How to downsize your massive collection of books and not feel shitty about it

(With a bit of help from Goodreads and Marie Kondo)

I thought I had to keep all the books I’ve ever read as a status symbol.

Because so many intelligent people say ‘oh, we love books, books are piled everywhere, we’ve cut corners but one thing we must allow ourselves to spend money on is books.’

So to prove I’m a well-rounded, voracious reader etc, it follows that I must keep all my books.

To prove I’m an educated, intelligent person, I have to follow the stereotype.

Not only that, but for a long time I have felt that I need to buy books I read once and enjoyed, to sort of ‘honour’ the author. Even if I’m never going to read them again.

The books that held me back

I’ve always been typified by my parents as a hoarder, but I’ve gotten rid of an incredible amount of things at least once a year, every year, since I’ve been 14. The only thing that has stayed, and has made switching rooms with my siblings difficult, is my massive, MASSIVE, collection of books, spanning everything from Enid Blyton to China Mieville.

Around age seventeen, I was very interested in the idea of minimalism, but always thought it wasn’t for me purely because of my books. Everyone else can do it, but I can’t because I have to keep all these books. I couldn’t get rid of them; this was something I desired but was off-limits to me. Still, the idea lay dormant.

I’m now in my twenties, and for about three months now, the idea of a minimalist, optimised, non-extravagant life has returned from the back burner. It’s something I’ve wanted to actively pursue. I’ve got the non-extravagant part down (I’m a student!!), and I’m working on the optimisation, but the minimalist part has eluded me. For a long time I felt quite hopeless because no matter how much I researched this issue, there didn’t seem to be an answer. Just people who had no trouble ditching all their books and people who seemed to be able to store books. Neither category fit me.

Sup, Marie?

Enter the latest craze, Marie Kondo and her book, The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. That book is freaking everywhere at the moment, but having read it, I can tell you it’s everywhere for a damn good reason.

Kondo has a heavy emphasis on discarding your shit, choosing to keep only the things you love, and making a place for everything you own. And the book made me definitively acknowledge that I don’t like having a lot of stuff.

I don’t like my tiny crowded bedroom when I go home to my parents’. I don’t like having so many things that need to move whenever I move–from rural Western Australia to Perth and back. These same things are those that I trip over in the meantime, and agonise over storing in JUST THE RIGHT WAY. This goes beyond books, but a hell of a lot of the problem is my book collection.

Nobody I know in real life has as many books as I do. Nobody. At my peak I believe I had about 300. Then I realised I had 70 books in the to-read piles stacked in front of my overflowing bookshelf, and had to get rid of at least some. They were covered in dust.

By my last year in highschool I had about 250, and it stayed that way until I did a purge last year. I donated a lot of books that I was only keeping out of obligation to myself to read them because they were ‘classic’, ‘good’, ‘interesting’ or ‘educational’.

All my books in piles

After that cleanup I have–well, as many books as are in the photo above. With reference books and a box of books I’ve grown out of, that weren’t in the photo, I think I currently have about 150.

As soon as I read Kondo’s section on how to discard books, I saw that many of the books I still own have been in the back of my mind and weighing it down for years–even when I’m not there.

My purge was on the right track, but I didn’t go far enough. I’ve been carrying this load of unread information and constant obligation for so long, and it’s time to get rid of it and make some space.

Screw obligation.

As Marie Kondo says, discard anything that doesn’t spark joy in you. So many books that I keep because I place the obligation of re-reading them on myself, an obligation I will never fulfil.

So I’m going to get all those books down off that massive, imposing bookcase; take them in my hand, one at a time; and ask of each, am I happy when I hold this? Will it make me happy to keep it?

Kondo is right when she says that the only real measure of something worth having, that you don’t absolutely need, is whether it makes you happy or not.

This whole time, I’ve been trying to impress people I don’t know and live up to the standards that I imagined they were trying to set.

Seriously, screw obligation. And by that I mean perceived and self-imposed obligations that aren’t necessary and are really quite stupid when you look at them with fresh eyes. These books don’t really represent anything when I look more closely at them. Why?

