Libraries and bookstores suck me in like a black hole. The moment I see all those shelves of books my eyes grow wide, I get a little giddy, and time becomes irrelevant. If I’m not careful I’ll forget about that dentist appointment scheduled in a half hour. Which is why I need to set my intentions and give myself a little pep talk ahead of time.
“What are you here to do?”
Pick up my holds.
“Do you have anywhere you need to be in the next half hour?”
I have to pick up Clay from work.
“Hmm, maybe you should come back when you have more time?”
No, no. I’ll stay focused this time. I promise.
Needless to say, books spark joy.
I love them. Clay loves them. And giving them away for our minimalist convictions felt like a betrayal of our identity. Which is why letting go of a half read copy of Moby Dick took way longer than it did to purge our wardrobe.
LITTLE WHITE LIES
I kept certain books because I believed all the little white lies I’d tell myself: “I’ll read it later” or “what if I need to reference this again?”.
Books also connected me to my past, like a deconstructed scrapbook. They were visual commentary surrounding milestones and growth in life that was important to me.
My bookshelf was a subtle status statement, a humble brag. It’s as if I was saying “Look at all of these classics I own. Check out all of these cookbooks. Look at how well-read and wise and cool I am”.
Our book mentality was ‘the more the merrier’.
It never occurred to us that perhaps we didn’t need to keep every book we’ve ever owned in our adult lives.
That maybe lugging the old textbooks and study guides from house to house was causing unnecessary back pain.
After years of progress we went from owning more books than we could fit on our dining table:
BAD MINIMALIST CONFESSION
In a moment of weakness I did donate a few boxes of books to my brother’s in home library “just in case” we might want them back someday. (Update: we don’t).
Now, if you tend to decode people based on their bookshelves
I should add that our most influential and meaningful books are not represented here.
We don’t own a kindle so it’s not that they are electronically hidden out of sight. Some of them we never owned in the first place; they were borrowed from friends or from the library. Others were lent out but never returned (friends, keep them! I promise we don’t want them back!). And some of them, even the most life changing ones, were donated.
As of now we currently own one non-reference book, yeah that one by Rob Bell, which Clay and I have each read several times. (I’m not going to get into why we own this book, but if it shocks you, or raises concern, or peeks your curiosity then by all means let’s chat!)
Almost everything else is used as reference for cocktails, or meditation. (I can’t get over that combination!) But the books don’t lie. This is what is most relevant to us right now. We gain knowledge and insight from these on a regular basis.
DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO KEEP
If your bookshelf is treated like a trophy case, a humble brag, a conversation starter, or a guilty graveyard of books to re-read or reference in the future…then I get it. Mine was too. But perhaps it’s time to rethink the value we place on our books.
I’m not here to burn your collection fahrenheit 451 style.
Your bookshelf does not need to be as sparse as mine!
But I don’t want our identities getting tangled up in our bookshelves anymore. And I want to free you from “I’ve been meaning to read that” book guilt, because life is too short for all of that.
Think of it this way,
“Books add value. They contribute to who you are. But they do not define who you are.”
It has taken us 4 years to grasp this and realize that not every book is worth keeping.
In that time we’ve learned a few things along the way, and thought they might be valuable to your own decluttering journey. The process here is the same as it is for clothes. If you missed those posts, you can find the first one here. In the meantime here is
a brief re-cap on ‘how to minimize’:
- Think about what is worth keeping, rather than what to get rid of.
- Minimize one category at a time (clothes, books, papers, etc.)
- Tackle each category in one go if you can. Decluttering a little here and a little there is not as effective.
- Hold each item individually and ask ‘does this spark joy?’
- Find a reason to silently appreciate whatever doesn’t and donate or discard those things asap!
Gather all your books/magazines in one place. If you have too many to sort, gather and sort them by category (fiction, non fiction, reference, etc.)
Pick up each book individually. Try to resist the urge to open them up and start reading! Emotional attachment rises when we start flipping through, making it harder to discern what to keep. Trust your instincts and stick to the “does it spark joy” method.
Keep anything that you revisit on a regular basis, anything useful that you still find relevant, and anything you would categorize under ‘hall of fame’ or ‘desert island books’ that you wouldn’t dream of letting go of.
Here’s my two cents on what might need to go:
- Duplicates— including non-fiction books that have similar themes or content. Unused Bibles are not an exception. Clay and I had 5+ and narrowed it down to 1 study bible and 1 regular bible.
- Magazines/periodicals— we can find those recipes and articles again online.
- Books that mean nothing to you— box sets, outdated cookbooks, that trivia book you got for Christmas circa 2002 and anything that might have come from the bargain bin. Chances are we are just keeping them for the vanity of bulking up our ‘library’.
- Unread classics/books you’ll never read— we are not cooler for owning unread books. You know what I’m talking about. Let go of those .25 cent garage sale classics you bought years ago like Dracula, or The Hunchback.
