Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sacred Clutter: Books

I find it intriguing that even many minimalists and declutter enthusiasts have a holy grail of items that they mutually consider untouchable: books. Even Dave Bruno, creator of the 100 Things Challenge, excludes books from his list of 100 things.

Why are books so untouchable? I mean, I get it. I love books and reading. I haven't made the leap to a Kindle or Nook or any other e-reader because I prefer to curl up with a paperback at the end of a long day of staring at a screen. I read so much in fact, that I'd hate to have to pay the bill to buy all of the books I go through in a year, let alone a lifetime. That's why the vast majority of my books come from our wonderful public library. I'm lucky enough to live in a large city with one of the top-rated public library systems in the world, so finding the books I want to read for free is easy.

Even I, avid library user that I am, own books. Sentimental books from my childhood and beyond, a few classics (Jane Austen, anyone?), and books purchased to take on vacation or when I couldn't wait for my turn to read a popular title from the library.

In fact I was surprised to discover that I owned 212 books when I counted them earlier this year. Since then I've purged quite a few especially after the boy agreed we could lose the extra bookcase in the spare room is I shared some space in the large bookcase, which I had previously considered untouchable. So I did.

I don't consider books untouchable, in fact, the library is like our collective free storage space for all the books we're only going to read once, or once every few years. Why take up space in my home to house those copies?

After purging the books I didn't love, wasn't going to read again, or could easily borrow from the library, I find I'm left with 120 books. Once I finish reading my large collection of unread books even more will go.

Do you want to purge some of your book collection? Tips that helped me:
  • Be realistic about your book collection. If you're not going to re-read or refer to a title let it go.

  • On the fence about purging a book? Check and see if your local library has it, that way you can borrow it whenever you get the urge! Checking this is simple; most library catalogs are searchable online.

  • Stop the inflow of books, borrow books from the library instead of buying them. You'll save money and avoid future clutter.


  1. I used to be quite the book hoarder. But my philosophy changed when I started an on-line bookstore. It all started when a friend told me about's bookseller program, and soon I was going to rummage sales etc. and filling my basement with books. It's amazing... if you go to a rummage sale about 10 minutes before it closes, they will practically pay you to take away all of the books.

    Anyhow, it totally changed my view on the topic. I realized that the vast majority of books are so easily acquired either at the library or by purchasing them used online, that it just wasn't worth it to hold onto them. I still have way more than I need. The ones that were gifts from the authors I'll probably keep, but I fear there are lots of things in the "maybe I'll read it someday" category.

  2. Hmm...I'm still not ready to let go of my books. As a kid, I used to spend a lot of time just sitting in front of my bookshelves, flipping through them for my favorite bits. They're kind of like my grown-up security blanket; it just doesn't feel like a home unless there are plenty of books in it. I'm sure it's mostly conditioning, but...of all my clutter-prone habits, books are probably going to be the last to go.

    I'm happy to say that I have reached a net zero with my books, though -- incoming equals outgoing, so I haven't outgrown my current shelf space in the two years I've been living here.

  3. I recently saw a post on Unclutter that sums it up for me -- decluttering is not about getting rid of everything -- it's about getting rid of things that don't fit. The post talked about how if you love your books, there's no need to get rid of them just for the sake of decluttering. That's where I am at. I have six sizable bookcases in my small NYC apartment and I'd be thrilled with "floor to ceiling in every room" bookcases, frankly -- I love my books! So, they're not clutter, they're part of what I like about life. And with the rest of my apartment getting de-cluttered, they're even more visually pleasing. :)

  4. Anon - I totally agree with you and Unclutter. You shouldn't get rid of something you love. However, just because many people "love books" doesn't mean they necessarily love or use every book in their collection. If you do, great. My point is simply that we should carefully examine all our stuff, even books, to ensure everything is still loved and/or useful, or fits whatever criteria is important to you. When I did this, I found some books I could let go.

  5. I donated a couple boxes of books to my local library several years ago. They had very few books of a favorite author, so I donated some of my copies that weren't faves, but that I might want to check out once in awhile later. Imagine my feelings when every book I could remember giving showed up at the next book sale. Ok, maybe it was a mistake. Honestly, I couldn't have used a normal voice to ask, not that day. But now I donate to the library in the same spirit I donate toGoodwill. And I keep a large, personal home library. I just don't want to rely on others when I want certain books.
    - lora

    1. Good reminder, Lora. I bet that was very upsetting to see your books at the sale. Most libraries do publish a caveat on their website and brochures that not every book donated will be added to their permanent collection. I think our library might have even told me that when I donated some. It is understandable that they have space limitations too and can't keep every book donated, but it should be explained to people. I think you're wise to adopt your present mindset about donating books to the library, and knowing that something might not get added to the collection has made me hold on to some books I would otherwise donate. I hang on to books with that have sentimental value, or that I know I'll reread many times. But a lot of them don't make that cut. Of course, I also don't buy most of the books I read in the first place, which helps.


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