I would like to introduce my friend Jennifer to you, a real life friend in fact! We’ve known each other almost 20 years now. Jennifer is on her own minimalist journey and is a brave woman to tackle this decluttering topic!
It’s time to liberate your library!
Decluttering books can be especially difficult because oft times our identities are bound to what we read — or what we plan to read someday.
We think our books are testament to our academic successes, proof of our knowledge, a narrative of our personalities and interests. We come to believe that if we let go of the books, we’ll let go of our sense of self.
Or maybe, like me, you feel compelled to own certain books because you “should.” I always meant to read the classics, as all good English majors should, so I bought them and that was a far as it went.
Well, not exactly. Then the collection went on a bookshelf, then into a box, and then into a storage unit at $80 a month. It’s easy to be book smart and clutter dumb.
It took me a long time and a lot of tears to know this truth: You are not your books, and your books are merely paper and printed words.
So, repeat after me: Your college degree will not disappear if you the ditch the old textbooks. You won’t become less of a gear head without that stack of Detroit steel magazines. You will not be a better writer/mother/rock star because you own, but have never cracked, the complete works of Shakespeare/Dr. Spock/Keith Richard’s memoir.
Not even a good book can transport you out of a cluttered life. Only you can do that — and here’s how.
What to keep
Remember these three Rs: Reference, reread, and rare.
Books you frequently reference, reread, or are rare are the only books that merit space on your bookshelf.
Reference materials are sources of information (databases, abstracts, journals, maps, etc.) that are used for answering inquiries. Such items are not normally lent by libraries, can be industry specific or uncommon, and may be used often enough to justify a copy at fingertip reach. Keep reference material only if you actually use it and cannot easily source an electronic version.
Keep the books you reread — not “Oh, I’m going to reread it… someday…” — but have actually read through on multiple occasions and will read again. See also, Laura Ingalls Wilder series, J.R.R. Tolkien, et al.
Keep books that are rare or irreplaceable, but think carefully about what rare or irreplaceable means to you. It may mean a signed first edition of “Tom Sawyer.” Or it may mean a Little Golden Book your child wrote his name in 30 years ago. If it brings you joy and cannot be attained elsewhere, then consider keeping it. But remember, you don’t need to keep the entire Little Golden Book collection to recall your son was once a preschooler with a penchant for vandalizing literature.
What to liberate
Work these steps to declutter your library:
• Is this book in good condition?
If the book is dirty, moldy, water damaged, had damaged binding or pages, is missing covers or pages, or is warped, throw the book away or recycle it if you have facilities in your area. If you would not regift it in this condition, then do not donate it.
• Can I borrow it from the library or find it on the Internet?
The U.S. has a robust library system, and an even more robust Google system. If it’s available electronically or at the local biblioteca, then donate it.
• Is this book fulfilling its purpose?
Knowledge is power? Not if that knowledge remains trapped between two covers. You render your books valueless if you don’t allow them to be read. Set your literature free. Let it fulfill its destiny — to education, entertain, enlighten, empower — by making it available to other readers.
— Jennifer Ries is a journalist, editor, and occasional poet who has been working toward a life with less since 2007. She lives in south-central Montana with a cat, a coffee maker, and a slowly shrinking pile of books.
A note from Rachel again: Click here to read Part II. Leave a comment for Jennifer here and let her know how this has encouraged you!