Where growing, making & good living come together

Realising why we have so many books – and what we can do about it

Posted by on Monday 20 September 2010 in decluttering | 2 comments

(Apologies if this is stating the bleedin’ obvious but it was a revelation to us! ;) )

Our rather nomadic friend Dan popped by our house on Saturday to meet the dog and the chickens and say a passing hello to us before he moves on again. Between various post-grad studies, jobs and that crazy little thing called love, Dan’s moved around a lot over the last few years and he revealed that ahead of/during his moves, he’s pared down his book collection considerably, from about 500 tomes to just 100. Since we’re book-y people (we met on an English Literature course) to get rid of that many is quite an achievement.

Even with my new anti-hoarding policy (of giving away a book for every two new-to-me books I buy), I still find it difficult to give books away – but it was only while talking to Dan that I realised why. Most of the time, I don’t have any particular attachment to the physical books but I have great affection for the stories contained within. And a considerable amount of the time, I have no desire to read the story again any time soon, I just don’t want to forget it exists — seeing the spine on my shelves reminds me of the story and often reminds me of the time of my life when I read it etc. The example we both used were Ben Elton’s early novels – the environmental ones, Gridlock, Stark and This Other Eden. Not exactly literary masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, not books I’ve read in the last decade and not books I see myself reading in the next five years or more – but I remember finding them interesting as a teenager and still think about some of the ideas regularly to this day. It was the first time I’d really consciously realised the current purpose of a considerable part of my book collection (and to a lesser extent, our media collection too).

Dan felt a similar way but reached the conclusion faster than we did – find another way to have that reference. He uses LibraryThing – a site which lets you easily catalogue your books online. On there, he has a record of the books he’s read, plus pictures of the covers (which is very useful if you’re a visual person) – and then he can give away the actual hard copy of the book for someone else to enjoy, safe in the knowledge that he won’t forget about it. This technique is particularly useful for popular books, because if he did want to read them again, he’d be able to pick them up at a charity shop/online for just a few pennies. And in the meantime, he’s not having to pay for storage or shift them around with him on his many moves.

(Of course you don’t need a fancy website to do this. My mum, who reads a lot but doesn’t buy books, has always kept a track of the books she’s borrowed from the library on pieces of card (specifically, the pieces of card from inside tights) — the titles of a year’s reading usually fills one of the cards, front and back, and the card can be used as a bookmark in the meanwhile.)

I’m mentioning this here because it was a bit of a revelation to us and it was interesting to poke down and realise our real motivation for keeping things. As we discussed the other week, there are physical, mental and financial costs to hoarding so we’d like to scale down and while we won’t be getting rid of our beloved read-every-six-months ones, I can see us having a bit of clear out now. We’ll benefit by having less stuff (our shelves felt cluttered by a lot of those undead books and we won’t need to expand our shelves/storage options again), a charity shop will benefit from selling them on and someone else will benefit from getting good, cheap books to read. Win all around.

Thanks for the idea, Dan!


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. ZenRuth

    Thanks for some great thoughts. I’m even keeping books I don’t like, but my
    mother liked, as remembrance of her. It’s not really about the
    books, but about the stories I tell myself. Maybe I should
    tell more stories about the present, and let go of the past

  2. Dan

    it also has meant that I go to the local Library a lot more. as I no longer have this mental urge to ‘own’ and keep books, I can support my local library as well

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *