Three years ago, I moved into my boyfriends house, bringing with me over 900 books. When he asked whether I really needed all of them, I answered “yes” matter-of-factly. I loved my books and I wanted to keep them all, even those that had been boxed up in storage for over a decade. That question–Do you really need all of those books?–was my first real foray into minimalism.
Together, he and I developed a criteria to pare down our 1,600-strong book collection, asking the following questions:
- Does it have sentimental value? Having enjoyed reading it once does not count, but having received it as a gift or having read it a dozen times does.
- Does it have monetary value? We each some signed first edition books and drafts, as well as Kickstarter and other limited-edition books. We’ve held on to those which are increasing in value, while selling those which have remained static.
- Is is a useful reference book? We’ve held on to medical reference books, favorite cookbooks, and those books which we’re keen to recommend and lend out.
- Do I plan to read it within the next six months? I often excitedly buy many books at once, only the permanently shelve the majority of them. I try to be honest with myself and choose what I most what to read, and what will limited be added to the to-read shelf indefinitely.
- Can I replace it easily and for under $10? Most books can be purchased at the used bookstore or online for a few bucks, and many more can be borrowed from the local library. After selling or donating over 1,000 books, we’ve repurchased only three.
I am the ultimate book-lover and my mother still scolds my boyfriend for “making” me get rid of my beloved books, even though I personally put a lot of thought into the undertaking and its implications.
As any avid reader can surely relate to, each book had a story. I remembered the bench where I read The Moral Animal every day for a week, the guy who struck up a conversation while I was reading 2666, and struggling to hold back tears with My Friend Leonard. Each book was like a cherished friend with whom I had a deep, emotional connection. I had nearly 1,000 best friends, but I was not sharing them the same care that I would a beloved friend.
Over the last several years, we’ve continued to eliminate the excess, with the agreement that once we’ve settled into our final destination, we’ll build out the huge library we’ve both always dreamed of.
Purging my book collection was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most freeing. Much to my surprise, I come come to appreciate and adore the 150 books lined up neatly across my bookshelf. There have been many unanticipated perks, including:
- Every book we own is proudly on display. There are no boxes tucked away in closets. We have intentionally selected our favorites and they fit perfectly in our three bookshelves.
- I have become much more intentional about book purchases. I only buy one book at a time, and I often muse on the decision for weeks at a time to ensure it is the one. Rather than collecting a growing stack of to-read books, I tear through books as soon as they enter my life.
- I realized I can cherish reading memories without hoarding old books. Before placing a book into the sell or donate pile, I take a few moments to celebrate its memory. I consider what the books means to me, what it taught me, and how it made me feel. And then I let it go.
- We no longer have boxes of mediocre books filling the closets. Good books deserve to be read and reread, and no one benefits from the boxes of books that have been taking up space for over a decade. We now have more space for things that are currently useful.
- The pre-loved books are passed along to someone else who can create their own memory. The one idea that made parting with my beloved books possible was the realization that my letting go would give someone else the opportunity to laugh, cry, and learn from the books that changed my life. Today, donating any books that didn’t make the top 100 list feels like a gift back to the world.
How do you feel about your books? Have you every pared down your literary collection, or does that sound blasphemous to you?