Help me break the vicious cycle of book hoarding
July 8, 2022 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I think I have a hoarding problem. About five years ago I realized I could go to the local library surplus sale and pick up books for my own "use" and take the ones I didn't necessarily want over to the local independent bookstore for credit. I would then scour the shelves at the bookstore for something interesting. I now have tons of unread books and have run out of room. Getting rid of them feels bad, but I know I need to. How can I get rid of them? Former book hoarders, how did you break the cycle?

This has resulted in me spending probably more time and gas than I should to collect books that I'm probably not going to read. I have a bunch of weak excuses that I've compiled, some of which may be familiar to you:

- I'll read this some day
- A family member will read this
- I can't get rid of these books or all that time spent acquiring them will be wasted and my wife will be right
- If I dump all these books, what if I need one of them later?
- If I get rid of these books, I will have to come to terms with the fact that I never finish any projects
- At work the books help camouflage my crippling imposter's syndrome. They are compensation for an authority I don't feel.
- I can give this duplicate copy to someone else, who will appreciate one more extra thing in their life.

In the last years of his life, my father had unlimited video rental from Blockbuster. He would drive to the store, rent videos, and then convert them to DVDs. We threw them all out when he died. I don't want to turn into my father, but feel like I am trapped in some kind of neurodivergent Greek tragedy where no decisions I make matter and everything I do is meaningless. (exaggerating slightly). Mild autism is probably part of this equation.

So the local library started pricing their books more competitively, and the local indie bookstore now offers hardly anything for credit when books are brought in, so my dopamine cycle has been disrupted. The days of cheap scores are gone, but I continue, robot-like, to look for that fix. I still find an occasional cool book at the surplus sale, and just the memory of those discoveries gives me a warm glow. Going to the library or the book store has become a way for me to soothe my anxiety. I suppose the same could be said of using heroin.

I desperately want others to like me. Just thought I'd throw that in there.

But increasingly, I'm starting to feel like a senior citizen at a third-rate casino, pulling that lever and staring at the pretty glowing screen while my life ebbs away.

Also, I feel really guilty about the indie book store, the temple of humanism. Because of their store credit policy, the quality of their stock has slowly been decreasing. If I had $50 of credit I don't think I could find that many books worth buying. But I feel a connection to the store that I am hesitant to sever. The people that work there are nice college kids and I actually am sort of friends with the manager. But it has become so unsatisfying to shop there. Maybe my tastes have become narrower over the years.

Super bonus round: I'm looking for an alternative snack at work to replace $1.50 vending machine Clif bars.
posted by mecran01 to Shopping (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
If you don’t have a little free library yourself, you can go around and stock others. This is a useful way to offload books. You can also look at it the way I do—there are always more books coming out, so that pile that you’ll read someday will only get bigger and bigger and will never be read. Might as well pass some on to folks who might read them.
posted by Slinga at 10:25 AM on July 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: That is a good idea, however I have found that over time the Little LIbraries fill up with books that nobody wants, with no room for more. I can donate to our local library or have a garage sale and dump them for ten cents apiece, perhaps
posted by mecran01 at 10:27 AM on July 8, 2022

What if you borrowed books from the library? And occasionally bought books at the bookstore?

I used to go to a huge (World’s Biggest) bookstore every weekend that I was in town from the age of about 15 to 25. So I get you. But I replaced it with a library habit, including Libby/Overdrive. I did that by only taking my library card and ID - no cards or cash.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:31 AM on July 8, 2022 [14 favorites]

Try setting a limit of what feels good- 10 books for example. Look into minimalism. Not that you want to go there, but it might help you release some items :)
posted by Boyd at 10:48 AM on July 8, 2022

Twelve years ago, I donated over 1000 books when I moved across country, after having moved them back and forth for several years. I kept about 100 others. It was a revelation. There were a few books I've had to buy again, but I have zero regrets in doing so.

- I'll read this some day
Maybe, when you borrow it from the library.

- A family member will read this
Maybe, and they can find it at the library just as easily.

- I can't get rid of these books or all that time spent acquiring them will be wasted and my wife will be right
Browsing for books is its own reward and it's a deeply pleasing way to pass an afternoon. It was time well spent. And your wife is probably right a lot more than you think.

- If I dump all these books, what if I need one of them later?
So you buy it again used, or find it at the library.

- If I get rid of these books, I will have to come to terms with the fact that I never finish any projects
For me the exact opposite was true. Fewer books to think about meant more time to spend on other things.

- At work the books help camouflage my crippling imposter's syndrome. They are compensation for an authority I don't feel.
You are smarter and better than you realize. Also, everyone else is just making it work as they go along.

- I can give this duplicate copy to someone else, who will appreciate one more extra thing in their life.
If you'd like to have friends over for a book-picking party, that sounds like a lot of fun. If you're distancing, you can snap photos of your shelves for the raging booklover picnic happening in your yard.
posted by mochapickle at 10:53 AM on July 8, 2022 [16 favorites]

I don't know the scale of the problem you are dealing with, but some organizer types recommend designating a storage area for collections. In your case that would be the number of bookshelves that you decide to own. Once the shelves are full, you can't buy any more books unless you get rid of some. This has largely worked for me.

But that doesn't address the deeper problem that you alluded to-- that this habit is satisfying an anxious part of you. It sounds like it's causing you distress, and could be contributing to conflict with your wife, and those are real issues that deserve attention. For that, you might benefit from therapy.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:54 AM on July 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I made a little free library in front of my house -- not an official Little Free Library though -- and I get a good amount of joy in tending it and keeping it tidy. There are very few books that never get taken. Some sit there longer than others, but I very rarely have to pull anything out. Why don't you give it a try? Ours started as just a crate sitting on its side. Later a neighbor contributed a little roof, and I had someone on Etsy make a sign for it. I hear from so many neighbors that they really like having it there.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

The public library has definitely replaced book sales/book stores for me in the sense of browsing and finding stuff I want to buy. If I borrow it from the library and love it, I'll wait for a sale at my local bookseller and then order it from them. And if I borrow it and don't like it, there's zero guilt for putting it down unfinished.
posted by cooker girl at 10:58 AM on July 8, 2022

This is not an unusual problem! I have a friend who literally went to therapy to deal with all the emotions that were tied up in book acquisition and the ensuing unmanageable book collection. Stuff is important and can hold a lot of feelings, books especially.

If therapy is your kind of thing, you might see if a few sessions of talking this out with a therapist would help.

Several thoughts:

1. You're going to feel so much freer when you have a manageable amount of books. The psychic load is going to be so much less. In six months or so, you'll forget that you ever had to worry about this and it will be great.

2. Why not decide now how many books you can realistically have? I would do this based on space - what is a reasonable amount of your existing space to use storing books? How can you use this space happily, ie not with books crammed in so tightly that you can barely get them off the shelf? Now you have a parameter and you are just going to give away books until the you're down to the books that fit there. Remember that you will be getting more books, so you want to have a little open space.

3. I do stuff like this in a series of passes, sometimes separated by days or weeks - each time I concentrate on finding all of the X things that I feel I can give away, and I stop when I've pulled them all. Each time, you process the idea of getting rid of a few more and eventually you're down to just the ones you can keep.

3.5. What books are really hobby books? Like, I have a collection of feminist, left-wing and queer SFF plus SFF history and criticism, and I generally would not give any of those away. Those are core books. But I could part with quite a few books on other topics. Do you have a topic or genre which should be largely off-limits for give-aways? If so, don't take up mental energy feeling bad about those.

3. Give the books to the thrift store. Sort out the nicest ones to give away to individuals or sell, but give almost all of them to the thrift store. The world is crammed with books. You do not need to find the absolute most perfect home for each book of yours. Just take boxes of books to the thrift store - the most important thing is to lower the barriers to getting rid of them.

4. Give the books away fast. If you let them sit, they will find their way back on the shelf.

5. Set a book budget, either by dollar or quantity. You're going to the bookstore - well, you're only going to buy one book. Which is the best book?

Books are really tough to get rid of! I have, objectively speaking, way too many and only the fact that I live in a large though tumbledown house makes it possible. And it's true - sometimes I do find that a book I bought ten years ago is just what I'm looking for. I'd say that I could probably sort out about 1/3 of my books and not really miss them in the long run, though.

It's hard to find a dopamine hit to beat bargain shopping, I have to say. Do you bike, run or do any slightly specialized exercise? Sometimes having a routine for getting on a bike or doing something else specialized feels like enough of an achievement to substitute.
posted by Frowner at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

Lots of good advice here!

To reframe it as a positive change: what are you going to start doing or do more of once you aren't stressed out by unread books and spending so much time driving books around? Figure out a satisfying replacement activity you can do instead so you know what to do when you have the urge to book shop or ruminate over all the books you gave away.
posted by momus_window at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

When you sell to the local used bookstore, sell for cash, not credit. You'll get less money, but that's ok under the circumstances. Bonus: then use the proceeds to pay for your Clif bars until you work out an alternative snack. ;)
posted by heatherlogan at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

First, you sound very likeable and relatable as a human being. You are self-aware about a hobby that is both a joy and occasionally also a burden. I feel all of us in this thread could sit around in person having a fun conversation about the books themselves and our strategies for dealing with them while eating yummy snacks!* There are so many great suggestions here already so I'll just add what works for me and learn more myself!

I used to be a book hoarder and come from a family of them. The good news is that we are all big readers and lifelong learners, and fortunately have found ways to manage our collections. I am neurotypical but have mild OCD so understand how this collection and urge to collect is about more than just stuff -- it's about comfort, potential, a love of learning, an affordable indulgence, and more. Lots of good reasons in there to be proud of!

A few years ago, I was able to cull the herd, so to speak, to about half of what I had before. I was moving abroad and had limited storage so it was necessary if painful. It took me a few years and got easier with time. Being on a low-dose of an SSRI definitely helped too but obviously isn't necessary! I brought my old books and records to the library outside my former school and saw as students and colleagues selected ones they enjoyed. The rest I took to thrift stores and the like. I gave some to friends. I miss some of these books but we're talking about five out of hundreds, and I can always get them again. I miss them for my notes in the margins, the feel of the paper, the quality of the photos, and that initial spark of a-ha and hope when I read them. Yes, they are things but books are alive, too, right? But again, I still have that feeling even without the physical book. Writing down my memories of the books -- on paper or on the computer -- also is a joy.

My rules for keeping versus donating? I kept categories that had great meaning to me, like German novels from my undergrad and graduate degrees. I may not reread them often but they feel so meaningful to me in terms of my accomplishment and what I learned. I keep books whose ideas really resonated with me and I like to reread. I bought a lot of bell hooks books online about ten years ago because I couldn't get them at public libraries: I have kept a few but also have given many away because I see it as sharing the joy and knowledge inside. That's the easiest way to let go!

The Marie Kondo sparks joy thing works well for books if you're in the mood: I'm talking books you have found but don't have an attachment to otherwise. I keep books that can teach me something! I get rid of books that feel passe: like that pesky 2000s genre of white women talking about their life changing trip to Asia or Africa where they found themselves, eww. Some can be good or at least not horribly unPC and awful but those are easy to let go because I know I can find something better. Analyzing your collection and creating categories may help too or at least just be fun.

A few years later, back in the US with my books in a smaller apartment, I sometimes miss the volume but realize I was making space for new books in my life! I have slowly bought a bunch of new books that reflect who I am right now, my current interests and passions. This is a fun thing to remember and be open to! I enjoy rearranging them and finding the best bookshelf solutions. Sometimes physical limitations to space help too.

I finally live in a place with an extensive public library network. I have a bookshelf just for library books and indulge myself: I walk in and grab handfuls of books to read. I reserve books online to be delivered to the branch next to my apartment. It's a treat and a safe way to enjoy because I have to return them! Again, the system is one of the biggest in the US so I'm not really denying others the books, which was certainly a concern. If your library is smaller, you can still read books there or even do inter-library loans if needed.

It's time for me to sort my books again, too. We could make a virtual event on MetaFilter IRL for a Saturday or Sunday if you'd like and we can all sort together then report back on our progress! We should be gentle with ourselves and even a book or two donated is a good step.

*As for the snacks, I think there are two ways to approach this. You can either see it as an indulgence that's expensive but OK. I do this sometimes at my job! Or you could buy them for less at the store and keep them in your office or car and allow yourself to have one at a time. I generally do not keep tasty snacks at home or at work because I want to gobble them up quickly but I'm getting better about it.

I think the bottom line here is to please be gentle and loving with yourself. So often we or others will pathologize our quirks but it's all really OK. Yes, we want to manage them so we have space and energy for other people and things in our lives!! However, we are not wrong to find comfort in these lovely objects in a world that is so often scary and unkind.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2022 [6 favorites]

I used to scour used book stores like this, and there were a few titles that I would always look for first. Dr. indexy knew this, and for birthday and Christmas one year bought me a few of those sought-after books on eBay or the like. I was surprisingly disappointed, even though it was a kind thought, and that's when I realized that seeking and finding books was way more fun than owning them.

That's what started my journey away from book collecting, and actually working in a public library put the final nail in the coffin for me. Learning that frequent weeding of the collection was how libraries kept their collections active and useful. Books that hadn't circulated for five years could be weeded if a couple of librarians agreed that they didn't add value to the collection. Those books were sold at the Friends of the Library sales, and if they didn't sell for a couple of years, they got pulped. But we were always very careful to not let the public see weeding and books being thrown away. Some folks think that library books are a sacred trust and go absolutely berserk if they find out that libraries are getting rid of them. It can make the news and people who otherwise never use the library storm in and raise holy hell.

That's when I learned the most important lesson: It's okay to throw away books sometimes.
posted by indexy at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2022 [9 favorites]

If I dump all these books, what if I need one of them later?

I, as an Official Internet Stranger, grant you permission to keep any book that is going for more than $20 on AbeBooks (or the price level and online bookseller of your choice). Anything else you can be sure of being able to buy easily if you ever need it in the future (and the library doesn't have it).

To strengthen your connection to the local indie bookstore, take your good stuff there. You will improve the quality of their stock, and if you never use your credit, all the better: You're helping keep them afloat, something that's far from guaranteed in the current retail environment.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:22 PM on July 8, 2022 [4 favorites]

If I dump all these books, what if I need one of them later?

I feel like Metafilter was the place I saw somebody's line about having a book collection that was so large it was stored all over the world, and sometimes the person had to pay to get a book shipped to them from wherever it happened to be. The shipping fees were offset when a remote storage location paid to have books shipped back. Having all the books feels like a security blanket, but it's a security blanket that's literally so heavy you can't move. Almost every book you've acquired before can be acquired again for under $10 including shipping. Get rid of them.

I can't get rid of these books or all that time spent acquiring them will be wasted and my wife will be right

The time spent was fun. Maybe actually acquiring the books and bringing them home wasn't the best choice, but if you enjoyed the hunt then the time wasn't wasted. I will ALWAYS look at a sale table or shelf if I walk by one, but I broke myself of actually buying books when I put a sale find on my "to read" shelf and discovered I'd already bought a copy of the same book and hadn't yet read it. Teach yourself to recognize that the browsing is the fun part, and let your wife be right about how you shouldn't have bought so many books you never read. And maybe tell her you now know she was right, because the best time to tell your spouse you were wrong and they were right is literally every time that happens.

I'll read this some day

Ah, but have you? Give yourself a grace period, but learn to cycle your books back out again whether or not you've read them. Starting now, maybe use a pencil to write an acquisition date inside the front cover (or use a bookmark, or a receipt, or whatever) and whenever you realize you need to cull things get rid of the ones you bought X years ago and didn't read, plus all the ones you did read and won't need to read again. And then you can work on getting rid of the ones you think you might actually read again, because if you really do want to read them again you can get them from the library or have a copy sent from remote storage somewhere.

Be nice to yourself, though. It's OK to change. You're not now the person you were when you acquired all those books you're hoarding, and you can decide what person you want to be going forward. It's not about whether your past habits were right or wrong, it's about what habits you want to have now.
posted by fedward at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2022 [10 favorites]

Agreed with the collective advice here already. Everyone overestimated how much their books were worth twenty years ago, and it has not gotten better. You can only read one book at a time. Most books, you can get from the library. Send your unread loves on to new lives.

That said, before you dump every book you own, make sure that this - If I dump all these books, what if I need one of them later? - does not bedevil you later. You don't need a copy of every book, movie, or other piece of media, but there is a winnowing effect over time in most libraries. Something truly not widely held at public or academic libraries can be goddamn hard to get again, even with the internet market and (sometimes) interlibrary loan. I'm not talking about that one book about that hobby you might just take up in 12 years, but that one book associated with the thing you do that's kinda old, has never been reprinted, and you never hear people talking about anymore. Will you be able to afford the $X00-$X000 to track that down later? I don't regret tossing pop fiction novel Z from 1997, but the one specialist history book published by Oxford in 1962 that I thought I was done with? Hrrrrrrm.
posted by cupcakeninja at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

I feel like Metafilter was the place I saw somebody's line about having a book collection that was so large it was stored all over the world, and sometimes the person had to pay to get a book shipped to them from wherever it happened to be.

This line of thinking lets one treat the local book collection as a cache for the wider collection, and any properly designed cache needs a workable eviction policy.
posted by flabdablet at 12:50 PM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Cull your collection one stack at a time. All the other books are irrelevant. The only relevant books are the ones in the stack you need to sort this day or week.

Sort into categories: unread for more than three years, unread for less than three years, read and loved, read and meh'd. Anything read and loved you keep, keep one copy only though. Anything unread for more than three years or considered meh you put in a box to take to half price books or goodwill. Unread for less than three years goes into a new stack.

Once you've got the loved books kept and the chafe removed, begin to go through the recently acquired but unread books. Eliminate duplicates. Then organize by interest or potential enjoyment. If it's an interest you no longer or never had, remove. If it's probably not going to be enjoyable for you, remove. Going through what's left, decide how much you should keep by what shelf space remains.

If you do this one stack at a time you can make it a habit and it feels way less traumatic.
posted by Mizu at 1:05 PM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I understand the urge; in the past I've collected all kinds of things. I've managed to mostly turn to non-tangible things for my "I found it!" rush now. Geocaching, using the Seek app, Pokemon Go, going to all the parks of a certain kind in the area, etc all scratch the same itch for me. I still love going to thrift stores but now I share a photo on-line instead of buying the item, and this catch-and-release policy brings me just as much joy and none of the guilt.

Can you turn your book collecting to something else?
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:15 PM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Librarian here, offering sympathy. and the knowledge that sometimes the library also leads to being overwhelmed with books.
All the advice in the thread is solid! Just wanted to offer encouragement, and say that book lovers are very easy for me to like!
posted by SaharaRose at 1:21 PM on July 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Libraries would love for you to use their collections! And if your local library doesn't have something, there's a good change they can order it in for you. There's not many things that you can borrow for free in this world; let the library relieve you of this psychic and physical burden!

You write that getting rid of them feels bad--is it the idea of getting rid of them, or the actual letting them go that feels bad (or both)? I'm asking because what I've found is that I experience a lot of discomfort when I think of getting rid of something. When I actually have dropped off a bag of books or clothes for donations? I feel freer. In that moment, I can see that I'm working towards building a life that I have visualized for myself (one that is pared down rather than cluttered). So I'm wondering if you've dipped your toes into the actual letting go of things, and if so how that felt for you.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:36 PM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think you're being too hard on yourself. Somewhere I heard the line "Books breed. Then they hide." Every time I've quoted it to a 35+ geeky type, they chuckle knowingly.

We had to prep for a big, unexpected move years ago (fortunately in the end we didn't end up having to move after all) and that forced me to look at books in a new way. I had to think of them as objects, things that had weight and were a pain in the ass to schlep. I had to look at my books and say, "Will I ever actually read this? Even if I read it years ago and enjoyed it, will I ever read it again? If it's a non-fiction book, is this info I could find with a Google search?" I ended up purging a ton of books and I do have some regrets, but overall it was a good thing. I'll still do cheapo, impulse book buys but I go into it thinking of my ownership as a temporary thing. I'm paying a few bucks to read the book, then I'll maybe keep it around for a few months if I want to re-read it, then it's probably off to the thrift store.

