How do I stop seeing my books as trophies?
May 9, 2018 2:22 PM   Subscribe

I have - way too many books. I'm pretty sure I need to have fewer. But I don't know how to get over the mindset that having too many books is actually a point of pride.

At this point we have multiple (more than 10) full bookcases throughout our apartment. None are overflowing, but when they do start to get that way we -- buy another bookshelf. I try to go through regularly and weed out books I won't reread to give away. But the reality is, I reread a lot of books (as a way to keep from reflexively buying so many new ones, I force myself to reread for a certain number of weeks / months to slow the pace) - so "anything you won't reread" is a very small subset. And that's where I need help.

I have books from college or other times of life that I'm proud of having read, that I feel like maaaaaybe I might read again, but based on past experience so far I'm guessing I never will. But I like that I have them. I like showing off that I've read them (not that anyone asks, and knowing full well that tons of people don't actually read the books on their shelves so having them means literally nothing). And what's worse, most of those books are classics and not only public domain, but easily obtainable for free on my phone -- where I currently also have many of them already, for easy access on the subway). So there's literally no good reason to keep them, other than I like knowing that if I wanted to reread all of Ibsen's plays, I have them (and I hate myself for typing that - I've already erased a bunch of other authors and titles earlier while writing this question because it's embarrassing to me how proud/conceited I am about my reading). But that's the thing: I do see these books as trophies. I am proud of them. Per Marie Kondo, they do spark joy. But it's rapidly reaching the point where my decor stops looking like a book-lovers paradise and starts looking like we're squatting inside a library, and that doesn't make me feel joyful.

I think I'm relatively good at how to go about buying fewer books (more digital purchases, go to the library, borrow from friends and return). This isn't about that. I want to know how to care less about the books I do have, so I can convince myself to get rid of more of them to make room for the new.

(and yes, I've read (and reread) Super Sad True Love Story and have tried to revisualize them as dusty smelly objects, but it doesn't work )
posted by my left sock to Grab Bag (64 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was adamant about not getting rid of any books (ones that I was tripping over regularly, including in my bed), until one day I realized that a lot of them contain information that is easily found on the internet (I like biographies and histories). So I decided that if most of the information was available easily elsewhere, it could go, including my college textbooks because "this is outdated information, and more updated information could be available on the internet." This doesn't help with a lot of my classic children's books and such, but it's a start.
posted by Melismata at 2:30 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


I grew up in a house like this and I still can't feel like my apartment is 'home' without a couple overflowing bookshelves! But let me tell you what I did for my parents a few Christmases ago (with their blessing), and what I would recommend you do: I took every single book, certainly thousands of them all told, off of every single shelf. I dusted all the shelves. Then I started putting them back, but organized by type/subject. Plays on the top shelf of this room, American history in this bookcase, all the cowboy stuff on this particular shelf of that bookcase, etc.

In doing this, I came across lots of books - hundreds - which I was pretty damn sure my parents did not actually want anymore. It was a minority of the total books they owned, but it was a substantial number of books. I set all these aside and had them go through them, and sure enough, they wound up donating most of them.

I bet if you do the same, you will come across some 'rough in the diamonds' and you'll be able to cut down your collection without throwing out books you like owning. The trick is putting them all in the big giant pile and then putting them back - it forces you to Really Look at every single book.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:34 PM on May 9 [29 favorites]


Do you use GoodReads? I wonder if it would instill a similar feeling of pride/accomplishment/joy to have the books recorded online.
posted by esker at 2:37 PM on May 9 [27 favorites]


Would it help if you instead leaned in to thinking of them as literal trophies? How gross would it feel to have walls and walls of your actual shiny bronze trophies everywhere?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:39 PM on May 9 [16 favorites]


Start by packing some of them away in boxes. See if you miss them. If not, they're already packed up and ready to donate!

I still had a bunch of books at my parents' place well when I was thirty. Finally, they told me to take the ones I wanted, and they were getting rid of the rest. I packed up the most precious of them, and promptly took them home, stored them under a bed, and didn't look at them for 4 years. When we moved, it seemed silly to haul them to the new place only to shove them under a bed again, so away they went.

On preview -- yes, going through them all also really helps (I got rid of a bunch in that same move that were already living with me). I was also determined not to move the janky presswood bookcase, so I had to ditch some books.

I still keep some as trophies -- in fact, when we got married, we registered for a matching set of reissued SF/fantasy classics that were favorites of ours, and they're proudly displayed on our mantle. Getting rid of some of them doesn't have to mean getting rid of all of them.
posted by natabat at 2:40 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


I felt like this for years, even to the point of fighting with my wife about it, but recently a switch has flipped in my head. It happened when I was working out on my bike trainer in my office, with little else to do but stare at the bookshelf in front of me, and I really *saw* some of the books there for the first time in a long time.

"Why do I still have $book_x? It's terrible."

And it was as if a dam had broken. I'll still have LOTS of books, but there's room for a big-ass pruning.
posted by uberchet at 2:40 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]


I'm the exact same way. It was really hard to cull my existing book collection, but I had to. Some of the things I did:

1. Gave away multiple copies of the same book.

2. There are some books that have a... higher 'pride' value than others (yes, there's some conceit involved in this method of calibration.) I gave away the ones that, for example, I know get read a lot - Pride and Prejudice, for example. This was also a title I had multiple copies of.

3. Focused on keeping sets or collections over singles - I have a whole bunch of vintage Penguin Orange classics that I kept, and gave away single Barnes and Noble collection singles. So, I gave away my only copy of Vanity Fair, but it wasn't a huge knock because I have it on my Kindle and it's a relatively freely available book.

