A bibliophile is one who collects or has a great love for books. I am, without a doubt, a devoted bibliophile. Many of my friends and clients are as well.
For the past four years, I’ve been trying to curb my bibliophile tendencies. But because these tendencies run deep, it’s been a practice of letting go.
As a military brat, my life was uprooted about every three years until high school. My mom, bless her, would get us settled into a new house on a new military base in a new town. As soon as we’d unpacked the boxes, she’d strap my brother and I into the car and take us to the nearest library.
The books in libraries were like old friends in a new and strange environment. They were familiar, steady, and dependable. I could get lost in a library for several hours, searching through the stacks with no purpose in mind other than the discovery of a new book. I always walked out with an armful – at least six, but usually ten (or more).
My book obsession has lasted into adulthood. The advent of Amazon Prime’s free-shipping and “One-click” ordering meant my house was always filled with books. When my dad retired, he gifted me his library of management books and magazines. I was thrilled! My home office was a wonderfully comfortable place to settle in. I was surrounded by book friends.
Life inevitably changes, though, and I found myself needing to downsize my book collection. In 2013, I sold my 1,200 sq. ft. home and moved into a smaller home with my husband. When we moved to the mountains last year, we forced ourselves to downsize again. And this year we went extreme by moving into 280 sq. ft. The writing was on the wall – most of our beloved books had to go.
In organizing forums, many people lament the size of their book collections while feeling it impossible to get rid of perfectly good books (especially those they love and/or use for reference).
During our downsizing, there were a few things that helped take the sting away:
- Priorities – what helped me most was picking a number. My number was 20. Pick the 20 books I most loved and couldn’t imagine living without. I would sit in front of my bookcases and choose the 20 books that I would rescue if my home were on fire. Books I used weekly for reference. Books I’d read at least five times. Those were the books that had a special place in my heart.
- Time – my husband and I had at least six months to review our collections. There were no hasty decisions made to be regretted later.
- Placement – As I was choosing my 20, they went on the top two shelves of my bookcases. The ones I thought I wasn’t ready to get rid of went to the bottom two shelves. Every month, I reviewed the placement and rearranged as necessary.
- Re-selling/re-purposing – Many of my books were eligible for re-sale to Amazon.com or local booksellers. It made me happy to get store credit and recoup a few dollars. The rest, I donated to a local co-working office’s library, gave to friends, or hauled to Goodwill.
- Electronic replacement – I’m not a huge fan of reading on a tablet, but did find that some reference books were perfectly usable in electronic format. I could get rid of the paper book and use my Amazon.com credits to replace them as eBooks. A very workable solution indeed.
The Hanger Trick
Although I didn’t do this with my books, I do have one additional idea for helping anyone reduce their collection. It comes from a professional organizing tip on clothing.
Many folks don’t actually have a true idea of what they actually wear. They see their closet full of clothing and believe they wear most of it. A good professional organizer tries to reduce the dependence on guessing and instead wants to show “proof.” Thus, the “Hanger Trick” was born!
With the “Hanger Trick” the idea is to take every single hanger in the closet and hang it backward. Normally, you clip hangers in forward. With every hanger backward, you have the opportunity to re-hang things correctly only after you wear them. When a season is over (or a year, depending on how many clothes you have), you can quickly see which hangers are still “backward.” This makes it easier to see what clothing you hadn’t worn. Those pieces become candidates for the re-selling or giving away.
I believe you can use the hanger trick for books as well. The idea is to turn each book so the spines are horizontal (facing upward instead of outward). As you use or re-read a book, it goes back properly (spine facing outward). At the end of specific time period (six months, a year), you’ll quickly see which books you read and which ones you didn’t. Those books whose spines are still horizontal become candidates for re-selling or donating.
A Lifetime of Bibliophilia
No doubt: getting rid of beloved books can feel overwhelming or emotional. Give yourself time to move through the process. Often, our emotions are based on the past – experiences, memories, events, and stories. Through purging slowly and thoughtfully, you can assure yourself that you’ve given the books you treasure the respect they deserve. This process can reduce feelings of regret later on, too.
As bibliophiles, our books are deeply important to us. The key is to keep only the treasured books, the one we use and love regularly, while letting the rest go.
At the end of this process, you will feel the thrill of seeing only books you love gracing your bookshelves. And you will most likely breathe more deeply for the open space you’ve created.