Books are rarely thought of as clutter. I did my best to protect my books when I began my journey to live with less. I saved books from childhood, boxed them up and moved them to wherever I lived even though I only opened most of them once (or never). Why was I holding on to books that I had already read or that I might read someday?
As I saw how my life improved by living with less in other areas of my life, I thought about why I was holding onto books and what would happen if I let them go. At first, I donated a few books at a time and then I read this (in a book) …
You have a garden. If you ever get sad that you don’t have a garden of your own, remember that you have hundreds of beautiful gardens all over the city and all over the world. Try to erase the language of “want” from your head. You have everything you need. – Jaime Morrison Curtis
“You have a garden” translated immediately in my brain to “you have a local library” and plenty of other sources to acquire books. Why did I need my own library? Like a garden, books give us an opportunity to grow, dream and share.
How to Let Go of Your Books
- Box them up. Put all of your books in boxes and put the boxes out of sight for 30 days. Did you miss them? If not, donate them. If you did miss them, what did you miss? Was it a certain book, or the idea of owning lots of books?
- Make a list. Start a list of books you would like to read on Evernote. An electronic reading wish list will help you when it’s time to decide what to read next. It also eliminates the urge to buy a new book as soon as it’s available. I have a list of books I want to read, and a list of favorite books. If I want to re-read something, I check with my local library to see if it’s available.
- Give it away. Once you finish a book, instead of placing it on the shelf to collect dust, give it away. Give it to a friend, retirement community or local library. Share the stories and ideas that you enjoy.
- Quit. It is not your responsibility to finish every book you start. If you get to chapter 3 of a book and are bored and uninspired, give it away and move on to a book that you enjoy. Life is too short to read bad books.
- Buy Books. You can get books at your local library and from friends, but I also recommend buying books to support writers and artists. I don’t buy much anymore, but I do still purchase books.
I love reading and am almost always in the middle of a book. I used to read two or three at a time, but now find that one is enough. I used to be comforted by the fact that when my book was finished, I had endless choices on what to read next, but when I started to examine my behavior, I realized that I rarely went to my book shelves for my next read. Instead, I bought a new book (or 2 or 3).
Now I work from my workflowy list and a small collection of books that I haven’t read yet. Letting go of my books helped me to realize that I don’t really know what I want to read next. It’s allowed me to be more open to reading exactly what I need in each moment. I can also really appreciate books for what they really are; ideas, thoughts, words, inspiration, entertainment instead of just ink on paper.
Special Book Circumstances
- cookbooks. If you love to cook and have been collecting cookbooks for a long time, this will be challenging. Review your cookbooks and remove any book that you haven’t cooked from in the last year. Box them up for 30 days. If you don’t remember what you put in the box, donated it unopened. If you are holding onto a cookbook because it has one recipe that you love, copy the recipe and let the book go.
- ebooks. Digital books for your computer, Kindle or iPad don’t take up any space in your home, but those ideas, thoughts, words, inspiration, and entertainment take up space in your brain. Buy them when you are ready to read them and don’t feel compelled to save them. It’s unlikely that you will read them again.
- sentimental books. If someone that you love gave you a book, or you have a collection of books by a favorite author you may feel guilty getting rid of it. Less is not nothing, so hold onto a book if you want, especially if it makes you happy. If it’s stuffed in a box somewhere, take it out and photograph it or scan the inscribed page if there is one. Let go of the book and hold onto the memory.
I keep a list of what I want to read and that helps when someone recommends a book. I don’t forget the title and don’t feel pressured to read it right way. I also have a list of books that I’ve read since October of last year. My reading list is a good way to share what I’ve read and a reminder to check on authors that I really liked and see if they’ve written other books I might enjoy.
I love books and know that this might be hard for you. Sometimes we are emotionally tied to books. Take it slowly. If you want to see what it’s like to live without your books, get them out of sight for a bit. See how you feel and how that changes your reading habits. If you are happy with the changes, take the next step and let go.