4. I gave away a whole bunch of contemporary fiction and outdated cookbooks and self-help books that were tucked away in the depths of my bookcases. If you really start doing what showbiz_liz suggested, I suspect you'll find a whole bunch of books that have low 'pride' value for you that you could get rid of.
posted by Everydayville at 2:41 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Books have wonderful insulating properties, especially acoustically. (Joking? OR NOT JOKING haha you decide.)

I've had a couple of major book culls over the years, there are many which I now regret throwing out- make sure you choose the victims carefully.
posted by Coaticass at 2:44 PM on May 9 [12 favorites]


Do you NEED to get rid or them or do you feel like you SHOULD get rid of them? If they spark joy, and they aren't causing any harm, then keep them. If you don't like the way they look, maybe organize them by color into sweeping rainbow stripes, or arrange them by warm/cool colors to give rooms different moods. The internet will provide virtually endless inspiration.

If you like remembering what you've read, then perhaps create a list that you can refer to when nostalgia strikes. You could even frame it, or have the list engraved on a plaque. Ha!

If you love all of my ideas and decide to arrange your books by color AND create a list, consider indicating the color of the book so you can easily retrieve it later.
posted by defreckled at 2:46 PM on May 9 [23 favorites]


Ask 5 of the people you’d like to impress if they care...or notice.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:47 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Do you keep track of the books you read anywhere? It became so much easier for me to get rid of books I have already read once I had 99 percent of them shelved as Read on my Goodreads account. I keep the same list in a spreadsheet and a physical journal. If you like showing off, or just knowing that you can show off, that is a decent place to do it.

Another thing that helps is joining Paperback Swap and/or Bookmooch where you mail books to others for a credit and then you can request a book from another and it costs you one credit (PBS has additional fees). That way you don't have to fret about the books going to a good home, either.
posted by soelo at 2:48 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


When I'm holding onto a collection or even a single thing that doesn't serve me for the purpose it's "supposed" to be for, I try to figure out what hunger in me it IS serving. And then I try to feed that hunger with wondering more appropriate/healthy/desirable/whatever.
posted by spindrifter at 2:50 PM on May 9 [12 favorites]


You can find almost any book in your local library. Free. Also, you can purchase, used, almost any book, shipped to your door, for four bucks on Amazon.

Take a picture of a big honkin' stack of books, rotate the picture sideways, so that the titles can easily be read. Email that pic to friends, tell them it's a free for all. They'll love it, and you'll be free.

Books that don't get taken by your friends? If you have a coffee shop in town that you particularly like, a readers type of coffee shop, take the books there, and offer them to the wait staff. What they don't take, put them on a shelf in the bookstore, and then have a nice dinner. The books will find nice new homes.

I had an entire wall of books. Made the shelving myself. It was beautiful. Books are beautiful, and colorful. I loved it. Letting go those books was difficult. I now have one (1) half sized book-case. If the book doesn't fit on there, it goes out. It works, mostly.

I was a mainframe computer programmer. I had a very. hard. time. letting go of about five or six books, a couple that explained JCL (Job Control Language) very clearly and the others were textbooks written by very, very clear-thinking programmers, ppl who saw the clearest way, ppl who wrote the tightest programs, beautiful code. I put all those books in a bag, taped it shut, put that in another bag, taped *it* shut, wrote on it in magic marker "May I never, ever open this package." and I put it in the attic. As far as I know, they are still up there.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:54 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Honestly the thing that broke me of this habit was moving house. The hassle, the stress, the expense... all those boxes... NEVER AGAIN.
posted by halation at 2:55 PM on May 9 [17 favorites]


I love reading but screw books. Every book is just a heavy object that must be moved every time you change residences, which for me at least is generally 1-4 times a year. In general I dislike having possessions, they literally weigh you down.

It's fine to have a small collection of great works that are special to you or bring you some strange joy to own, but think of it like this, if someone had as many trophies as you do books, wouldn't that also be excessive?
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:58 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


We also have way too many books, but one thing that's helped me cull over the last couple of years is putting a free library in front of my house. Not a formal Little Free Library but one of my own making. It reinforces in me the idea that I'm just passing these books along to their next home, not, like, trashing them. It helps a lot.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:02 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


This rings so many bells for me (a young visiting niece once asked whether our house was a library). I got rid of boxes and boxes of books at various times but there were some i just wanted to keep on display, because nostalgia (degree in English Lit) and a degree of pride (ditto) and also because I imagined I'd have children to pass them on to eventually, which didn't occur. Two things happened - we had some building work done that necessitated removing the full length floor to ceiling shelves they sat on, so all the books went into boxes in the loft or elsewhere, and I got a Kindle.

The boxes are still in the house but I suspect most of the books will go in the end. I think I'll be sad because of what they meant to me at various times and for various reasons, but there's no practical way to display or store them where they'd be available.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 3:03 PM on May 9


Oh gosh, I really relate. I also think of books this way and hate myself for it.

Actually going through them like showbiz_liz suggests is good because you're guaranteed to be able to cull quite a few that way, once you actually start looking at all the titles.

This is kind of silly, but what honestly helped me was to stop thinking of the Western canon as Good. Like, I started admitting there was nothing too special about all my Great (mostly male mostly white) Authors and that honestly I didn't like a lot of what they'd written and I just didn't care about people knowing that I've read Hemingway or whatever. And I started making more of an effort to get away from that canon. This is obviously a longer term project than a bookshelf clear out, but the side effect is that I've gotten rid of a lot of books.
posted by cpatterson at 3:03 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


I wonder if it would be easier to set a modest number to get rid of: say 12 books. Could be stuff you don't feel that proud of. Could be ones in bad condition that you'd even later maybe prefer a better copy of. Could be stuff you're not ever going to read.

