I didn’t used to be interested in used book sales.
As much as I love books, I’ve struggled with facing roomfuls of cheap used books in the past—it’s overwhelming to this HSP underbuyer, and I don’t want to bring clutter into my life!
That changed about a year and a half ago, when we moved to a house with space for a library. We planned to build bookshelves (which are now complete) and we didn’t think we had the books to fill them.
(Looking back, we can’t believe we ever worried. But that’s a different blog post.)
We happened to move just before a major book sale at a nearby historic home, so we went. It was our first visit to a used book sale in a decade (maybe two), and we quickly saw what we had been missing out on. All the books are donated; all the funds go to a good cause. And they are cheap.
When we went to our first used book sale, I didn’t know what I was getting into, so I didn’t have a strategy in mind.
There’s another used book sale this weekend, and I will be there.
1. Give yourself freedom to have fun with it.
My biggest tip has to do with mindset. Don’t try to maximize.
Don’t beat myself up about coming home with a book you already own, or leaving a book at the sale that you thought you owned, but don’t. Take a chance on books that look interesting that you might end up not wanting to keep, because at fifty cents to a dollar each that’s not much of a mistake, long-term.
This is a low-stakes way to build your book collection. Have fun with it.
2. Bring a tote bag (or three).
Cheap plastic bags may be available, but do yourself a favor and bring your own. Flat-bottomed fabric totes are ideal; they fold down to almost nothing but can accommodate stacks of books when full. (You’ll see people bring cardboard boxes, which may be fine for the car ride home, but please don’t bring them in to the sale—your fellow browsing book lovers will thank you.)
3. Start fresh, then browse.
Have you ever been to IKEA? I enter IKEA filled with enthusiasm for all my home adventures. I’m going to organize my bathroom and find cute throw pillows and find a step stool for the pantry and wait, aren’t these planters cute? But I cannot sustain this pace for 300,000 square feet (which, if you’ve ever been to IKEA, you will not be surprised to learn is equal to about five football fields). And I leave a depleted, overwhelmed human who just wants to sit down and not make a decision about one more thing.
I want this book sale to be FUN for you, and so I ask that you tackle your priorities while you’re fresh and full of bookish enthusiasm. When your priorities are complete, browse at your leisure.
A room full of books sounds like heaven … but it can also be completely overwhelming. Hunt for your priority purchases before overwhelm sets in.
4. Stash your books by the register.
You brought your tote, but at most sales you can camp your to-purchase stack by the cash register. If you have a few post-its and a pen with you, so much the better.
With these personal rules in place used book sale shopping turned out to be lots of fun.
5. Skip it.
One way to avoid overwhelm is to not look at every book. If it brings you joy to run your hands over the spine of every single book on sale, have at it. But if overwhelm is an issue, you can skip aisles—maybe even rooms—of books. (At my local book sales, the large cookbook section isn’t worth the time. Maybe it’s different at your local sales?)
6. Know your priorities.
To tackle your priorities first, you have to know what they are. I can’t decide yours, but I know mine:
- Anything I’ve read and loved, but don’t yet own.
- Anything I want to read that’s available in a particularly attractive edition.
- Penguin classics, because used book sales turned me into a low-key collector.
Whatever your priorities are (and I’d love to know—tell us in comments), do those first.
7. Embrace serendipity.
I’m not typically much of an impulse shopper, but here, it’s okay. Low stakes are your friend. Take a chance, and if that book doesn’t end up being right for you, you can give it to a friend, pop it in a Little Free Library, or donate it back to the used book sale and continue the circle of bookishness.
8. Judge a book by its cover.
Or spine. At a used book sale, buying a book because it’s pretty is 100% okay. That’s the real reason behind my Penguin classics collection: those cheerful orange spines make me happy every time I see them. So whether it’s an outdated history series or cookbooks featuring80s culinary classics, if you think that beautiful book would look great on your shelves, go for it.
9. Be patient.
Unless you’re collecting the rare stuff, used book sales are rarely expensive. At many sales, books are half price on the last day; at our local sale; the last day is pay-what-you-wish. If you’re patient, you can get a serious bargain. (I’m impatient, but to each her own.)
Are you a used book sale shopper? What strategies do you rely on? We’d love to hear your best tips (and favorite finds) in comments!