of us.


    1. Thanks Sergio. It was good having you here for a week looking at each book. You are taking a lot of my books but how come there are so many left? Thanks for helping me sort through this emotionally as well as physically. We need you to return to help me sort through the books that have nothing to do with counseling and would be of no interest to your students.


  14. Yes, I really struggle with letting go of things. As I read books I mostly try to find another owner for them. There are a few categories of books that I do not give away, such as books by or about my friends, and missionary books. Who knows I might read those again 🙂 Secular books I usually give away after reading them, or throw them out (rarely) if I did not like something about the book. Certain books I give to the church library, if I know there are people who like that kind of book. The rest go the Salvation Army. Anything (almost) to do with the Bible, I keep, such as exegetical books, books on prophesy, etc. but I usually try to lend them to friends or relatives before putting them in the place where I keep books already read.
    Hope Hurlbut


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