My Used Book Collection

For years, I have been collecting used books. It’s become one of my most treasured “me time” hobbies. I often take a weekend trip to my favorite used bookstore right as it opens and fill my cart with beautiful, old books.

We recently added library shelves to our dining room and a separate children’s library upstairs in our home.

I’ve been collecting more than usual, and I thought it would be fun to share some of my tips for collecting affordable used books.

dining room with built-in bookshelves

Why used books?

One of my very first part-time jobs in college was in a used bookstore. I loved everything about the experience, but especially organizing and looking through old books. When we moved to Nashville, I had very few books, and when we added floor to ceiling bookshelves, I decided to specially shop for rainbow books.

It was both a design statement and a way to bring more interesting things into our home. I spent more than a year shopping for books and accumulated a huge collection of books on subjects that inspired me: gardening, rocks and minerals, dream interpreting, baby names (haha, I love old school baby name books), decorating and crafts.

At first, I will admit, I was more focused on collecting by color to fill my shelves. Over time, I must have changed via immersion though because now reading is one of my top hobbies.

For that reason, I highly recommend filling your home with books whether you think you will read them all or not— it could change your life!

Used books are affordable (I often buy books for 25 cents!) and sustainable.

My favorite thing about old books is the sense of history. I am currently reading an old copy of Harry Potter with a little girl’s name written in huge letters on the side pages.

I am also obsessed with a Tarot card reference book I have that is full of notes in handwriting that looks sort of like my grandma’s.

I love these little gifts from the past! Occasionally, I buy a used book with a library card still in it … so special!

Best places to shop for used books?

My favorite place to shop is a large used bookstore in Nashville (McKay’s if you are local!). I also always check the book section at any thrift shop or flea market I visit, though I won’t usually make a stop just to check for books.

Estate sales are a great resource. Since the books all come from one person’s home, they often have whole collections on certain subjects. I recently scored a bunch of painting books along with an easel and old oil paints at an estate sale.

When it comes to shopping online, I buy the majority of my books from ThriftBooks. I was joking with Emma that I’m probably about to get a certificate in the mail that says I’m their number one customer.

I also buy quite a few books on eBay. I find eBay is the best place to look for whole collections. I collect Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, American Girls books, and quite a few other nostalgic series that I read as a child.

Do you really read your books?

This is something people always ask me. I think that to some people, seeing a large home library seems wasteful or even selfish. I disagree with that perspective.

While I will probably never have a chance to read every single book in our home, I think of reading as a lifestyle and an effort that is never wasted.

There is value in having a lot of books in your home even if you aren’t reading them yet. It changed my life! I went from being not very interested in reading to reading a book almost every week over the past few years. And I wonder if the rainbow book collection made a difference for me?

For our children’s library, I am hopeful that having access to a lot of books will help my kids get into reading. I don’t want to push them too hard, but I am hopeful that having the books right there will help spark an interest for them. Fingers crossed!

I also collect a lot of nonfiction books that support my hobbies (painting, ceramics, crafts, interior design, and we have a large cookbook collection).

These books are used so often, whether for reference or just thumbing through them for inspiration.

collection of books about ghosts

Collecting books by subject

I suggest leaning into your personal interests and passions when collecting books. Above, you can see my ghost book collection. It’s highly specific to me and I LOVE it. I add to it all the time.

I love spooky and supernatural topics, so I collect books that feed my obsessions. I also collect books about witches, vampires, tarot, dream interpreting, and aura reading.

A few of my favorites: Weird Hauntings / Hollywood Ghosts / Ghosts I’ve Met / Coraline / The Hidden Dimension

Tips for collecting a series

As I mentioned above, I collect a lot of series for our kids’ library. If you want to skip the work of collecting a series over time, I suggest checking eBay for complete sets.

If you don’t mind taking your time to hunt books down, I suggest making a checklist that you keep in your purse or on your phone so that it’s always with you. I am slow collecting some of my sets and have been working on them for more than a year.

If you try to collect a series without a list to check off, you will accidentally buy a lot of duplicates, so be sure to find a method that works for you!

