Updated: Sep 18, 2020
This is a question that is asked of me again and again. To be honest, even seasoned declutterers find it tough to part with those little bundles of paper bound together in such a neat package. So what is it about books that evokes such attachment? And how can we move past it? Here's my take:
When you finish reading a book, quite often it feels as though you have been on a journey. Maybe that book took you on an adventure in distant lands or times, and quite probably it took you inside the minds and thoughts of characters you'd never met before. Akin to a returning from a holiday, finishing a book often feels like completing a unique experience. So holding onto the physical book is like holding onto a trinket or souvenir from the holiday. It is the object that connects us with that experience and story. It is the physical proof that the journey existed at all.
Similarly with reference books from past studies. We often succumb to this subconscious and frankly irrational fear that if we let go of the books used to attain that degree or section of study, it is as if the work never occurred at all. We clench the proof of our hard work tightly, in case letting go of the books somehow diminishes the magnitude of effort required to achieve the qualification.
Some books have the possibility to evoke deep nostalgic feelings. Not just about the book itself but about the times we were living in when we first read or came to own the book. This often occurs with books that we have held onto from our childhood or teen years and brings back more sentimental feelings than just what is contained in the pages. We reminisce on the stage of our life, our friends and lifestyle, even the struggles we experienced and why we valued the escapism of the book. These little bound scripts can act as a portal to a different and often simpler time. So who wouldn't want to hold onto a stash of miniature time-machines?
These might give us reasons for holding onto books we've read, but what of the books not yet read? The books that sit idle on our shelves waiting for the right time to be accessed?Joseph Brosky states "There are crimes worse than burning books. One of them is not reading them." Often these unread books are just as hard to let go of because of the hope they offer. There is the promise of adventures yet to be taken, the opportunity for a new treasure to be found or journeys to be had. There is also a sense of waste if we let go of books that have never had the chance to be enjoyed. Wasted money, wasted effort and wasted time holding onto them. The truth is though, if you have held them all this time and not yet read them - what does that truly say about their importance? Marie Kondo put it this way: “If you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.”
My antidote to this conundrum of book hoarding is to create your hall of fame. A 'best of the best' offering. On the Hollywood walk of fame, they only put stars with names of the very best - the best actors, singers and comedians. If they gave everyone, that had ever been in a movie, on TV or released a song, a star then it would lose its credibility. There would be nothing special about it. It is only revered and distinguished because it holds the select few rather than the average many. So too should your bookshelf. Keep the titles that are the very best. Your hall of fame. Keep books that signify who you are, what you love, what authors have moved you and stories that changed your life- not every book you've ever finished. When you look though your books in an attempt to declutter, ask yourself if this would make your 'hall of fame?'
And when it comes to books that evoke that sentimental or nostalgic reaction- try keeping a sample. Rather than keeping the whole series or many by the same author- just keep your one favourite. Often keeping a sample of the selection, rather than the whole selection can still give you those same lovely feelings and transport you just as quickly as a box or shelf-full can.
And, remember when letting go of a book, read or unread, you are giving the magical gift of that journey to another potential reader. Rather than sitting idly in a dusty box in your attic that book has the opportunity to transform someone else's life or take them on a much needed adventure, and that is a fabulous gift for you to share.
P.S.- Try joining your local library or book-swap group to help avoid the temptation to acquire or hold onto so many books in future.
P.P.S. If you would like to hear a more in-depth chat on decluttering books please listen to the Be Uncluttered Podcast Episode "Book lovers talking books."
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