Well, I don’t need to prove I’m smart or educated. I’ll have a Bachelor’s degree soon. I’ll let my language and my actions and my opinions speak for that, not my book collection.

I don’t need to prove I’m a good reader by collecting books. In 2014 I read quite a lot. I don’t need to keep all my books to track what I’ve read for past or future reference. Instead, I’ve reactivated my Goodreads account, which will save much more space. If I want to re-read something, that is what libraries are for (and as a last resort, the pirate bay).

What’s more, I would no longer consider myself a voracious reader. I love reading, I love books, and I still read–but it’s no longer my first activity of choice as it was when I was younger. I don’t need to hold on to a big shelf of books as a reminder of who I used to be. I have my memories for that.

Most importantly, I didn’t end up improving myself significantly through reading more than ten of these books. But going outside and living and making mistakes and thinking a lot about it all has done a hell of a lot for me.

The reasons I’ve held on to these books for dear life? None of them make any sense to me now.

What I’m sending off

So. I’m going to say goodbye to the books that I bought to pay honour/duty to the author or the book itself, but am honestly never going to read again. Their job, of sending money to the author or of being displayed on my bookcase, is done, now that I’m no longer living with most of them. I find I prefer to read a lot of fiction on a tablet or my phone anyway.

I’m going to say goodbye to the books I’ve kept for years because I wanted to read them but didn’t. They can go on my to-read list on Goodreads.

I’m even going to say goodbye to the books that I’ve kept because they are associated so strongly with memories, but that I don’t wish to read again. That said, I’m allowing myself to keep one smallish, easy-to-lift box of books I really enjoyed and have had good memories of, but whose life with me has most likely come to an end. Just in case I spawn a litter in the future and want to, you know, share my love of reading with them. I can always discard later if having this small collection no longer gives me joy.

As Marie Kondo would put it, my books have been sitting by themselves, alone and practically invisible, for ages. I’m going to give them a new lease of life by giving them away where they can find people who will treasure them, instead of tolerate their presence as an obligation.

This is pretty animistic, but it certainly does provide a high level of closure.

Speaking of closure, I’m going to do a gasp-worthy thing. I’m going to burn some of the books I don’t like but have kept because there is overly personal writing in them. I’m moving on from a lot of parts of my past I didn’t like.

I’m excited to start this project, and I estimate I’ll be reducing my dormant book collection by quite a lot when I go home in six days.

If this even interests you, dear reader, find a copy of Kondo’s book, or at least the section on choosing to keep only books you love. She goes into more detail about actually discarding; this post is mostly my reaction to her words.

I’ve been sitting here writing this for about an hour and a half. I can’t help it–I’m just so excited! This has been in the back of my mind for years and I didn’t even realise until now. For the first time in my life, I’ve seen a way to be free.

How to Ditch Facebook (Kinda-Sorta)

Carrying on from the last post, which was about reasons to stay on Facebook, I encourage you to think of the following as a method for dumping Facebook after being in an LTR but still keeping its number in your phone in case you want a booty call. It’s a plan that may just work for me, but hopefully other people might get something out of it too. I’ve already put it into action as of the previous post, and once I’ve tested this out for a few weeks, I’ll report back with some results.

My original goal was to decrease my facebook usage, and I’ve also added a new one: to reduce the amount of grumpiness and stress that came with my feed. There are a lot of things I just don’t want to see, and could do without hearing unless I go looking for them. For example, my fascist friends, my gun-nut friends, and my radical feminist friends. Make no mistake; I do love them. There’s a reason I keep them around in person (it’s always good to have dissenting viewpoints otherwise you end up creating your own personal echo chamber)–but online is different. Lately my feed hasn’t been a pleasant place to be.

There are two types of changes I’ve made: environmental changes, and altering my personal habits.

Changing My Facebook Environment

It’s well documented that human beings follow the path of least resistance, (i.e. unthinkingly following habits, rather than the effort of consciously making and adhering to a new decision) which means it’s much easier to tweak your environment to create a new path of least resistance. This is not my original idea, but I can’t for the life of me find out whose it was. It may be Jacob Lund Fisker of Early Retirement Extreme.

