For my New Year’s resolution, I said I was going to cut the number of cookbooks I own in half. I have not accomplished that, but I have done myself one better. I cut my ACTUAL book collection in half. Approximately.
For a few years now, I’ve had a troubled relationship with my book collection. I have a problem of acquiring books much faster than I can read them, and my interests only seem to get broader with every passing year — without me necessarily losing interest in all the passions of years gone by. I love most of all the “treasure hunt” aspects of used book sales, where I never know what I’ll find and can fill a bag with abandon, knowing it will rarely cost me more than $20. But what that has ultimately cost me is a lot of shelf space.
My family is amazingly supportive of my book hoarding tendencies. My husband has never made a snide comment about the books stacked double on bookcases, or even suggested a downsize when I complain about general clutter in our house. My sons consider the bookcases at their level to be an open invitation to use my books to construct roads and bridges for their toy cars.
But I knew something was amiss when I moved into this house at the beginning of 2019. All my books were packed up in the garage. I felt an amazing sense of freedom. I could browse the library again! I would no longer be paralyzed with indecision when I only had a dozen books at my disposal (the ones I had acquired since moving into the house, primarily.) When my husband started bringing boxes of books into the house because he wanted more space in the garage, I got a sinking feeling.
In the time since then, I have come to realize that while I used to feel a sense of pleasure and anticipation when I beheld my book collection, with the onset of motherhood and its ensuing constraints on both my time and my space, the presence of all those unread books began to feel suffocating. And perhaps like a bit of a rebuke.
More than that, I felt like it stifled me from following the whims of my current interests. I have a reading list on my library’s website that ALSO includes hundreds of intriguing titles I have curated for myself, but I hardly ever delve into it because I feel this obligation to read the books I own and start clearing them off the shelves (I rarely keep a book after I have read it.)
The final push came when I read, It’s All Too Much: Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. I have read other decluttering books, and each has helped me in its own way, but Walsh had a way of describing the emotional hold our stuff has on us that was what I needed to hear. As he says often in the book, I had gotten to a point where my book collection “owned” me rather than the other way around.
I have attempted to “Marie Kondo” my way through my book collection before by using a slightly altered “spark joy” rule. Rather than ask myself if a book sparks joy, I ask myself, “Do I want to drop everything and read this book right now?” If the answer is no, I part with it.
But this method had only ever led to the purging of a dozen or so books. I needed to go further. So this time, I compared my books against my local library’s collection. If my library had a copy, I got rid of my copy. I retagged the books in LibraryThing, the database I keep with my mom and sister of all the books we own. When I wanted to read them, I could check them out of my library. If the library lost or weeded its copy, I could get it through interlibrary loan, because its record in my book database would remind me of its existence. In the meantime, those books could take up space on the library’s shelves — not mine — while I waited to get around to them.
IT FELT SO GOOD. My new rule is that there shall be no double-stacking in my bookshelves from now on. I still have an OBSCENE amount of books. But because they fit into the space allotted to them in an appropriate manner, they can no longer make unreasonable demands of me, that I MUST read them before I can even think of checking out that shiny new book from the library. Now, there is an “equality” among my reading list that frees me up to read what I want to be reading in this moment. And what I want to be reading in THIS moment is …
Well, that’s a subject for another blog post.