What happened when I threw my books out

(If you haven’t already, read this post first.)

Welp, the book purging was a massive success. It took me most of a day, but I did it (and cleared out the rest of my room in about two days).

I decided I needed to ease myself into the Marie Kondo method of only keeping things you love, so I just started by eliminating what I positively knew I didn’t love. I took the books off the shelves one by one. Any book I felt the least bit obligated to keep and didn’t think I was ever going to read/read again, I put aside. The pile of books to donate rapidly increased. I mean, RAPIDLY.

THIS rapidly.

THIS rapidly.

 

The above photo also shows the books from my boxes of books for future children in the family that I decided not to keep. You’ll notice a fair amount of Saddle Club and Enid Blyton books. I highly doubt they’ll be out of print in the next ten to fifteen years, and this also helped me to let go. I did keep a few of each, the ones I thought I might read again if I wanted to go down memory lane. But most are now gone.

All in all, 110 books previously in my possession were taken to the Salvos or donated to my sisters (the picture shows about 104 of them, but I added a few in the following days). I purged so many I decided I didn’t need to do anything more radical. Maybe next time.

Family ties

My sisters wanted to comb through them, and I said yes—but with the provision that they could only have 10 books each.

They thought it was a little arbitrary.

I told them it was because otherwise they’d never leave the house and I wanted to get rid of most of them, and surely they had a heap of books they were meaning to read anyway, and they’d have to be content with that.

But it was also quite handy when they showed what they’d gotten from me to our mother, and she said with a knowing laugh, “oh, so most of your books aren’t actually leaving for good, you’re just redistributing them.” I may have been guilty of this in the past, but this time I was able to come back with, “Oh no, I’m still sending 80-something to the op shop. They had a ten-book limit.”

She was pretty proud of me after that. My ability to hoard books and other paraphernalia has been built up to an overly mythical status among my family, long after I stopped. I’m pretty sure they think I was hiding a rhinoceros in there somewhere.

How I feel now

And excitingly, my collection of books is down to a hundred and sixty two, all of which I love, and can now fit on four long-ish shelves, including my old kids’ books! I’m very excited. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of them before I left, so I can’t share one here.

162 is a lot for some people, and not quite enough for others. For me, I think it’s just right, and I look forward to adding to and taking away from the collection in the years to come. I haven’t had such a low amount of books in at least a decade.

It is a seriously great feeling. Not only do I have less anxiety about trying to move all my things inter-city someday soon, but it truly is less space being taken up in the back of my mind. One less thing to do, and a hundred and eight fewer books taking up space in my family’s house. Not exactly fair to them, and I wish I’d been more considerate, sooner.

Being recognised

Hilariously, when I took my books to the Salvation Army, the lady working there recognised me purely because of the massive load of books I’d brought in a few years ago. I told her this time wasn’t going to be any different—perhaps even bigger. It took me three or four trips to bring them all in to the building, and, polite and hardy New Zealander that she was, she kept thanking me for the books and telling me to have a nice day, and I had to keep telling her I hadn’t finished bringing them in yet. In the hands of the right person, it’d make a really good farce.

Once I’d dumped them all at her feet, she said, “Having a cleanout?”

I nodded, and said proudly, “Yep, I’ve only got a hundred and sixty two now!” I kind of wanted to see her reaction to me calling that number ‘only’.

She goes, completely seriously, “Well, you’ll have to start stocking up again!”

After all the effort I’d made, and the amount of time it had taken to work myself up to a serious cull… well, the only appropriate response I could find to that was something like, “Not on your life!”

I hadn’t even read a quarter of them. Twenty-five of the 106 were unperused. Since I buy mostly from second-hand shops, I wasn’t too out of pocket on them, but it was still pretty serious to stand there and realise I was probably looking at $200-350 worth of books, many of which I’d never gotten my money’s worth out of. It’s definitely a contraceptive against buying too many more books when I know my track record is not so great.

In contrast, I’d read all but sixteen of the books I kept, which is about ten percent.

People who just don’t get it

My grandmother called a day after I’d dropped all my books off at the op shop (US translation: thrift/charity store). She said, “How are you?”

“Well, pretty good! I just donated a hundred-ish books!”

She sounded faintly disapproving and judgemental when she said, “Well, I like my bookshelves, that’s what makes me feel good.”

My immediate reaction was to think, “So these people DO exist! I wasn’t just imagining it!”

I’m not always good on the spot in the face of judgement, but I had a fit of inspiration and came out with exactly the right thing to say. “Well, I thought that was what made me feel good for quite a while too, but then I realised that it wasn’t. And now I feel great!”

I wonder if she felt a little threatened by my actions with my collection. I wonder if other people would react the same way. I think it’s likely, but I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the same as when you and your friend are both equally chubby, and then one of you starts to lose weight. Maybe it’s a change in values that the other person has always thought were iron-clad. Maybe they feel destabilised.

Either way, if you do this and tell people about it, many people, like my grandmother and, to an extent, my sisters, probably won’t understand. Other people, like my mother, will be extremely proud of you. (These people may also be under the impression that you had a problem.)

But I can promise that if you do do it, you will feel good.

Final thoughts

In the interests of full disclosure, I did have one moment of panic when I thought I’d given away my Anne of Green Gables book set. Turned out I hadn’t, so crisis averted. To be honest, if I had, I probably would have gotten over it. It’s a public domain series online for free, after all.

But for the most part, I don’t miss any of these books that I gave away. I can barely remember any of them, except that some were Saddle Club books and some were by Enid Blyton. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Wally, by Judy Somebody. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta. A couple of classics. About ten Christian books. And… I seriously don’t know what else. That leaves about fifty books that I gave away, unaccounted for and unremembered. Incredible.

I think the only way to end this post appropriately is to tell you that that…

…was all she read.

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.