How to Pack Books for Moving

Whether you’re an all-out bookworm or you just haven’t gotten around to donating your old textbooks, moving often means finding a way to relocate dozens — if not hundreds — of books. What’s the best way to get your entire library ready to go? While determining how to pack books for moving looks slightly different for everyone, these best practices will help keep your prized titles in tip-top shape until you reach your destination.

Consider downsizing your collection

Even if you’re a book lover at heart, the process of deciding how to pack books for moving is a great opportunity to shed a volume or two. The weight of items often factors into moving costs, and a stack of books can add up to be very heavy. If you’re going to end up paring down your collection — and not everyone will — it’s worth doing before you have to carry it all.

Set aside any titles you’re not attached to, don’t enjoy, and don’t see as having collectible value.

  • Sell: If you have old college textbooks, consider selling them to pocket a bit of extra cash. If you’re planning on hosting a yard sale to lighten your moving load, you may make some extra cash by including your used books in your “for-sale items” pile.
  • Donate: Most charitable organizations (e.g. Salvation Army, Goodwill, among others), second-hand and thrift stores will take donations of all kinds of books, provided they aren’t torn or marked up beyond reason. Some retirement communities, shelters, and children’s hospitals also accept particular genres of books; check their requirements to see what they might want. Also, check with your local public library — many accept “gently used” book donations to sell for fundraising at community book sales.

Pack your books strategically

First, consider how much weight you can lift. While some moving guides say to pack no more than 25 pounds of books in a single box, not everyone can manage this amount of weight. If someone else is responsible for lifting the boxes, stay under this weight limit. However, if you have back or other health issues, pack smaller boxes for yourself that hold fewer books. Boxes to pack books will usually be no more than 12″x12″. After you’ve determined how many boxes you need, and found free boxes or purchased them, reinforce the bottom with extra tape — one piece along the seam and two pieces placed perpendicular to it.

Then, begin grouping books together. Assemble groups of books that stack about as high as the boxes are tall, and label each one with a numbered sticky note (making sure to place it so that you can still see the titles). For the first box, for example, mark a No. 1 on the spines of the books that will be packed inside. Take a picture of the book spines and sticky note in one shot on your phone for reference later.

Start with the largest books, laying them flat against the bottom. Rather than setting them upright as you would on your shelf, stack them like a deck of cards. Align the spines at one side of the box; you’ll have uneven edges on the other side. If you can’t fit a final book to fill the space at the top, don’t try to force it! Add some packing material around the loose spaces, such as brown paper or clean T-shirts. Be sure nothing you add to the box is damp, since this can encourage rapid mold growth.

After closing the box, tape the top — mirroring the bottom side, place one long piece down the seam and two to hold the sides. Finish the box off with a clearly written label displaying the same number that appears on the stack of books inside.

Repeat this process until your bookcase empties, making sure to number all your books and boxes. This will come in handy as you unpack: Labeling simplifies the process of organizing the books in your new home, so you can avoid those notorious boxes that sit around for years after a move.

how to pack books

Should you ship or move your books yourself?

Not every part of your move has to fit inside a moving truck. You can also ship your packed books. The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers a Media Mail option, which offers much lower shipping rates (starting at $2.89) than most kinds of mail. The caveat is that only certain items — books (defined as “at least 8 printed pages”) and other kinds of media — qualify. While USPS states they will ship packages up to 70 lbs., it is recommended that you keep your box weight under 25 lbs. to avoid potential surcharges. Shipping time is estimated at 2-8 days, and packages need to be taken to the Post Office for shipping.

Here are some sample USPS single-piece Media Mail retail rates (at the time of publication) based on weight:

  • Weight not over 1 lb., rate is $2.89
  • Weight not over 10 lbs., rate is $7.93
  • Weight not over 25 lbs., rate is $16.33
  • Weight not over 30 lbs., rate is $19.13

The packing process does look a little different in this case, as it’s more important to use protection such as bubble wrap, plastic, or packing peanuts to keep the books from sliding around during shipping. Wrapping books individually in plastic will also help prevent against moisture damage. And don’t forget to factor in the size and weight of your books. UPS suggests calculating each box’s dimensional weight, which, if higher than the actual weight, will determine shipping rates.

You may also decide to transport your books yourself, especially if you have valuable editions or books with sentimental attachment. Transporting them yourself ensures you can keep a close eye on them. However, just because you can fit those heavy books in the trunk, it doesn’t mean your car or truck is equipped to handle all that weight. Take your vehicle’s size into account, and make a strategic plan for how many books you can reasonably transport yourself.

You may find it’s best to keep the books you really love close and leave the rest to the professionals — regardless, you have plenty of options to ensure every treasured page stays safely in place.

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