Choose 12, put them in a bag by the door and wait a week. If you feel regretful about any particular book, take one out but replace with another. After a week bring them to the used bookstore.

If that feels ok, do it again.
posted by vunder at 3:05 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


I think it's perfectly normal and wonderful to have a set of books that you love, and that you are proud of, and to keep them and display them as loved objects in your home. But how to explain the other 9.5 cases worth of books :) I'm not one to talk, I could only pare down to 3 tall cases which is still too much for my husband.

What if, as an experiment, you allowed yourself to buy any book you wanted to read, but then committed to donating it back or lending it out afterwards instead of keeping it? Some bookstores have a credit policy which can defray the cost of books. Sometimes I think hoarding is an innate response to deprivation. Maybe by forcing yourself not to buy books, you are contrarily holding on to books you'd otherwise get rid of.
posted by muddgirl at 3:05 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Hi. I grew up in a publishing family. My childhood home has hundreds of feet of attractive, custom built shelving. We all love books. When I moved to Europe, my entire luggage allowance consisted primarily of books.

And then my husband and I moved and half the books ended up in their moving boxes in the attic. And I don't miss them. I couldn't even tell you what they are.

So my advice to you is: pack three boxes of books. Put them under the bed. If you don't remember what they are or find you don't miss them in 3 months, get rid of the boxes. UNOPENED.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:07 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


I used to be like this (and my boyfriend still is, though less so these days). I used the thought experiment at the beginning of the Marie Kondo book. WHY do I want to declutter? And then just keep asking why... why... why... until you arrive at the type of person you’d like to be. And with that in mind, keep a curated collection of books that suits who you are. For me, that meant getting rid of a lot of books, photographing and cataloging a lot of books I’d already read, and keeping mostly books I really loved and might want to loan and books I hadn’t read yet. And I realized that many books I used to love I’d either “outgrown” or just moved on from.

It’s also very true that very bookish people will probably be more drawn to you (and more impressed) if they see a shelf full of your deepest cuts, rather than rooms and rooms of books.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:14 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Also my love of books went like this:
- Grew up poor, mostly read whatever secondhand books I could get my hands on + went to the library as much as possible
- Once I had a job, discovered secondhand bookstores and wilded out
- Graduated and went to college and started buying more and more books but new books this time
- Felt a compulsion to keep every book I’d ever read as a living record
- Moved into a series of tiny apartments and then across the country and got insanely sick of book schlepping
- Realized that my “love” of books (not reading) was mostly materialistic and prideful and I was more proud to support and patronize my local library
- Pared down my collection
- Visited the library more
- Still buy books, but am more inclined to donate or pass them along when I’m done, sometimes journaling about my reading and tracking what I read in notebooks or Goodreads (which is a status thing in itself but also a community)

Now that I’m free of my shelves (and the attendant inflamed dust allergies), can’t say I really miss the physical artifacts that much.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:19 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


looking like we're squatting inside a library
I grew up in a house like this full of overflowing bookshelves. Books were collector's items, trophies, entertainment, and comfort. And then I left home and started moving house a lot. That cured me of the book-hoarding habit quite promptly. Books are heavy and expensive to move. Bookshelves are heavy and expensive to move. Now I do 99% of my reading on my Kindle, and keep one set of bookshelves for books that represent some sentimental value or have lasting value as reference material.

Of course, not everyone has the, um, "opportunity" to experience the joys of moving house on average once a year for several years. Maybe you can reduce your book population with an eye towards consolidating sentimental value onto representative books? E.g., instead of shelving the complete works of Jane Prestigious Author, keep just your favorite work by Jane P. Author so you still have that reminder of your accomplishment in reading all of her books.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:22 PM on May 9


Why do you need to care less about the books you have? It's like any other type of collection. I don't understand this trend away from collecting - it's a luxury but one that shows your personality and that you're making good use of over time (i.e., by rereading items of interest). If you feel you have too many, give away the books you don't care about and keep those you do. I really don't think this is worth all the stress!
posted by Tess at 3:28 PM on May 9 [27 favorites]


No one cares what's on your bookshelves. They care about you. They don't like what you've read; they like what you think about it. They're not impressed with your catalogue . . . . you get the picture. Let go of the need to display them and trust that the things about yourself that you value, which you believe the trophies or your read books signals, is something that you display through yourself.

Keep the ones that are beautifully bound, meaningfully marked up, are a memento of a specific person or moment. The rest are unnecessary and easily replaced.
posted by crush at 3:44 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Books to keep:
1) Reference works you'll actually use (tech manuals, cookbooks, gaming rulebooks, scripture, etc. Includes fiction with heavy internal markup. This is not a narrow category.)
2) Books with specific sentimental value
3) Books with intrinsic market value - a matched set, a signed first edition, etc.
4) Books you plan to read/reread within the next year (no more than 50, and for most busy adults, no more than 10)
5) Books you intend to lend out or give away

Also to keep:
1) A small, curated collection of a single genre, suitable for informing casual viewers that "I am into this topic and would be happy to discuss the particulars with you." This is not showing off; it's a conversation starter and/or art piece. No more than 1 bookshelf; more likely 1 row in a larger bookshelf.
2) Possible second collection of same, for different topic. (Some of us are interested in both science fiction and copyright law.)

For everything else, there's usually an ebook in case you decide to read it again.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:43 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I was once a printed-book trophy collector, too. What cured me is moving from a 2000+sq ft home to a 400 sq ft RV so I could fulfill my dream of traveling. My motivation was different, but the technique may help.

Knowing I could not possibly take my library on the road, I started a year in advance (seriously!) by sorting my books into three categories -- (A) I cannot imagine not having it always and at my fingertips, (B) I love it and really, really want to keep it, and (C) of course, I want it but I guess I probably could live without it. I started with an arbitrary goal of 1/3 of the collection in each category. As it turned out, my real breakdown was more like 40/35/25.

"A" books went back on the shelves; the others went into boxes labeled B and C. C boxes hung out in a spare room for a while, but were eventually donated. B boxes were immediately put into the smallest rental storage I could find -- I wanted to test my resolve to keep those boxes by attaching a real-world cost and space limit. All the A books still on the shelves became my digital project -- over about six months, I collected e-books for those titles so they could travel with me. Once I had a digital copy, I boxed the physical books up and moved full boxes to storage. About a month before move out, the storage rental was jammed full, and I had to do a quick re-sort on site, donating about six "B" boxes to make room for "A" books. By then, it was truly less painful than I expected.

It took about two years of traveling without my physical library for the accumulating cost of storing books to threaten my desire to keep them. Ultimately, I found a family member with room in a dry basement for all the A boxes and about half of the B. By then, I had a growing digital library that made it fairly easy to cull. When I finally moved into a home again several years ago, I reclaimed my library ... and I'm glad I have it. But I had converted my collecting habit to digital acquisitions, and my analog library has not grown since it was unpacked.
posted by peakcomm at 4:43 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Who's been making you feel bad about having books, of all things? If you really want to reduce the number, find out if/when your library or other group has a book sale, and go through your shelves.
Will I read it again?
Will I refer to it to remember that character's name, etc.?
Do I have some connection to it - did it mean something, was it a gift?
Is it a book I'm proud to have read and I need to be proud just a bit longer?

I had to go through all my books because I moved, gave away a bunch, lost a bunch in a flood where they were stored prior to shelves being ready. I miss some of them terribly. In any case, a good way to go through them is to re-shelve them:
fiction - alpha by author
non-fiction - by subject
Let the Library of Congress be a rough guide.

Have a party when you're done. Ask friends to take books from the free pile, maybe make a donation to literacy or the library. If you are brave, have a book swap, ask people to bring books and take books, even from the shelves.

If you are the sort of person who is likely to shelve them by spine color, we're going to have to talk.
posted by theora55 at 4:47 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I thought I had the same problem, but I solved it by building a house with a library. There’s nothing wrong with having a library just like there’s nothing wrong with having a garden: both are are impractical and both bring great joy to their curators.

Cull what you don’t want (pretend bad books are weeds, it works for me) but enjoy the rest!
posted by lydhre at 4:58 PM on May 9 [19 favorites]


I consciously tried to switch my mindset from one of trophy hunting ("I need to keep and display these books I bought and read and loved!") to one of catch and release ("I'm going to put this book back out into the wild so someone else can find and love it.")

I've kept a few reference books, a few books of poetry or old favourites that I'd want on-hand in a moment of boredom or if the power was out, and a few books that are out of print. Otherwise, I rely on the library now, and when I buy a book, I think about the multiple people who might discover something great if I bring it to a secondhand bookshop or give it to a friend after I'm finished with it. A book wants to be in people's hands, not just on a shelf.
posted by northernish at 5:05 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


Mechanically, it's simple: Figure out how many shelves of books you want to have in your house. Cull down so each shelf is 90 percent full. Then one in, one out.

Psychologically, in addition to the advice above, a story: When my parents were moving, I brought some of their books to a used bookstore. The guy glanced at them, then said, "These aren't yours. They're your parents'. They graduated college about 1963." I vowed never to have a book collection that would allow someone to carbon-date me like that.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:10 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


We're in a bigger space than you are. We have 8 bookcases, only two of them full-height. The biggest reason our house isn't drowning in books: I stopped buying books, by and large. I get them from the library. Aside from the fact that I just love the library as an institution (it's the last free, public indoor space where you can just go hang out and read books!), two things helped me get here:
1) My kids read a ton of books. My oldest, now that he's into chapter books, reads more books in a month than I could ever afford to buy him.
2) My feelings about late-stage capitalism. It just annoys me to buy new things, and to spend money for new objects, so I don't.
One of our bookcases is a little three-shelfer in the front hall whose primary job is being a place for us to put our library books so they don't get lost. We build going to the library into our routine, so it's not an out-of-the-way thing. And we take FULL advantage of placing holds and having books sent to our local branch, so we don't have to go hither and yon to track down what we want to read.

But otherwise, unless they are just taking up too much space for you, I see nothing wrong in maintaining a collection of books that remind you of your past, or that have been formative, or that you just LOVE. If you're holding onto stuff out of obligation or aspiration, pass it along. Set up a Little Free Library in front of your house and let other people enjoy them, or see if your library system has an regular book sale you can donate them to.
posted by linettasky at 5:16 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The other part -- I've transitioned a lot of my superior feelings about book ownership into superior feelings about library usage. "I vote, and use the library, and maybe even listen to public radio." (I don't listen to public radio.) Maybe that will help you, too?
posted by linettasky at 5:18 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


I have to disagree with all the talk of pride and vanity a bit, since all the bragging these days is about throwing things away and doing everything electronically.

