If you are an avid book lover like I am, my tale will probably sound familiar. Perhaps you are a book collector. Or perhaps you simply don’t know how or can’t make yourself part with some of your books. If so, my story might inspire you to de-own some of your books.
For as long as I can remember, I have been a book lover. I don’t remember owning tons of books as a child, and I certainly didn’t maintain a book collection during college. I moved several times while I was in college, so I wasn’t interested in collecting a ton of books.
After college, I moved multiple times with my then-boyfriend, who was an enormous book collector. Packing up those thousands of books when getting ready to move cured me of any desire to become a collector. I maintained this attitude when my husband Greg and I bought our first home. The house was itty-bitty, and there simply wasn’t any room to inspire book collecting.
But our second home was a completely different story. While still a modestly-sized house at 1400 square feet, it came with built-in bookcases in both of the upstairs rooms. Four bookcases, to be precise. And what do bookcases cry out for? Books.
I was happy to oblige, and during the thirteen years we lived in that house, I filled those bookcases and then added extra ones. I was finally making decent money, so I could afford to indulge in my book splurges.
About midway through our time in our second house, our daughter Rowan was born. Her arrival meant I had to start purging some of MY books to make room for HER books. I was happy to do it, and we were able to maintain a reasonable book volume.
When we prepared for the move into our current house, I was overrun with “stuff” in the old house. Between books, household items, having a child, amassing child things and homeschooling stuff, and just convincing myself that I was simply too busy to sort through it all, we were overflowing with possessions. It was then that the rubber of my many-year love for reading about simplicity and minimalism really hit the road.
Planning and building our house took a very, very long time. I knew it made zero sense to pack everything up and move it, only to pare it down later. So, the big purge began.
The big purge
I’ll spare you the details about the many things I purged during the years it took to finally get in this house and stick to what happened with my books. Initially, I was determined not to purge any books. My book collection was the result of carefully curated selections reflecting my various interests and hobbies for years, and they were my treasures.
Instead, I decided I’d start packing them. Most of my books were books I was keeping “for reference” and weren’t being used currently. I packed up books that I figured I wouldn’t need for the next six months. (In fact, from the point I started packing books until we moved them, it was more like fifteen months, but I digress.) Packing these books felt like an accomplishment, like I was getting ahead of the dreaded behemoth of packing up all our belongings.
I went a couple rounds packing books like this. Having cleared out some closet space by purging other items, I stacked boxes of books in the closet, ready for that fateful day six months later (Ha! So naïve!) that I would joyfully reopen them. I also enjoyed the additional benefit of having fresher, more open bookcases with far fewer books on them.
Will we EVER move?
The moving project stalled. Before I knew it, over a year had gone by, and I hadn’t given a thought to those boxed books in the closet. I had also gotten much further along in purging all our old, worn-out stuff in preparation for moving into our shiny new house.
And then I began thinking about the task of moving all those boxes of books. Where would I put them? As we ran out of time and money on our building project, the built-in bookshelves I had originally planned were scrapped. Where would I put all those books? Would I move them to the new house and store them in the garage until the day we finally built bookcases? I stewed about this problem for weeks.
As we got close (finally) to the reality of moving our stuff, I woke up feeling inspired. I started pulling out the boxes one by one and sorting those books. I was relentless. Because I was fueled by the truth that I hadn’t needed any of those books for years, I realized if I ever needed a particular book again, I could repurchase it.
The final tally
The final tally? I purged 75% of our books. It was huge. I lost count of the number of trips I made to the used book store, but it was at least ten. I would be exaggerating to claim I made out like a bandit from a monetary standpoint purging these books, considering all the money I’d spent over the years collecting them. Nevertheless, that damage was done, so I was proud of the meager return on investment.
The used bookstore took quite a few, but not all of our books. What they did take resulted in nearly $2,000 in used book credit in their store. (It might have been more. I wish I had actually tallied it up.) I joked with my husband that I could shop for books there “for free” for the rest of my life.
When collecting some of the credit slips from the store, I requested a few hundred dollars’ worth in increments of $25. I gave these to friends and family at Christmas that year. The rest of the credit slips continue to be used to this day, and we have several hundred dollars remaining.
What the used bookstore wouldn’t take, I donated, which resulted in hundreds of dollars of value I wrote off as a deduction on our taxes.
Our books now
Do I regret my book purging? Not a bit. I haven’t missed those books. In the years since our move, my book population has grown again. Rowan and I regularly prune our collection of books we’ve read or have lost interest in reading. We take books to the used bookstore and gather more credit. Invariably, we choose a few books at the store, too, and it is a thrill to “shop for free.”
Since we homeschool, we use our public library extensively. But I love books. I love to buy books. It is my one big splurge, and I’m not sorry about it. As my shelf space diminishes, however, I am reminded of the past and inspired to be careful about my buying habits and more diligent about culling my collection.
Are you a book collector? Of course, you can be a book lover even if you don’t collect books. But most book lovers I know tend to collect them. What have you done to keep your books under control?