Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
I used to have shelves full of books lining my living room, stowed away under the bed, in the closet, and even some stored away at my parents’ home. I felt safe with them, knowing that I had them close at hand for “some day” when I’d need them.
And then I had to move them. Like five times. The weight was no longer something I could justify.
Why do we need so many books?
There’s a quote floating around the internet about how you shouldn’t sleep with someone who doesn’t own books. It seems a little harsh and will certainly scare you into lining your walls with books you’ll never read.
In fact, just think about why personal libraries were so great to begin with: they were a sign that you could afford books. Nowadays, with public libraries, free audiobooks, eBooks, and online subscription services, there’s no real need to hoard them anymore.
They're just not as rare and expensive as they were a century ago. Large personal libraries are now just for the aesthetic and the (sometimes false) notion that you must be well-read if you own books.
How to part with your books
I detailed my own process on my other blog a couple of years ago, but there are a few key strategies I employed when it comes to books. When you decide what needs to go, donate anything you can!
- If you haven’t read it, get rid of it. Extreme, but if you haven’t read it and you have owned it for more than a year, it needs to go. There’s nothing like seeing an interesting book on your shelf and knowing that you still haven’t read it. Don't hold on to something for someday.
- Consider reference books carefully. Cookbooks, dictionaries, textbooks, and other reference books are tempting to keep around “just in case,” but the internet exists now. Unless it is an heirloom book or you use it often, then it’s just taking up space.
- Keep useful and beautiful books that bring you joy. This is my mantra - does it bring me joy? If a wall full of books is your happy place, then keep them. If the shelves stress you out more than they satisfy you, then ditch them.
Keeping books at bay
I am obsessed with the public library these days. I can hop in, grab a few books, and read them (or not!) at my leisure. This keeps my book collection minimal and also prevents me from spending money on books I’m not sure about.
Other alternatives to owning a huge library:
- Audible or Kindle
- Search YouTube for audiobooks - it takes some hunting, but you can find a lot of good ones there.
- Librivox is a great public domain project that makes literature a little more accessible, and all for free. You can also volunteer to record available books!
- Public libraries usually have an online portal where you can download audiobooks and PDFs.
- Garage sales and thrift stores may not have exactly the book you want, but take a chance on a fifty cent book - you can donate it when you’re done with it.
Right now, my few remaining books are stored in a box under the bed. We repurposed our bookshelf as a kitchen spice rack and, to be honest, it gathers less dust that way.
Someday I’ll display our books again, but not until I can find a way to do it that is functional and makes me happy.
Is book ownership a must for you?