Why do you want to get rid of them? How many do you want to get rid of? If you had the correct amount why would think that was so, and how would you see yourself then?
posted by bongo_x at 5:25 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]


My apartment flooded shortly before we were due to move out - meaning all our books were in cardboard boxes on the floor. Okay, mop up your tears, keep reading. As you have surmised, many of the books were ruined. Not necessarily unreadable, but warped or stained or yucky. Before packing we'd of course culled our voluminous collection as much as we felt we could, so all of the books were our lovely ones we either wanted to reread or show off or were part of a series. This meant that all the ruined books were also ones we'd felt were keepers.

We decided to get the ruined books again, but to put worrying about it on hold while we dealt with the combo crises of flood and moving. Guess what? Three years down the road and I think we've reacquired maybe two of them - ones that were part of a series, as it was reread. All the trophy books, the big art history tomes, the lovingly typeset plays, the obscure reference books? They're thought of fondly but not missed.

So my advice to you is to imagine a natural disaster in your home (make sure this is on a good mental health day.) The worst has happened and all your books are ruined by flood or fire or wind, moldering in a pile. Which ones would you go out and buy again? Keep those.
posted by Mizu at 5:33 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I want to know how to care less about the books I do have, so I can convince myself to get rid of more of them to make room for the new.

Go buy some dot stickers. Red for "Yeah, less than 50 percent chance I'll read it again." Yellow for "Definitely possible I'll read it again." Green for "Keep, no question." Apply dots to books accordingly. Then group the books together by dot color. If you don't read the red-dotted books in the next [defined time period], cull. You're making room for more keepers!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:39 PM on May 9 [4 favorites]


"I have books from college or other times of life that I'm proud of having read, that I feel like maaaaaybe I might read again, but based on past experience so far I'm guessing I never will. But I like that I have them."

A decent library is the foundation of every good household.
It does not matter if you have read the books or not, it is a collection of ideas (Quote from Taleb). It also helps me organize my thoughts, just seeing the books I have read and the ideas they gave me. ebooks can't do that. I have zero DVDs, zero CDs, I rip them, save the data on my HDDs and then dispose them. But books have a very distinct value for me.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:50 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


What shifted me from seeing my books as trophies (though not entirely, I still feel that way to some extent) is having an epiphany one day about all the forests woodchipped to make pages and pages of my books, and how would I feel if I thought it was cool to put all my recycling paper in piles and shelves around my house? How greedy that is when I love trees so much.

I decided to recycle the paper by inviting friends I knew who were Arts, Architecture, Design students or otherwise big readers to my house to go through my books from university. They gave me a few bucks or brought a bottle of wine to share whilst we went through books. Good chats about books ensued and it was a fun few weeks. I like the idea of giving a helping hand to those starting out. I think of it as part of a recycling system where not only trees/paper returned to use, but new life is given to the material and intellectual richness of the item.

I kept heaps of my books, but I invested in hiring a cabinet maker to design bookshelving with me that really works with my house. It is cheaper overall to do that, than keep trying to cram in shitty bookshelves when you overflow. Celebrate who you are in a meaningful decision to shift the way you live with books. Make them work intentionally in your home. Mine are now displayed in long, low (top at 750 or 900mm, which allows display books on top), depth appropriate to particular types cantilevered shelves, and run along longer walls in way that doesn't overpower whole rooms.

The books I have are now celebrations and an integral part of my interior design. Some people like wallpaper and art, but books can be really nice artistic expressions of the lives of a home's inhabitants. The key is to create an order and aesthetic that allows the books to work harder than simply being stored. Eg I have a shelf where there is room to lay open large monographs to pages I flip every day or so n read whilst I wait for my coffee to brew. I rotate these open books every week or so.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:59 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I know it's not the question you asked, but I agree with the other posters who have asked if you want to get rid of your books, or if you merely feel that you should.

I grew up in a house with lots of books. I myself have a lot of books. When I visit someone else's house, I enjoy looking at their books to see what they've read - or at least thought they might read. At least for me, these experiences can't be replaced by lists or digital copies. I'm not saying that you have to keep your books. Just that... ten shelves doesn't seem like a lot. (Unless you have to do a lot of moving...)

Since you reread a lot of books and want to weed, though, I'd ask a more specific question: Do I want to reread this book eventually? Not will I reread it, but: Would rereading this book give me joy, instead of just being a way to kill the time or slow down my book consumption?

And if you like people looking at your books: Would I recommend this book to someone?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:10 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The part of the Marie Kondo thing that helped me let go of books was thanking them when you decide to sell/donate them. Thank you, heavy and expensive oak silviculture book, I learned a lot about forestry from you. Thank you, Dangerous Liaisions, watching the gears turn in your plot was a joy, besides which you're deliciously wicked.

It's also okay if you only re-home a few books on the first pass. You're honing your sense of what to keep. You can do another pass in a year if you still feel overwhelmed by books.

FWIW, I use Bookscoutr to scan barcodes and get resale prices for books (which I then put in a spreadsheet to pick the best 2-3 buyers). But, they will mostly be worth heartbreakingly little (partly because shipping is generally covered by the buyer). You may want to skip this.
posted by momus_window at 6:12 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I carried a ton of books around with me, apartment to apartment, for many years. At one point, my friend’s boyfriend said to me “Wow. You have a really amazing collection of books.” And then went on to compliment me for minutes on the breath and depth of it. He picked out certain books and talked about how much he wanted to read them. Chatted with me about certain fav authors we had in common. And then reiterated how great my library was.

That was the moment that I realized I could get rid of all of my books. The vast majority of them could be obtained again easily, or freely from the library. Someone else could be reading them instead of them languishing on my shelves. And if I was keeping them for the prestige, I surely was never going to get a better compliment than I had just received.

