It wasn’t my intention to post back-to-back about books this week, but while we’re on the subject… I wanted to address a topic and question I’m often asked about: thrifting books. Whether you’re thrifting them to read, to decorate or style throughout your home, or to add interest to your coffee table or shelving, I’ve definitely got some tips to share when it comes to buying secondhand books! Books can really get expensive when buying new, so I like to supplement my new reads, design books, or coffee table books with thrifted ones. It’s an easy, inexpensive way to create a curated collection that fits your aesthetic and preferred subject matter, when it comes to reading material. Click through for the post…
I can almost always find an interesting or unique book at the thrift store. It’s the one section I feel is always a guarantee when thrift shopping. My local thrift store sells their books for anywhere between 50 cents and three dollars. Here are some things to consider when making your book selections…
- Does the subject matter interest you?
- Remove the jacket to see what is underneath.
- Consider the color of the book.
- Is the book in good shape?
- Where might you style this book?
- Is this book for decorating, reading, or both? I try to only buy books that fall into the “both” category.
- What is the cost of the book?
- Is this book the right size for your shelf, table, etc?
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
I think the most fun thing about thrifting books is uncovering unique finds. From pretty gold leaf typography hidden beneath the jacket to pressed florals or notes left inside by someone else- I enjoy finding these little details that tell the story of the book’s journey. Here are some things to keep an eye out for while you shop…
- Golf leaf or foil typography
- Embossed text
- Linen, fabric, or leather bound books
- Unique content or subject matter
- Signed copies or first editions
- Notes, pressed flowers, or other personal touches inside the book (just for fun)
- Large sized coffee table books
I also want to address the cleanliness factor that accompanies used books. I get a lot of these type of messages…
- “You’re bringing used books into your home? Ew.”
- “Are you worried about bed bugs or other pests?”
- “Don’t you feel like used books are gross?”
I’d say I’m a self proclaimed germaphobe, but buying used books or thrifted decor has never really bothered me. I do take precautions and give everything a good clean before bringing it into our home, but for the most part- I’m not freaked out by that. I feel like it really isn’t any different than checking out a library book (those books go through a lot of hands). When it comes to selecting secondhand books, I do try to choose ones that are in good condition, don’t have a funky odor, and have been well taken care of. Here are some cleaning tips if that’s a big concern for you:
- Dust, vacuum, or wipe them off. I like to remove the jackets anyway, so those go straight to the recycling bin.
- Let the books air out before bringing them into your home. I just keep mine in the sun or in our garage for a day or two before hauling them inside.
- If your thrifted books have a funky smell, you can put them in an enclosed airtight tote or container with a jar of activated charcoal, baking soda, or talcum powder. I’ve also heard of people resting a book in rice or cat litter to remove odor or moisture.
- If insects or bugs are your main concern, put the book(s) in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer for a week. That will kill any bugs or eggs.
- If a book has any marks or scuffs, often times those will come up with a gum / kneaded eraser.
I know a lot of people turn to thrift stores to buy books solely used for styling. If that’s your goal, be sure to keep project notes with you while thrifting. What color of books are you looking for (warm tones, cool tones, all one color, etc)? What size will best fit your space, built-in, or bookcase? Having these dimensions, color palette, or even book styling inspiration images saved will make the process easier.
I’ve talked about styling with books on the blog before. If you’d like to check out some past posts from the archives on that topic (more design focused), here are a few posts to reference…
- Design Discussion : Shelf Styling with Books
- 10 Tips for Styling with Lots of Books
- How to Change the Overall Appearance of Books (for holidays or special occasions)
I will say, filling up a large shelf or expansive built-in takes more books than you might expect. If you’re thrifting solely to style, it may take multiple trips to thrift stores to acquire the amount of books you need. If you have the time, patience, and enjoy a good thrifting trip- then this is an excellent option! However, if you’re looking for cohesive books for styling and don’t have the time (or desire) to thrift, you can also purchase curated book bundles. Books bundles are usually grouped by size, color, subject, etc. Depending on what you’re looking for, that may be an easier option for your book styling project. I’ll link some bundles at the bottom of the post for you! I found lots of options on Etsy, and even at Pottery Barn (which was a surprise).
Let me know if you have any other questions about thrifting books. I’ve been doing a lot of shopping to finish filling my home office built-ins, so this topic has been on my mind lately! Emmett went to the thrift store with me last week (to push the cart filled with heavy books), and he was amazed at my selection process & criteria. Ha! We found a lot of good books we’re excited to read! He ended up with a bag of his own books, which included one on cabinet making, a finance book, and a fiction book he had been wanting to read for fun. Anyway, I hope this post is helpful. I’m sending you all the good thrifting energy- here’s to finding some beautiful books. I promise Friday’s post won’t be book related. Ha!
PeggiJanuary 26, 2022 at 4:38 am
Good morning! Look at you with those sneaky peeks of the office! As much as I love thrifting (and reading!), the only time I have really thrifted books was during my bestie’s son’s early childhood. I brought him a book every week for book club. I adore vintage kids’ books! The colors, the images and the stories are bananas. Children’s books often have glossy covers too-the better for surface disinfection.😉 I also had a blast one time searching for on-theme books to decorate the dessert table at a party. I think I’m realizing that I need more of a focus when looking at used books! The selection for me can seem overwhelming… Your tip for keeping notes on dimensions, palette and styling images would really help! Such a smart cookie you are. I might add the book section to my next thrift trip just to see what I spy! Thanks, as always, for the inspiration. Let’s have a lovely Wednesday, shall we?!💜
SarahJanuary 26, 2022 at 12:05 pm
Hello, hello! I love learning about your book thrifting in the kids section. That’s something I have yet to do, but I feel like that would make an excellent gift for the littles in our life! Such a great idea, Peggi. I remember you talking about your thrifted dessert table- which sounds absolutely incredible. If I ever feel like I’m striking out at the thrift store, the book section always redeems the trip. Happy Wednesday to you, let’s definitely make it a great day. xox
LaurenJanuary 26, 2022 at 7:39 am
I’m not mad about talking books back to back! I could chat books all day. Combine a love of reading with a love of thrifting and you have yourself a winning combination. I recently thriftedqueen a leather bound set of books on ancient alien philosophy-have you seen the show? Jeff is a huge fan and I’ll never let him live it down, but when I saw the set, (beautifully bound, gorgeous photography, perfect condition), I knew I had to bring it home. For $3 it was a steal. I also found a signed first edition of Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” on the same trip.