My favorite series to collect for children: Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, American Girls and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Harry Potter book collection

Here’s my Harry Potter collection. I collected the hardbacks for the past year and then used these matching dust covers to make them into a shiny new set.

built-in bookshelves with colorful book collection

I really hope this encourages some of you to begin collecting used books. Let me know if you have any questions— I’m happy to chat in the comments.

For more inspiration, check out Emma’s favorite self help and happiness books and follow us on IG where we often host book discussions. xx- Elsie

  • I have always loved reading! And there were always books in my house as a child & certainly now as an adult. Two of my three grown daughters still are readers plus the grandchildren. I create Reading Challenges for them which they absolutely love! We have Nancy Drew, American Girl, anything by Patricia Polacco. It is the number one indicator to a successful student: reading! Some of you may want to make donations to your child’s Book Fair for students that cannot afford a book. Can you even imagine seeing all the others get a book (or several) and you don’t?? So heartbreaking!

  • My husband and I love books. We used to read each other Harry Potter when we were dating.

    We have a lot of books, though I try not to just collect them just because of space constraints. We go to the library a lot, so that we don’t have to own all of the books. Our neighborhood also has a few of those Little Free Libraries and our kids are obsessed with those. So we switch out our books a lot.

    Since your kids have low vision, they might enjoy audiobooks. Our library offers two digital platforms with free audiobooks, Libby and Hoopla. Our kids love listening to books while they color or play Lego or whatever.

    My 10 year old is a voracious reader. My 6 year old is still learning to read. He did not just effortlessly pick it up the way my older son did. We will see if he also becomes a bookworm. He does love to be read to and he enjoys paging through books, looking at the pictures.

    If you want your kids to read a lot, I think it’s helpful to read a lot yourself. It also helps to limit tv/video games. I am positive that if it was an option for my kids to play video games or watch tv all day, they would do that instead of reading.

    We do allow those things, but only in the late afternoon/evening (but before dinner) and only if homework and chores are done. They forget a lot bc they get busy playing outside. It’s funny though, bc they did not realize that we have limited their screen time. We’ve never talked about it that way, we’ve just said sure, after this happens, then of course.

    So they told the pediatrician when she asked that they had no limits. I got a nice lecture about how important it is to limit screen time. I just nodded my way through it bc I didn’t want to explain it in front of the kids.

  • I’ve been collecting used books by color recently for my rainbow bookshelf. I get them from the thrift store. My daughter has already read one of the purple ones, and my husband pointed at the lime green one and said “hey I’ve been wanting to read that!”. How can anyone be cynical about having books in your home? They’re beautiful and full of soul! Even if you don’t read them, how is it different than any other type of collection? People collect beautiful things, it’s what we do. There’s not much in this world more beautiful than a library.

  • I love your bookshelves SO much! I was a bookworm since I was tiny, and my mom always thought I had too many books. I was allowed one small shelf of books in my bedroom and the rest had to be in a storage box in the basement. It always broke my heart. Now as an adult, I have several bookshelves.

    You are giving your children such a beautiful gift by filling their home with books! It’s an invitation to be curious.

  • I love books (and full bookshelves) too. Do you have bookshelves in the girls’ bedroom too, or do you keep most of their books in the children’s library? Also, love the Harry Potter book jackets! Thanks!

  • My parents had a huge collection of books, which I dipped into indiscriminately as a child – Alistair Maclean, Desmond Bagley, Piers Anthony, Georgette Heyer, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, Isaac Isimov, Mary Stewart, etc. I still read a huge amount – although I was an early adopter of Kindle because it allowed me to continue reading without building up a collection of books themselves. That said, I’ve recently started buying more fiction books in hard copy (I’ve always purchased non-fiction in hard copy) and repurchasing collections I had many years ago and subsequently abandoned due to lack of space. Still, if you’ve got the room, there’s something to be said for a physical book. Kindle’s all well and good (especially when travelling – I read very fast, so it’s a blessing when I’m going on vacation), but if I wonder if I’d be the reader I am today if I was raised in an environment without physical books.