Here are the ways I changed my facebook environment.

  1. I went through all 246 of my Facebook friends and unfriended exactly 46 people whose faces I didn’t even recognise.
  2. I also unfollowed (but not unfriended) anyone who never seems to post anything I’m interested in–or who hates too much on life and other people for me to want to see anything from them. We’re still friends, I just won’t see anything they post unless I go to their walls. A more seamless way to do this is to visit Facebook as normal, but gradually start unfollowing anybody whose posts you aren’t interested in.
  3. I unliked any page I was no longer majorly interested in. The only ones left are a few atheist groups I need to keep in contact with for my volunteer position with Freethought Student Alliance, and a couple of non-grumpy feminist pages. These will keep getting curated to things I am only interested in at this moment. I can always like things again later.
  4. I changed my settings so that only I can post things on my wall.
  5. I created a list of ‘shit-fight friends’ – people who are racist, misogynistic, and so on, whom I don’t want to start a shit-fight in my comments when we’re talking about something serious. It’s happened before and I’m finally sick of it. These people can no longer see what I post, and therefore react to what I post, unless I specifically change my post settings to include them. Yes, it’s censoring. I used to not censor anything, but the amount of threats people throw at each other is quite frankly a little frightening. I’m over it.

This should automatically change both the amount of ‘spam’ I get in my feed and the frequency with which my feed gives me new updates. By changing the environment (fewer posts with greater quality), it gives me less opportunity to mentally engage with something not worth paying attention to. It should also reduce the amount of time I spend interacting with (or moderating!) others on facebook.

Bear in mind, I’m not trying to say my friends aren’t worth interacting with. I simply think they’re more worth interacting with off-line.

Tweaking My Facebook Habits

What I’ve done here is try to notice patterns in my Facebook usage, and try to find ways I can alter these patterns or use them in a different way to make my life less Facebook-intensive. I’m going to call these ‘habit-busters’, because what is life without a little cheesiness now and then?

Habit-Buster 1: Alter the Urgency

There’s something I have noticed: when you don’t log on for a few days, there are a bazillion notifications waiting for you when you come back. If, however, you only respond to one or two, and leave the rest, then don’t log on for a couple more days, you have much fewer. Rinse and repeat a few more times, and you barely have any notifications left.

It makes sense–the fewer interactions you have on Facebook, the fewer things Facebook has to notify you about, thus limiting the stress of worrying about catching up on your 24 notifications and all the things you’re missing out on. (Yes, I stress about this. That’s why I’m de-Facebooking.)

Point is, if you make it no longer urgent, Facebook stops being urgent. A big part of my plan is to put this little phenomenon to work.

How does this translate into practice? Well, I’m not going to stop logging on for a few days (unless I feel like it). Instead:

  1. I am going to stop interacting where it isn’t necessary. Comments where I’m just trying to be cute or make everyone think I’m funny or otherwise draw attention to myself don’t need to happen (as much).
  2. I’m going to remove the link to facebook from my homepage. When I open up a new tab, it’s always there, just waiting for me to click on it if I get bored. If I don’t have it there, I have to physically type it out. That should give me enough time to reflect on what I’m actually doing.

The key here, of course, is being conscious of what I’m doing. Just writing all this out is, I think, enough to keep me conscious for a good while. It does sound ridiculously simple, but without writing it down and trying to consciously adhere to this mindset, I have a feeling I’d be a lot less successful.

Habit-Buster 2: Bye-Bye Boyfriend

The second pattern I’ve seen is that I frequently log on or stay logged in for longer than I otherwise would to communicate with my boyfriend in a way that lets me type on a full keyboard. Nobody else, it’s just open for him–and it’s a huge distraction. I just had a conversation with him (over facebook of course) about finding a different way to instant message him that doesn’t require facebook or facebook chat.

We’ve settled on using Skype more (I will set my status to ‘away’ when I only have it open to talk to him–if I want to talk to other people I will set it to ‘online’). Skype can be a bit clunky to run in the background, but it is multi-platform. If it doesn’t work, we’ll work something else out or settle for texting, calling, and hanging out in person. I’m sure we can manage not being connected 24/7.