So I say to you: Wow!! That is an amazing collection of books! You’re really well-read! Who are your favorites? Do you have an all-time must-read you can share? Seriously, that’s a fantastic library.

Now get rid of them.
posted by greermahoney at 6:53 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I love books too., What has worked for me has been to organize my books on different shelves and in different rooms. In my living room I have an old wooden book cart from the Boston Public Library, on this I keep my collection of children's books. Above that on some shelving I keep all of the fiction I have read and loved. In my kitchen I have cook books, and in my bedroom I have a self with books I want to read. In my office I have one more set of shelves where I keep craft books, and books related to my schooling. I use Little Free Libraries to get rid of my books- and love sending my books out into the world so others can read them.
posted by momochan at 6:59 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Sort your books according to when you first got ahold of the first copy of each one. So if you first read T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone from the library when you were nine years old, but got your current copy when you were twenty-three, it goes into your sort as from nine years old.

Once they are all roughly sorted by encounter date start to re-read them, in order from longest ago, towards most recent. Before you read any book ask yourself would you rather get rid of it than read it again. If you would rather get rid of it than read it again, get rid of it. Once you have read it ask yourself if you will want to read it again. If the answer is yes, then keep it.

Set yourself a goal of going through all of your books this way. Say you have nine-hundred books. If you read one book a day it would take you less than three years to read them all. But while some might be easy to read in a single day, others would take longer. So give yourself a goal of reading them all in nine years - that gives you more than three days a book.

The reason you sort them this way is because you are more likely to have grown out of or lost interest in the books from longer ago than the books you got more recently. You may have loved reading the complete Hercule Poirot and be hanging on to the whole collection, but you may also find that after reading three of them you begin to dread reading another ten, and wonder how they managed to have gotten so contrived compared to when you first read them. many non-fiction books age badly.

If you do re-read a book and want to keep it you will have proved it is worth hanging onto. But if you get fed up with reading and start wanting to stop re-reading them then it means you really aren't getting joy out of them.

I read dictionaries and other reference works for fun, but if this doesn't work for you, put your reference books by your work space and make a point that you will use them instead of the internet. Mark each book with a slip of paper. When it has five ticks on the slip to show that you have used it five times consider if you want to keep that book. If you are then glad to see the last of it and look things up on line out it goes. If you are smiling after getting lost browsing in the book yet again, keep it.

Consider making special gifts out of the books you love the most for special people that you love. If you adored Plato's The Republic, do you know a younger person who hasn't read it yet, but would also find it equally fascinating? Give it to that person. Be a mentor with your books.

If you have how-to books, then make a stack of them and commit to doing whatever project the books teach - again, if you would rather get rid of the book than knit one of the vests in it, then out it goes. If you have knitted a vest from a pattern that was in the book and still want to keep it, put it on the shelf of keepers and pick up the next how-to book.

Useful word of the day: Tsundoku: Japanese word for the pile of books you are meaning to read.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:05 PM on May 9 [7 favorites]


Honestly the thing that broke me of this habit was moving house. The hassle, the stress, the expense... all those boxes... NEVER AGAIN.

Yep. I have a bunch of architecture monographs/coffee table type books that I'll never get rid of, but paperback fiction and nonfiction? After moving 5 times in 10 years I purge just about everything once I've read it.
posted by LionIndex at 7:07 PM on May 9


I've found Italo Calvino's taxonomy of books from If on a Winter's Night a Traveler useful in evaluating my own biblio-fortress.

Books You Haven't Read;
Books You Needn't Read;
Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading;
Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written;
Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered;
Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First;
Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered;
Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback;
Books You Can Borrow From Somebody;
Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too;
Books You've Been Planning to Read for Ages;
Books You've Been Hunting for Years Without Success;
Books Dealing With Something You're Working on at the Moment;
Books You Want to Own So They'll Be Handy Just in Case;
Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer;
Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves;
Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified;
Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Re-read;
Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them;
New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You;
New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general);
New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you)
posted by zamboni at 7:09 PM on May 9 [21 favorites]


Make a tv analogy. Most of us don’t like rooms dominated by a TV set. A room completely dominated by bookshelves is not entirely different.

I can’t tell if I’m trolling.
posted by Smearcase at 7:09 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I keep books that I might need urgently, the way one keeps cold medicine or chocolate in the house, "just in case." So I keep all my favorite books for days when I'm feeling bored or ill or nostalgic and need to reread X immediately, and reference and history books for research projects, and a small collection of books that I won't reread soon but might want to lend to friends.

If it's a book that can be obtained via the public library or the Internet, and I can't imagine needing to read it so urgently that I'd be unwilling to wait a few days, then I've made my best effort to purge it.

If nothing else, you should make room so that you can have a sprawling, unread TBR shelf like the rest of us! That's where most of the crap in my book collection resides.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:11 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Also Nthing Goodreads and a site like Paperbackswap. I'll write a bit on why I used both, in case anything helps for your own situation and personality.

For me, Goodreads is great because one book can be on multiple shelves (=categories), and I can organize and sort to my heart's delight. I can see what I've read and easily keep track of what I "maybe someday" want to read in the future, without actually cluttering up my bookshelf with a physical copy. Most of my new purchases now are via Kindle, so if I need something to read, I scan my Goodreads to-read shelf (or my custom "next-in-line") and buy via Amazon.

