Downsizing your massive book collection: A practical approach

by Todd Hebert on January 18, 2013

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A minimalistic lifestyle, however trendy that may be, has been something I have been committed to for a few years. Ridding myself of unnecessary possessions is a lot easier than I thought it would be. It’s actually quite exiting and addictive. Not a day goes by where I don’t scan my stuff and pick out at least one item to give away, donate or sell.

All of my possessions, with the exception of my books, fit into my good-sized bedroom. My books sit on a shelf, displayed in the living room. I love my books. I love them in a way that supersedes any of my other possessions. Simply looking at a bookshelf stocked with actual, physical books excites my senses and sends energy through my body. It’s this physical and intellectual affection that makes it so difficult to part with them, no matter how strong my commitment is to downsizing.

But I’m learning to let go of my attachment to them. A big library is a great thing to have, but for my lifestyle there is simply no room for all of them. It’s been a slow process freeing myself of these sacred objects, but I’ve made real progress. I’ve gone from about 400 books to just under 150. I feel liberated already, but I’m not done yet. My goal is to cut them down to only enough books that will fit into a liftable box.

As soon as I was able to tame my emotional attachment to the books, I was able to adopt a more practical approach to purging the books, broken down into phases.

1. Everyone’s book shelf contains several books that provide zero value to a collection. These might include books you read and hated, books you bought 5 years ago and “haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” that one Time Life book that was sent to you for free, etc. Free yourself of these space wasters.

2. Any general reference, dictionaries, and trivia books are unnecessary. That’s what Google is for. Don’t hang on to them “just in case.” Get rid of them.

3. Public libraries are like cathedrals for books. Your local library most likely has a copy of several of the books you own and love. Check their online catalog for matches. If they have it, you don’t need your copy.

4. Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain and can be acquired online for free. You don’t need to hang onto your Mark Twain or Charles Dickens books anymore.

5. If the collection is still too big for your downsizing goals after completing the first four phases, you’ve got some difficult decisions to make. Phase five requires an honesty and sacrifice that only comes from a deep commitment to minimalism. It requires going through each book and asking some questions. Do I absolutely need this book? Will I honestly read this book in the next 3-6 months? Do I see myself still owning this book ten years from now? If you answer anything other than a resounding YES!, you need to part ways with the book.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop buying new books. That’s something I personally could never do. It just means letting go of the books when you are finished with them, and breaking that emotional attachment.

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