I have one regret in all my years of moving. I was twenty, rushing through a move out of a pretty nasty apartment in Brooklyn. It was a desperate rental, that I shared with an older yoga guru of some sort. My Dad and I filled his car with all but three boxes of books, half of the ones I owned. The car was full.
We both just wanted to get the HELL out.
I stared at those last three boxes, mentally recalling which shelves and which books I’d be leaving behind. My Arden MacBeth (easily replaceable), Othello Variorum (not hard to replace but quite an investment)….I didn’t need any of those right now. I left my roommate/landlord a note saying I’d be back for those boxes next week, knowing full well I wouldn’t dare return, and said, “Let’s go.”
That was over fifteen years ago and I still regret leaving that Variorum behind.
Now, having moved cross country, lived in cute but not spacious Los Angeles apartments, downsized to make room for kids and moved cross country once again. I’m a master at clearing my books before the end of the move drains all my will to even look at a box, never mind lift it.
(I should add here that I also have hoarding tendencies and a book buying compulsion, so you can imagine…)
Here are some guidelines to make decluttering your bookshelves painless and fun:
1. Forgive yourself for not reading. I always start with those books that I bought with every intention of reading but never made the time to do so. There’s a reason you haven’t ‘found’ the time; it just doesn’t mean as much to you now as while waiting in line to buy your textbooks or when Amazon popped up with those loved and dreaded “Suggested Books”. You aren’t going to read it and that is okay. Life happens. Other interests happen. Let it go. Let it go!
2. Start the “Month of Maybe” pile. If you really cannot let it go, and trust me, I understand that feeling, then start your Month of Maybe pile. Find some place in your home that you see every day (I have the top of my bureau that is directly in my eye-line every morning), and pile no more than ten books there. You keep them for a month – set an alarm! If you haven’t read it by then, or even just picked it up, then out it goes. It doesn’t mean as much to you as it did at purchase.
3. Give books to friends as gifts. This has always been the most successful method for me. I used to work with a lot of teenagers who couldn’t afford a book buying habit. One day I had an entire trunk of books to donate in my car when I went to see them, and offered up any they wanted. The looks on their faces diminished any fear I had of leaving behind my beloved theater theory books from college. All those quick read books I got to take my mind off being overdue with my first baby? These teens loved them! Whether they are given away in bulk or you just know that you have a friend who would love this one book, identify those gifts and go directly to drop off /mail them! Then donate any others immediately.*
4. If you really don’t want to part with it, donate to your local library. Then you can always check the book out of the library if you have the urge to hold it in your hands again.
With this simple plan, the books will find new homes, and hey – they still exist in the world, so you can always come back to them later. Best of all, you now have room for more.
*About donations: Libraries are great, of course, but are sometimes overwhelmed with donations, so don’t be miffed if they say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” You might also consider other non-profits: shelters, schools, hospitals. Some thrift stores are ok, but some don’t really know how to deal with books. Surreptitiously check out their book section, and see if they seem to care. In Los Angeles, Out of the Closet is a pretty good bet. We, of course, buy books and accept donations. Always worth a shot. – Editor