I love your criteria-specifically looking for linen bound, gold foil typography and embossing. I would have never thought to look for that. There’s a female owned second hand bookstore in town-she has an entire wall of shelves organized by color; floor to ceiling! It’s a genius move on her part. I always find myself browsing the titles in a specific color section. What I’d love to know is how you organize your books? Alphabetically? By size? Topic? Genre? I love knowing how people organize their books! I may even have to stop into her shop and see what’s new. I hope you have a lovely Wednesday!
SarahJanuary 26, 2022 at 12:03 pm
Me too, Lauren! Reading and thrifting is definitely a winning combination. Your leather-bound books sound amazing (and for $3?!), but I’ll admit- I haven’t heard of ancient alien philosophy. Now I’m intrigued! I have yet to find a first edition, but I have found some fun notes, flight tickets, and florals inside of books. Your local secondhand book store sounds incredible… that’s what dreams are made of. We have a pretty cool rare book shop here, but the prices can be pretty high. It’s great if you’re looking for a few really cool books, but for filling an entire built-in- it’s pricey. I don’t really have an organization process for my books at home. There are only a few books I read more than one, and the rest go on the shelf once I finish them. Somehow I know where every book is and what quadrant of the shelf it lives on (without an alphabetical or genre system). Emmett thinks I have memory super powers, but I think I’ve just stayed and dusted them enough to know. Haha! I mostly just stick them on the shelf wherever I think the make sense from an aesthetic perspective. I hope you also have a wonderful day! xo
LaurenJanuary 26, 2022 at 7:43 am
*thrifted* not sure what my predictive text and spellcheck are thinking this morning. Haha!
StephanieJanuary 26, 2022 at 7:54 am
My husband and I used to thrift books all the time when we were on a student budget. I don’t know why we stopped! I love all your tips – I’ve only ever looked for books to read, but will definitely put your tips to use next time I look for books to both read and to style!
SarahJanuary 26, 2022 at 11:56 am
I really enjoy it, Stephanie! Finding the big coffee table books for styling always feels like a big win. Happy hunting :)
ColleenJanuary 26, 2022 at 9:00 am
OMG that’s genius 🤓 I never knew you could purchase books in bulk by color. Love it! Our real estate agent mentioned how she covered all her books in white paper to create a clean collage of books which I thought was interesting but thrifting books by color is brilliant and a very neat idea. I never knew Pottery Barn sold books this way. Huh! Very intriguing indeed.
You are a wealth of knowledge Sarah ☺️ Lots of awesome tips for thrifting, thank you 🙏
Wishing you a beautiful day!
SarahJanuary 26, 2022 at 11:55 am
Isn’t that cool? It’s much less expensive when you thrift them yourself, but it does take oodles of time- so having that resource and option is really nice. I’ve been seeing more brands add this type of product to their site. West Elm is also going it… but I guess that makes sense since Pottery Barn is their sister company. I’ve also heard of people wrapping their books in paper for a consistent color. How fun that your agent styled hers in that way! I hope you also have a beautiful day, Colleen! xox
Danna FJanuary 27, 2022 at 11:38 am
For someone who isn’t an avid book reader, I love old beautiful libraries; rooms with styled books, etc.. So calming. Maybe it is the smell or comfortable seating. I give a lot of credit to my husband for collecting them for me to gain more of an appreciation for them. Once we took all the book jackets off his books, I liked them styled on the shelves more. My husband organizes his books by author and genre. Trust me when I say, he notices if I have removed a book to style. Ha! Speaking of unique finds, he has had more luck with finding money inside them. I believe the most is $20. I have heard a lot of older people would hide money in books in case of emergency. His grandmother would do this. His favorite place is Half Price Books. We sometimes go after eating dinner if there is one nearby. I always tell him he needs to open a bookstore & coffee shop when he retires.
Sounds like you & Emmett had good luck at your last book outing! Hope you are feeling well! Happy Thursday!
SarahFebruary 1, 2022 at 4:53 pm
Me too, Danna! There is nothing more beautiful than shelving filled with books or a stuffed library. I love it! I’m going for that look in my home office. So cozy! Your husband’s system seems amazing… I’m not as organized. Ha! I’ve never found money in a book, but now I’m definitely going to start looking. What a fun surprise! A book treasure hunt. Funny story about grandparents hiding money… my grandma was a nurse (before retiring), and she always gave us money to keep in our vehicle in case of emergency (super sweet), but it was always a ten dollar billed rolled up in a medical urine collection cup. HAH! That always made me laugh. I’ll have to ask her if she still has those cups floating around her house. If your husband ever opens that bookstore and coffee shop, be sure to let us know- because I’m going to make a special trip to Texas to visit! How fun would that be?! I’m still resting & recovering, but am hoping to be back to work soon. Happy Tuesday! xox