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.