Habit-Buster 3: Facebook is Not Your Mind’s Blackboard

The third pattern is that I log on to post random shit or deep thoughts that I could just blog about. So if there’s anything I desperately want to say, I’m going use my blog. I’ve been doing this more and more anyway, but I’m going to stop posting on my wall as much as I can–the blog will be the first port of call from now on. If it’s not worth blogging, it’s probably not worth saying. I don’t need to spill the entire contents of my head to my friends just because I have the technology to do it with.

If I find something I want to share, I will make sure it’s actually relevant to the people I know, not something political that will probably either fail to change their minds or serve as confirmation bias, thus achieving nothing.

While I plan to blog my thoughts rather than Facebook them, I haven’t actually planned on telling anyone I know that I write this blog until I know I want to. Yet posting things here despite the lack of readership still provides psychological release, so it’s probably more about getting it off my chest rather than people actually paying attention to me.

What to Do About Events

The one thing I don’t seem to be able to do is to get email notifications whenever somebody invites me to an event, which is annoying because I know that feature was there in 2011. Admittedly, that was like fifty iterations of Facebook ago. :/ If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll post an update.

You can export confirmed Facebook events to another calendar service, but since it doesn’t seem to notify you of upcoming events and events you’ve been invited to but haven’t responded to, I’m not going to bother using a half-solution. I’ll just make sure to visit my events page regularly, since Facebook doesn’t always notify you of invitations, either.

As for planning my own events–I did consider using another event creation site like Google calendar or something. If I did this, the link would be sent through Facebook to those who use it, and by text/email to everyone I know who doesn’t (I don’t forget any of my four non-Facebooking friends). However, I’m comfortable still using Facebook and simply notifying my non-Facebook friends by other means anyway. I’ve done this in the past and it has worked a treat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Wow, that was a long post. If you’re reading this and you have more to add, or you’ve done something similar and it worked, please comment below! As I said at the beginning of the post, I will update in a few weeks once I know how this has worked for me.

4 Reasons to Stay on Facebook (at least a little bit)

Time sink, privacy issues, advertising fodder, overabundance of screentime, exhaustion with political causes in your feed: there are many reasons to quit Facebook, but is it practical to do it completely?

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past few months, and I’m sure there are people reading this who have been doing the same thing. Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that while there are many reasons to leave, there are many reasons to stay on facebook, too.

  1. It’s a good way to stay in touch with friends you don’t see often, and to keep passive tabs on them–as long as that’s not all you do.
    Personally, my extrovert side loves catching up with people I haven’t seen in ages, but my introvert side cringes at the thought of trying to arrange twenty-five meetings within two weeks of notifying everybody I’ve deleted my Facebook account.
  2. Facebook is also a great way to contact people you vaguely know and haven’t seen in a while. For me, this is extremely handy, especially if I end up working in some kind of journalistic capacity and need to contact somebody I met that one time for a story. Also a great research tool so that when I talk to them about this story, I can actually engage in some kind of conversation with them on a topic I now know will interest them.
  3. It’s also a good way to address a group of friends en masse–tell them you’ll be out of town, or you’re still sick, or the old ‘I’ve lost my phone so please message me on fb instead’, or what have you. Not to mention it’s FANTASTIC for coordinating events. Email often just doesn’t cut it.
  4. Finally, if you’re just starting out in a working life in this day and age, it’s pretty hard not to have Facebook. It still comes in handy in those random little ways you couldn’t list, but would totally miss if they were gone.

Facebook deletion is possible but not always desirable, and I’d rather take the desirable option. Obviously the ultimate desirable option would be that we weren’t so dependent on just one company for our social networking, but that requires a complete change in… just… everything. But failing that, I want to keep my Facebook account.

However, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on there either. My next post will be about the ways I plan to reduce my time on Facebook by reducing my dependency on Facebook. Hopefully my attempts will help other people navigate their way through the quagmire that is digital decluttering.