Closed September 2017

National Geographic Collections: Golden Shelves of Glory?

Natgeo One of the most humorous things I notice in my work as a Professional Organizer is how many people collect National Geographic magazines. I think of them as the "Golden Shelves of Glory" when I walk into a room and see them. Here's a photo of some in a basement, but often they are very prominently displayed in living rooms or in office shelving units.

Funny thing– I have never met anyone who actually references them or does anything useful with them beyond occasionally letting their kids cut them up for social studies projects. (Clearly now that I have said this, I will hear from someone in the comments how saving these won them a science project award, made them some money, saved someone's life, stopped a bullet, etc.)

In my opinion, saving National Geographic, along with its close cousins The New Yorker and Architectural Digest, provides us examples of these three phenomena:

  1. "Perfectly Good" Syndrome. "These are too nice to throw away… surely these have some kind of value! I don't want to waste them!" Read here on National Geographic's own website where it says that issues from the 1920s to the present are fairly easy to find. Are some of yours older than 1920? If so, they may be worth something to a serious collector (here is a list of dealers that NG maintains). But if you have the typical last few decades' worth, they are a dime a dozen.
  2. "Manifest Destiny/Collect Them All" Syndrome. "I've collected these since I was a kid." So you keep on doing it, just because… but why? Really, why?  This may have become an unconscious action and you have a choice to stop doing it at any moment. Having a "complete" collection of these magazines doesn't provide any more value to your life than not having it. You can just stop.
  3. "I'm a Sophisticated Person" Syndrome. You're not even reading them when they arrive, but you're saving them because somewhere in your mind it makes you feel like you're the kind of person who does read them. Subscribing and saving them makes you absorb their knowledge by osmosis alone. And when people come over and look at your bookshelves, they know you're a literary, worldly kind of guy. Sometimes owning certain objects allows us to believe things about our own identity– things that might not reflect reality but instead reflect our aspirations and visions of our ideal selves.

Here are some questions to consider about your magazine collection:

  • Do you ever refer to them?
  • Are they useful in any way?
  • Are they beautiful? Yes, they are Golden Shelves of Glory, but what else could be in their place that you might enjoy more, like favorite books or photos or artwork?
  • Have they added any value to your life, enough to merit the space they occupy?
  • Have you indexed your collection?  In other words, if you needed information on Burkina Faso, would you know which issue to grab?
  • Could you find that same information online or in your public library, without having to be "the keeper of the archives" yourself?
  • What would happen if you moved? Do you realize how much your collection weighs and how much it would cost you to move it?
  • Do you realize that your kids do not want to have this collection? (I am a betting kind of gal and I would take that bet.)
  • What is the cost of keeping it? Storage costs money, particularly if you have offsite storage units. Golden Shelves of Glory represent many linear feet of shelf space that could be used for other more useful and relevant things.

National Geographic suggests on their FAQ page that you donate your collections to schools or hospitals, and they give some addresses where you can mail your collections (but you'll have to pay shipping costs– look out!). Here in Austin, Half Price Books stores do take them and sell them, and your local used book dealer may also do so. You can also try selling or giving them away at a garage sale. And, you can recycle them. You really can–they are just paper and millions of copies of them exist elsewhere. If you must, keep some issues that are relevant to your own life, like the issue from your month and year of birth or those of your children or grandchildren.

Do you have Golden Shelves of Glory? Tell us why in the comments! And no comments about native booby pictures, be nice.  🙂

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Hazel Thornton

ROFLOL! I’m not sure how I have escaped dealing with this issue with my clients — magazines, yes, but not specifically the Golden Shelves of Glory. I CAN tell you, however, as a library volunteer, that we do NOT accept Nat Geo donations for our used book sales. Yes, they are perfectly good! No, nobody wants to buy them!


Oh my goodness… I really hope my mother in law somehow reads this. I dread the day we “inherit” her magazine collections!


I have a theory that all volcanic activity on earth is caused by the pressure exerted on basement floors by these same stacks of National Geographic magazines.