  • Great tips! I’ve always been obsessed with books and have spent my entire childhood and teenage years in used or new bookstores and libraries. I’ve collected books since I was a kid and don’t have enough bookshelves to display them all! I started reading at age 4 thanks to my dad who is an amazing storyteller (bed time was always very exciting just for the stories he would read and I picked up very quickly that the letters he would point at represented the words I would hear and soon could read along with him) and the huge library of books he had when I was a kid (he’s reduced it over time but he still has a significant amount of books in his home). Then when I was a teen (13) we moved cities 3 hours away from anyone I knew in the beginning of summer and because my mom was working and I had no friends to play with, I would spend my days in the old library next to her office and the bookstore across the street reading everything I could get my hands on. Years later at age 16 – 17, I would spend hours at the used book store across the street from the shopping mall where all the other teens would hang out to do nothing (they called me loser but I really think they were the losers ;p) and spend all my money there and reading what I bought into the we hours of the morning (no wonder I was always tired during class). As an adult I’ve been curating my collecting a little more (love buying collections from Juniper Books which is where I believe you got your Harry Potter jacket covers)). I also collect from specific authors (I’m French Canadian so I have both English and French books). I also have a great love of fairy tales from all over the world and I collect Canterbury Classics (they are gorgeous leather bound books). But yes, used books are definitely more sustainable and cheaper on the wallet. I really wish my kids could be into reading like their dad and I are but alas…they’re nearly 9 and 11 now and the younger one still struggles with reading at a first grade level and the older one, although much better at reading, doesn’t have the attention span to focus on reading for too long (can play video games all day and watch silly youtube videos of kids playing video games all day without issues though…….sigh). But I’m like you, I won’t forced them, I’d rather they learn to love reading on their own terms so we’ll see (my husband didn’t care much until he discovered Anne Rice in his teenage years and then he just never stopped loving to read so there’s still hope they take after him). I can’t wait to see an update on your Narnia style children’s library (if you’re still doing that). When we watched the movies with the kids a couple years ago, we excitedly asked them how they would feel if they found a wardrobe to another world like that and they were all “meh, that would be too scary” and my husband and I were like “did they switch them at birth in the hospital???? These ain’t our kids!” :p I would have “killed” to find Narnia or get my letter from Hogwarts at 11!!!!! In fact, I would “kill” to have the space to make a secret “Narnia” room in my house right now! So I will live vicariously through you on this one!

    • There is still hope for your kids- my daughter who struggled loved Geronimo Stilton as the words helped her decipher the meaning with interesting fonts. My son who loved video games loved Alex Rider- a boy version of James Bond. Eventually they may find a series they connect with. 🤞🏻

  • I’d love to see a couple of photos from the Tarot book! Having recently gotten into tarot as a therapeutic tool, I’m kind of obsessed with it.

    Maybe something to post in your stories?

  • My local library system has an ongoing used book sale of books that are donated or have been removed from circulation. They are only 50 cents or a dollar and it also helps support the library!

  • Beautiful! Being surrounded by used books is a comfort, and so great for kids. To heck with anyone who has the misplaced expectation that you need to have read all the books in your house—new discoveries are just as important as old favorites. My favorite authors to collect are Terry Pratchett (esp the witch books) Kelly Link, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Rainbow Rowell, and Kerry Greenwood.

  • This is a great post! I’m also excited for the tours coming up of your home reno! I love collecting books. My mom used to take us kids to the library twice a week and we checked out stacks of books at a time. We read every single one of them and were all great readers. We even read the dictionary and encyclopedias, haha! For fun! Now I have my own daughter and have started to collect all the books I can think of that I loved as a child. It’s one of my favorite things to buy. I feel like I’m investing in her future because I know how much reading impacted me growing up. I remember people complaining about your rainbow shelves and whether or not you read your books. I say a pox on them lol. Having books in your home for any reason is special.

  • There was a study once that said the biggest indicator of whether children will be readers is whether or not there are books in the home. It’s not if they see a parent reading, or if mom or dad reads to them. It’s just having books around. Isn’t that amazing?! I can’t wait to see pictures of your children’s library. Having lots of books around and reading are my favorite things.

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