Paperbackswap, back when I lived in the States, was absolutely one of my favorite pastimes. I loaded up my account with my library of books I also "maybe someday" wanted to get rid of, but couldn't bring myself to just box them up and hope for the best at a used bookstore. Instead, I got a request from a single person who wanted a specific book, and it made it much more personal to wrap it up and send. I loved the days where I went to the post office with 5, 10, 15 individually-wrapped books going to locations all around the country. Of course, YMMV with lesser-requested titles, and those might just need to go to Goodwill or a used bookstore (or library), but for most of my titles I always found someone who could give them a home. I miss being able to use that site a lot. (And of course, using credits to receive new books from all over the country was a delight on its own.)

I don't have much to offer on how to stop seeing books as trophies, but I also have a hard time getting rid of books "I might read someday!!" so I need roundabout ways of convincing myself to let them go.
posted by lesser weasel at 7:35 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I have a ton of books too. (For me, it's about the idea; I agree with the book's thesis. It's about defining my identity.)

I started to get over it when I visited a (well read) friend who had one medium size bookshelf and that was it. I was compelled to look at each of the books she had because there were so few. I found myself pondering why she had kept this one and that one. Then I asked about one, and she encouraged new to borrow it! I realized that these were all books that she treasured, re-read, shared with others... I think each book actually means a lot more when viewed as an object (a physical object to be touched, handed to others, etc.) rather than trophies. It conceivably says a lot more about you, too.
posted by salvia at 8:52 PM on May 9


Someone in another question once said that when getting rid of things of sentimental value, take a picture of the thing. I would go a step further and say, print out the picture (of the book), write a note on what the book meant to you, why and when you bought it or read it, whether or not you read it at all, etc. put it in a binder, and the binder on your now much sparser bookshelf “Books that didn’t make the cut.” I think it could be a great conversation piece in the same way a huge book collection is, but quite a bit smaller. Now I’m wishing I had done this during the great(and ongoing) book purges I have performed. It would have been hilarious to look through after.
posted by permiechickie at 9:00 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Moving houses cures this real quick. I'm old-school in that I still prefer physical books (though I do have and frequently use a Kindle), but I culled every time I moved.
But honestly, if they still spark joy for you, they should stay. No house feels like a home to me without masses of books that have been obviously read and loved.
posted by Nieshka at 11:33 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Who says it is wrong to own books? I have a lot of books and reread many, for pleasure. I grew up with lots of books and books are a pleasure. If you enjoy them and are proud of owning many books, keep them. Don't let mari kondo tell you different ly, or the internet zeitgeist shame you into giving them away. Why should you?. If tzhey give you pleasure and you have space and money for another shelf, do it. So what if you are proud of them. Why not?
posted by 15L06 at 12:47 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]


I see nothing in your question that indicates that you want to have fewer books. But if you do, I would recommend BookCrossing. It lets you keep the books on your virtual shelf forever, like Goodreads, but there's the added bonus of tracking, so you may hear back from your books eventually. And 'releasing' them into the wild can turn into a fun game if you're into that kind of thing.

You can also easily use both sites. BookCrossing and Goodreads can be linked. Goodreads does offer better categorizing options. Both sites also have a nice community.

You don't need to learn how to care less about your books; you can care about them and want to give others a shot at reading them.

Having a public bookshelf in your yard, if you have that option, is great. But I've found that people bring in at least as many books as they take out. So that is not a great way to get rid of books. I'm still doing it because I enjoy it and as a public service. The neighbourhood loves it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:08 AM on May 10


I've pared down my books to maybe 500 by being strict about what either didn't interest me or I had no interest in reading again.

I wound up with a limited number of categories that always keep my interest:
- short stories
- science fiction
- poetry
- books I loved as a kid
- anything about San Francisco
- humor
- comics
- Russian language text books
- everything about Nabokov
- Sewing
- Finance
- well-loved fiction

Once I discarded everything I didn't love, I put the books on the shelves in strict categories and sorted by size.

All I have left.
posted by bendy at 2:30 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


It's an ongoing process for me. Every time I glance at my shelves and notice a book that really wasn't all that great anyway - would never make my top-n-of-the-year list, would never be recommended or re-read, isn't what I'd want people to judge me by - I pull it off and put it on the stack by the door. When the stack gets too big and I have a few free hours, I carry it over to Housing Works and donate them all. Rinse, repeat.

I still have tons of books, but it's a nice feeling to be constantly whittling away the cruft so folks who see my library are increasingly only seeing the best books, the ones I'm really proud of and in love with.
posted by 168 at 3:45 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


Per Marie Kondo, they do spark joy.

Well, did you read that book and follow the method? If so, good for you! Or are you picking up the phrase you've heard she uses and saying "OK, I'm good here"? Because there's more to it than that, especially the vision statement of how you want to live and interact with your things.

Are they sparking joy, or joy and anxiety at the same time?

I didn't think I'd get rid of any books when I did KM, but several big bags went to the library for their monthly sale. What's left is mass-market stuff I like, formative stuff, and stuff that would be hard to replace.
posted by jgirl at 7:11 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


I'm a librarian and my scope of work is collection development. This means I have to decide, regularly, which books to keep and which books to discard. Yeah, it's hard, because WHAT IF you need that book again?

First: there is actual scholarly work that shows a well-curated, regularly weeded collection has higher use. You can find the stuff you're more interested in when there's less dreck surrounding it. This is true of home libraries as well as public and academic ones. Your GUESTS will more easily see the good stuff too!!

Second: when I have trouble getting rid of a book (both personally or professionally) one of the questions I ask myself is, how easy would it be to get this book again if this turns out to be a mistake? Most books can be had quickly, easily, and cheaply. So that might help psychologically when you're doing your purge.

At home, I only have two 6-foot-high bookshelves -- one for fiction and the other for nonfiction. When they start to get full, I go through them to see what I'd like to remove. Then I have the joy of giving away books so other people can enjoy them! And I have the pride of knowing that everything that's still there is the result of an active decision that it's worthy of a place in my home.