Barbara Miller

Oh Lorie, you are so right on this one. I don’t know what it is about National Geographic, more than any other magazine, that makes me want to horde them and keep every last issue. However, I am NG free and plan to keep it that way (thanks to some recycling friends). I love this post and linked to it my blog to share with all my friends and family.

Ruth Viens

Just had to respond to this one! We actually do have a few (not as many as in the photo) old issues of NG kicking around here. I’ve long ago gotten rid of many more of them. I also got rid of my husband’s collection of Consumer Reports! Issues dating back to 10-12 years ago!!!! He has NEVER EVER referred to any of those CR’s and even if he did the info is probably readily available online. I signed up for the online version of CR ;-).
And as a crafter, one good use for old magazines of any sort….you can use the pages to make very colorful paper beads and all sorts of other paper crafts!! But don’t be afraid to throw the magazines out with the recycling – there are only just so many crafts a person can do!

Lynn C

I use my NGs from time to time for craft projects – I went through a phase of decoupage! What a useless skill! But the general rule of thumb is a magazine lasts 6 months. And once I read it, I toss it. I keep some of my Fitness and Weight Watchers magazines around, but only if I’ve read them and marked recipes I want to try. And then once I try the recipe, if I like it, I carefully remove it from the magazine, slide it into a page protector, and put it in my 3-ring binder cookbook 😀

Katherine C

My philosophy on magazines of any kind…. read it, glean what you want out of it, then pass it on for someone else to glean information in the hope that they too will pass it on. If no one wants it, put it in the recycle bin. End of story…… 😉


We donated our much loved collection of NG when we moved to our local charter school. They were so happy to receive them because unlike public schools they don’t get that much attention for donations. I did keep a handful of my favorites which I have gone back and looked through again. A good piece of information to pass on to those who don’t want to get rid of their National Geographics is they now have their entire collection on a dvd. It was very affordable.


In my house it is my 16 year old son that won’t get rid of the NG’s, he has the last 4 years stacked in his closet! My father – who lives with us – wouldn’t get rid of his Consumers Reports magazines for years. Finally we compromised and we keep the last two years worth only. What’s funny is that except these two magazine, all other magazines that come into the house we keep two months worth only. when the next issue arrives out goes the month before last’s. Why can’t CR and Ng’s be the same?


will be getting rid of my other magazine collections… Smithsonian, American Craft, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, Eating Well…
I have stopped most of our subscriptions, even my beloved cooking magazines. I will have to go through those in the collection to save some recipes. Many of those are available online now anyway… Right????? (note the hesitation!)


Really, schools do not want these either. We already have a subscription. I think it is required. At the elementary level they are rarely used. I would get about three donation per year of about 30 years each. There is just no room for a seldom used collection. When we moved the library, I trashed about 60 years worth.

Lizzie Lou

I wonder if waiting rooms and nursing homes like them. I have a friend convalescing from surgery, who can’t do much physically, and I promised to send her old craft magazines. I haven’t bitten the bullet yet–I guess I’ll cut out pages that I might refer to. I need to do it before she gets better and doesn’t need them either!


My parents had dozens of NG, also Smithsonian, National WIldlife, etc…thank goodness they’ve stopped subscriptions as they expire.
I learned that if you ask a publisher to send remaining issues to the deployed military they may do that–YAY!
I mailed the ‘good stuff’ in flat rate boxes to a on a Navajo Reservation school. Public schools need more resources, BIA schools have NONE by comparison. Any use they make of them is worth the postage. Extra benefit…my parents’ less cluttered house to clear out later!!!

Debbi Ross

I have a great use for them! They are excellent inspiration for art classes. They can also be used for collage projects. I teach high school art and they really are gold. So if you are clearing your shelves, take them to your local school and make an art teacher very happy!

Susan Stein

My father-in-law lived with us, and had a very large NG collection. After he died I pleaded with my husband to discard them. It was hard for him to agree to, as he said the NGs were so much a part of who his father was. Husband finally agreed to donate the NGs, but we found we couldn’t even give them away. I finally convinced my husband to put them out for trash. A couple days after trash pickup, husband announced he had a dream, that his father came back (from the dead!)….and wanted the NGs!


