I love books.
They were the first things I ever bought and owned with my own money. My parents read to us religiously as children, and always supported our desires to go to the bookstore or the library (Walpole, MA Barnes & Noble and Morrill Memorial Library, wassup?) Because I didn’t really get into clothes & fashion until my late teens/early 20s, the books I owned and treasured were my outward manifestations of self. They represented who I was—a reader. A reader of classics, YA, total trash, anything I could get my hands on.
I even brought a shitload of my books to college. I remember the flimsy shelves above my dorm’s Twin XL bowing under the weight of my volumes. Moving has always been a nightmare—most of the boxes are just tomes on tomes. My poor husband had to take about three trips with the car just to get each and every books and massive Tupperware container of David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman, Kurt Vonnegut.
At a certain point, though, I had to grow up. I’m an adult woman with a home—I’ve got to be organized! I took to downsizing my collection, which I thought would be completely heartbreaking, but was much easier than I thought! Here’s what I did!
1. Am I ever going to open this again?
Example: The Gravedigger’s Daughter, Joyce Carol Oates
I loved this book. So, so much. I devoured it in only a couple of days after picking it up at a thrift store. But it’s no longer on my shelf (I donated it to my local library). The reason being that I likely won’t reread it and the desire for someone else to enjoy it outweighs my desire to keep it. I used to be a serial re-reader (how more of my books didn’t come apart at the binding, I’ll never know), but now that I am an adult with the resources to interact with ALL OF LITERATURE via the internet, ain’t nobody got time for that! I keep books that I know I’ll make reference to or return to time and time again (The Bell Jar is my best example of this). If you love something, set it free!
2. Does this represent the person that I am, or the person that I was?
Example: Chuck Palahniuk‘s entire catalog
I’m 100% here for remembering where you came from, but it’s not always flattering or as idyllic as you remember. When I was in high school, I read every damn thing Chuck Palahniuk ever wrote. It was dirty, subversive, thrillingly perverse. As a young, inexperienced person, I couldn’t get enough! But I’m older now, and (I hope) a little smarter and more worldly. I appreciate the role these books played in my maturation, but I likely won’t read them again and I can see that some of the material within them is a bit…problematic. But you didn’t click this to hear a feminist lecture.
P.S. If someone gifts me Adjustment Day, I won’t not read it.
3. Have I even read this? Am I going to?
Example: The New New Rules, Bill Maher
My dad gave this book to me (I used to really enjoy Real Time before I became fatigued of certain…let’s just say, problems), and at the time, I really did plan to read it. However, other books took priority (lots of comedic memoirs by women), and I never got around to it. By the time I decided to donate a bunch of books, it was easy to part with, since it held no real meaning to me. Also, Bill Maher’s honestly kind of a dick. Conversely, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a book on my shelf that I haven’t read yet, but the prospect of finally diving into it thrills me!
4. Am I just keeping this to seem smart?
Example: Gustave Flaubert’s Complete Works
I used to work at Barnes & Noble. Yes, the very same one I went to constantly as a child (I’m predictable). The employee discount is sweet, so during my tenure I bought a lot of books. After reading Madame Bovary at 17 and absolutely loving it, I had a fancy that I might want to read all of Flaubert’s writing, so I bought an enormous tome of it. I lugged that massive thing from home to home to college to apartment and so on. I don’t think I ever opened it. Meanwhile, I had physical copies of just Madame Bovary in English and French! At a certain point, I had to let it go, and to the library it went. I still plan on reading more Flaubert (ten years later, smh), but I’ll have to buy individual copies, or go digital ($0.99 on Kindle!)
Spark Joy. Marie Kondo knows WTF she’s talking about. Pick up each and every book you own and see if it sparks any feeling. When I picked up some classics that I should have felt inspired by, I felt nothing. (Hint: I got rid of a lot of books by male authors this way!) Using this method, I donated 2 full milk crates of books to my local library.
Go digital! Over last summer, I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. I borrowed a physical copy from my campus library, but I wanted to have a copy for reference. Luckily, at least at the time, the Kindle edition was available fo’ free on Amazon (it’s now available for free via Kindle Unlimited). P.S. Claire Danes narrates the audiobook! This was a great way to keep something that I felt sentimentally attached to, without spending money or adding clutter to my home!
On that note, get on the audiobook train! This is another way to reduce clutter but still devour books! I recently “read” Everything is Awful by Matt Bellassai, I’m Fine by Whitney Cummings, and The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, all narrated by their respective authors, and it was such an awesome experience
And of course, last but certainly not least, give your library some love! Libraries are so important, and they need our support. They are a vital part of the community, and a great way to keep engaging with Literature without joining the cast of Hoarders. Look for opportunities to volunteer or donate (money or books). Help out with a Friends of the Library book sale! It’s so easy to just buy everything on Amazon (literally all of the links in this post are Amazon, sorry), so don’t forget that your local or campus library is a great resource.
What are some other tips to help me kick out clutter?
One thought on “How to Part with Books: A Sentimentalist’s Take”
Hi, great read first of all. I have the same problem. a.k.a I’m still holding on to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series that I haven’t read in years. But as for another solution, trade your books in. I don’t know if they have stores like this in your area, but there is a bookstore where I live that will let you trade/sell in the books that you own for their books. Like a Plato’s closet type deal but with books.