Start weeding! Afterward, you can still TALK about how you used to have a major book-hoarding habit and now even though it hurts to not have that many books, you're more proud of the collection you decided to deliberately curate. That might scratch your itch to brag about your book habit AND make it easier for people to see which books you really, really care about.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:14 AM on May 10 [6 favorites]


Nobody's mentioned Goodbye, Things, which I am finding more useful than Marie Kondo for parting with stuff, something I've been trying to accomplish ever since we cleaned out Mother's house after she died. The author addresses your issue (trophies) a few times; here is one sample:

"We all identify with our possessions to some extent. I considered my huge collection of books, CDs, and DVDs as part of who I was. It's hard to part with something you love, because it makes you feel as if you're throwing a part of yourself away, and I can certainly relate to that. But the truth is, by letting go of my books, CDs, and DVDs, I was able to achieve a fundamental sense of freedom that's hard to put into words -- it's freedom from my personas, you could say.

As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of film, I used to watch five or six movies a week. I would be embarrassed if there was a movie that everyone was talking about that I hadn't seen; I wanted to show off the fact that I saw so many movies. I wanted to be able to say, "That movie? Yeah, I saw it. I saw that other one, too. Yeah, I'd even like to see this other movie, too." Though I still remain a fan of movies, I realize that before, I was just attached to this persona of a "film enthusiast." These days, I don't worry about how many movies I see. I'm no longer a "film enthusiast," but someone instead who enjoys only the movies I really need to see.

There are things you love so much that they start to feel like they're a part of you. They assemble themselves into a persona that you then have to maintain. Parting with those things means you're freeing yourself from that particular consciousness."
posted by JanetLand at 8:05 AM on May 10 [5 favorites]


I'd stop buying a new bookshelf before you've even filled your others to capacity - that's silly. For me I think the solution is pick a number of bookshelves you want that fit nicely into your apartment, whether it's two or three or whatever. Tell yourself this is the only room you have for books and then whittle it down to the books you are most proud of or are most likely to read again. If you keep buying bookshelves, you'll turn into a hoarder for books. Limit yourself to filling the bookshelves you decided on and no more.

I don't know what kind of bookshelves you have, but I grew up in a house where a large book shelf was built into one entire wall and it looked cool. Maybe you can do something like this so your books become part of a decorating feature. Then, it will look cool and limit you to only filling that book shelf. Right now, it sounds like you just have smaller bookshelves randomly peppered throughout your apartment and you keep adding more.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:25 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


You have to decide for yourself what is a reasonable number of bookshelves/books. Personally, I think blank walls are boring, and bookcases are a reasonable way to fix that.

What helped me was cataloging all of my books (librarything is a great catalog, and they even have a phone app now that lets you scan bar codes). Once I had proof that I'd owned it, it was easier to get rid of. That doesn't mean toss everything (I'm keeping my Pratchett and my German historical mysteries and my "basic skills library"), but it makes it easier.

Short version: catalog via librarything or goodreads, see if that doesn't free you to get rid of a bunch.
posted by yggdrasil at 11:45 AM on May 10


I like having books, but I try to be rational about it.

Books I've reread before - they can stay

Books I've read in the last decade, but perhaps not reread - eh, they can stay. There's still time to reread

Books I've never read, but have had less than ten years - you can stay, but I'm watching you, buddy

Books I've read, but not in the last ten years - did I really, really like it? Then it can stay. Otherwise...

Books I've never read that I've had for more than ten years - It's never going to get read. Sorry "The Quincunx", "Ulysses", and "Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal". It's not you, it's me (although that last one I have as an ebook so it stays forever! Hahahahahaha!)

That doesn't mean that I get rid of all the books that don't fit the "stay" rules, but at least it gives me something to work with.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:54 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]


I have two 'specialist' collections, which NEVER get culled. The rest are impulse buys, books I enjoy, books about people/events/situations that interest me. These do get culled. And still I have too many books, but so what? Life is too short to worry about having too many books ...
posted by GeeEmm at 6:13 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]


It's daunting to look at all of those books and think about having to reduce it by a large fraction. How can you possibly, you think, dispose of so many books?!

A few years back I was at my parents' house sorting through piles of old drawings, bits of paper, theatre programmes, and all sorts of old tat from my childhood. I couldn't keep it all but every bit was appealing in some way purely because, by then, it was all 25+ years old. I ended up winnowing it down over a few visits.

This made me realise that (I think) the best way to reduce a collection of things by a large percentage is to do it by a small percentage multiple times.

So, forget about the idea of getting rid of half (or whatever) of your books. Instead think about getting rid of 10 books. Or one shelf's worth. Or some amount that doesn't seem scary. And look through all those books and find the very few that you want to hang on to least. It's not many, out of all those books, most of which you'll keep! Take photos of them if the covers mean anything at all to you - digital photos take up no space. Then give that small number away. Not a big deal!

But then set yourself a schedule, like once a month, to repeat this. Each time you'll only get rid of a very small number, and only the very few that you least want. I've found that while the first time round I'll think "That must be it, I can't imagine finding more things to get rid of", the next time, having to shave off the next least-desirable items, it's manageable again. "Huh, I don't actually need to hang on to this one after all."

Having got more into this frame of mind I often find myself looking at my bookshelves and thinking "Oh, that one... I'm not sure why I need that any more". While, once, it was way down the list of books-I-could-get-rid-of, it's now near the top, and it seems silly to hang on to.
posted by fabius at 8:34 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]


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