Our public school collects magazines for recycling to earn money for the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey PA. I felt good about getting rid of alot of my magazines through this cause. They were being used better than me storing them in boxes! They earned $50,000 between 2004 and 2008! Maybe there is a similar charity in your community, or one you can start!
Check out the article:


I actually really love and use my nat geo’s regularly. I do reread them often, use them as examples for drawing and dream away those gorgeous pictures. I own just 5 books and no other magazines. I read them, remember or write down a short summary of the information in them and get rid of them. But nat geo’s are staying. I could see throwing them out if i wouldn’t reread them, but i do. To each it’s own i guess.

Karen Cook

I *have* weighed them, and moved them multiple times, and have them displayed prominently…the bulk of them were my grandfather’s and I’ve continued the collection over the years. I don’t read them from cover to cover, but I do peruse them as each issue comes into the house, and share some of what I read with my husband. I have two (or 3?) indexes, plus the centenary book, and because we moved six times in the first five years we were married and I despise moving, I have successfully used them as an excuse not to move again, which is worth a considerable amount to me…


The article and many of the comments have me in stitches! I guess a large part of why I find this funny is that I’m descended from a MASSIVE hoarder of magazines, medical journals (he’s a doctor), and countless other publications and pieces of paper. He collects travel brochures wherever he goes, even in our own town! As much as I love purging stuff as a result of growing up with this man, I’d always rather give things to people who can use them rather than throw them away, so it might be worth looking in your community to see who wants the magazines. You could spread them among laundromats, schools, libraries, churches, nursing homes, hospitals, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and whomever else might want them. They might use them or be able to sell them to raise money. But whatever you do, don’t unload a huge collection on someone who can’t use them– they just get thrown away anyway and it’s just another task for an already overburdened staffer or volunteer to do it, especially after you wasted energy to get stuff to them that could have been used to dump the stuff yourself. If you can’t find anyone who wants them, rest assured that recycling them does good. In my community, many churches, schools, and libraries have green and gold dumpsters in their parking lots managed by someone called Abitibi, who recycles the paper and gives the proceeds to the organization. The one place your collection does you no good is unused in your house. I’ve been helping clean out houses from deceased people a lot lately, and I must beg you, please don’t make the people who’d have to clean up after you when you die deal with this.

Amy in Oz

My daughter’s school asked for all these kinds of magazines so the young kids can cut them up for craft. The ones they used to get are too full of scantily clad women for them to accept any more, so NG and food ones are about all they can take now.


Thanks for this piece. I have decided there and then to donate my collection to my local library tomorrow. I have phoned them and they accept.

Bob Davis

I find it unbelievable that the author and all commentators herein find NG collections to be a waste of space and/or worthless. Over the past five years, I have donated three rather large NG collections (i.e., 75+ yrs) to a local grade school art teacher for craft projects, and another was eagerly accepted by a nearby convalescent home. Lastly, I sold two NG sets of 100+ years, one for $1280 and the second for $1500, by simply placing an ad in our local PennySaver. Each sold within four days of being advertised. My point here is that NG mags have a lot more value than you might think, and just tossing them is truly a short-sighted, if not misguided plan of action. At the very least, please recycle any unwanted magazines.

Lorie Marrero

Hi Bob, thank you for reading the post and for commenting. Please note that I mention several of your recommendations in the blog post with donating being at the top of the list. Thank you for the reminder.

patti m

NG may not work for you as a decorator/designer but as a lover of NG magazines they work for me and obviously many others. It would be nice if you could design an idea for storage so they could work in a room… instead of being irreverently discarded. just saying… it’s a NG thing…


Apparently our olfactory system is the strongest. Pungent portraits of
landfills and polluted streams (aka “global warming Y2k) Chernobyl cows, and the waning existence of the gray wolf are just a few of the compelling images that captured my interest as an early teen. Reading the articles seemed to clarify the scented mystery of each issue.
Nearly three decades later, I find space for a fragment of my Golden Shelves of Glory in a spare shoe organizer cubicle in our laundry room.
When I decide to rearrange a few things to provide more space, I find that my eight-year-old has chronologically organized my GSG collection.
We GSGers are not hoarders; we appreciate order (and a deeper shade of yellow, of course)!


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