- “Just haven’t gotten around to it yet”— anything we’ve had 6 months or longer and haven’t read. If it was truly important we would have have read it by now. Including our friend’s book recommendation, or anything we paid for. Let’s free ourselves from book guilt. Half a year has gone by! It’s okay for us to move on!
- Half read books— Marie Kondo taught me that sometimes the purpose a book is to be read halfway. So if we started the book over 3 months ago and haven’t finished it, we don’t need to finish it. Half-read books are still accomplishments. Priorities change.
- “I want to re-read this”— most people don’t end up revisiting these books. We’ve retained all the memories and knowledge we needed and have already moved on.
- Same goes for textbooks, study guides, old devotionals etc.
(Our good intentions tell us that ‘someday’ we will brush up on the content from our college textbooks, and bible studies. But who has the time for that, and also if I need that information again I’ll google it.)
- Same goes for textbooks, study guides, old devotionals etc.
Book guilt is real. When we glance at a stack of un-read books it subtly reinforces another thing we haven’t gotten to.
Reading should be fun! So to eliminate some of that subtle pressure,
try bringing home 1 book at a time.
Especially if you buy your books. Spending money heightens the guilt, making it harder to detach. If you’re a library person like me try to keep it structured by only borrowing a manageable amount. Mine is: 1 fiction, 1 non fiction, 1 cookbook, and 1 coffee table-type book. Which doesn’t always work out, but at least the guilt goes away as soon as I return them.
books as trophies
- Books you’ve already read— Clay and I used to keep these to remember/show off that we had read them, even though they weren’t useful to us anymore.
There are plenty of apps to use if you still want to keep track of what you’ve read. Clay and I are big fans of goodreads.com
influential, sentimental has-been books
- Books that changed your life 3+ years ago— We are probably already living the wisdom we gained from these books and no longer needed their crutch.
Could you find another book of the same subject to expand on the insight/influence of that book?
- Sentimental books— gifts, books that have been handed down, mementos, etc. Do these books *still* spark joy? are they *still* useful? Your 2 year old is now a 6 year old and no longer looks at the ‘123’ baby book.I know this is hard. It took me 14 months to get there but eventually I realized that the book is not the memory.
So try not to get lost in nostalgia of who you/they were and focus on where you/they are headed next! ONWARD!
- Lend it out— could you loan that book so it can add value to someone else’s life?
- Find your closure— giving your books a proper send off will make it easier to say goodbye. Journal highlights of each book. Or throw a give-a-way party! Invite all your friends over, provide the beers, and encourage them to take a book home with them at the end of the night.
- Store them in a box, out of sight, out of mind. If you don’t retrieve those books in the next 6 months, you’ve just proved to yourself that you don’t need them “just in case”.
- Lending— loaning your beloved books is the best way to keep them useful. I also feel that by lending my books I am placing value on that relationship. There’s something special that. About encouraging others to read, sharing insight, and reinforcing a community. Hello, mini-book club!
- E-Readers— love and support this idea 100%; a total minimalism hack! I personally need the tactile look and feel of a book, so I can’t quite get there. #oldschool
- Buy to give— we have a minimalist friend who buys books but gives them away when he’s done. He writes his name on the inner cover and encourages the next person to write their name and pass the book on to someone else as well. That person writes their name on it, passes the book on and so on and so on. So great!
- The library— do not underestimate your local library. If they don’t have the book you want you can always request it. I also think that having a return deadline encourages me to read faster.
- Pro tip: Libraries are also great for community involvement, events, dvd’s, etc. My last library (Grand Rapids Public) even checked out season passes to the zoo, various museums, hockey games, etc.
We slowly realized that by owning less books we were not stating that learning or knowledge are unimportant. Ironically after we purged our book collection, Clay and I noticed that we were actually reading more.
Four years lapsed between the then and now pictures posted above. So it’s important you know that our book collection dwindled in phases. This didn’t happen overnight.
And don’t worry if a few misc. books fall through the cracks. Although Clay and I have come a long way, we still cling to a few random books too.
Enter: my senior yearbook.
Yup, yuck it up, folks!
Year after year I’ve tried to let this thing go, but for some unknown reason I pluck it out of the discard pile every time. The only explanation is that on some inexplicable level, it still sparks joy? It’s a bit embarrassing and I can’t quite figure it out.
So take your time, and don’t beat yourself up!
- “Honor your emotions. Your sentimental attachment to your books is not something to feel ashamed about. Acknowledging your emotions is helpful in allowing you to move past that attachment and towards a more minimalist reading habit.
- You did not acquire those books overnight, so you will not release your attachment to them quickly either. Eventually you will find your feelings shifting towards the stories and the moment rather than the books themselves.”
Besides you are already a super cool person. You don’t need books on books on books to reiterate that to the world!
Thanks for reading! I’ll be switching my posts to THURSDAY’S from here on out. Still can’t decide whether to talk about paper clutter or phones, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, what’s holding you back from decluttering your bookshelf? I’d love to know!
And if these posts add value to your life in any way…please subscribe, like, heart, comment or send me a message!