Maybe you could do something like this, without having to actually move. If you re-organized all your books, re-categorizing them or alphabetizing them or whatever, the act of having to move so many books from here over to there could force you to look at each one and decide if it's really worth keeping around. You might be surprised by how many books you're suddenly willing to get rid of.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:59 PM on July 8, 2022

Not too long ago I purged almost all my books. The only ones left are ones I either use for reference (RENDERING IN PEN AND INK, for instance, god knows why), or that I absolutely know I will re-read (Katie Mack's THE END OF EVERYTHING, for instance). I do have a collection of volumes of Walt Kelly's POGO strips and the Edward Gorey anthologies because I'll re-read them every year or so.

I have found out that though the local free library's secondhand book shop will take a handful my newer popular books, mostly no one wants the rest. Nobody.

I am not the Library of Alexandria. These books are not priceless archives. They are printed on terrible paper that turns yellow and disintegrates. I put them in a box marked "Free" in front of my house, and after someone takes two or three out of thirty, I throw. them. out.

I am enabled to do this because anything I really re-read these days is on Kindle, or I have permission to buy it again in physical form. I have even purged my Kindle library.

All this took me years, mind you. And only last week I let go of four or five books I was planning to read and decided not to. But the thing is, I turned sixty a while back and realized that it is better to be mobile than to try to hold onto everything I have ever read or will read or that became part of my sense of self. Meditation helped.

Speaking as a writer myself, I occasionally come across used copies of my books in secondhand stores and they smell awful, have turned dingy, and fall apart in my hands and I don't care if someone keeps them or throws them out once they buy them and enjoy them. I am working on the next one.
posted by Peach at 2:47 PM on July 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

There are a couple of things that have helped me with this. The idea, mentioned by a couple of other people here, that one treats the world as one's library - I also first saw this on Metafilter. So if you do need a book again, you can get hold of it. Then the idea that, if I free a book or let it go into the wild, there is the opportunity for someone else to find it. I remember some of the times I have come across a book unexpectedly in a charity shop or second-hand bookshop and it's been wonderful - I hope that some of the books I get rid of will give others that experience. The other thing is logging the numbers. I had a big push on getting rid of books from around last November to this March, and kept a running total. This was helpful. For me I needed to tell people and to put the figure online somewhere - something about accountability. It also meant that when I, as I occasionally do, take books to a charity shop but also buy some, I'm able to say, ok, I bought two books but I donated five, so I'm still making progress on the pile.

I will say it gets easier slowly. A few times recently I have bought books but they never make it to the hoard as I immediately identify that I'm not going to read them, and put them in the charity shop pile. Yes, ideally I wouldn't buy them in the first place, but at least I'm cutting out a few steps and most of the despair. I have also managed, starting small and taking it slowly, to get rid of 30 or so books related to a project I spent a lot of time on but never made much progress on and now more-or-less accept I never will.

Oh - a couple of other things (I have thought about this a lot). If you are in the UK and a tax payer, if you are comfortable with signing up for gift aid with charity shops, they will (sometimes or always? unsure) email you to tell you how much your donations have raised. This can be a surprising amount and I find it helpful. And, if you are an ebook reader, you can watch out for books that you have coming up on sale, and, if you can manage it, buying the e-version - then you can get rid of the physical book without worrying that you will want to read it again, and also support the author financially. I have also had some success with picking random unread books up from my shelves and making myself either read them there and then or put them on the charity pile. A friend with similar issues found Susan Hill's book about reading only the books she already had, Howard's End is on the Landing, useful.

It has also helped me to be realistic about the extent to which I have damaged books by keeping them - in a damp environment for instance. I've had to throw some away so now I do try to be aware that I'm not necessarily preserving books by keeping them. Similarly, I know that I can't get to books I want to read, or other stuff I want or need to access, because there are books in the way. Depending on the state of your book hoarding and how manageable your feelings of guilt are about the books' condition or your use or lack of use of them, thinking about some of those things, and sitting with the feelings, may help.

Several people have mentioned using libraries instead. If that works for you, that's great. I have mostly stopped using the library for several reasons, but the relevant one here is that I kept taking books out and not reading them, then they were overdue and I had fines and my account would be locked. So I guess I would be cautious about thinking that borrowing books will necessarily help with hoarding.

Other ideas for actual getting rid of books, if you get to the place where you can: BookCrossing, and I'm not sure how active PaperBack Swap now is (the website has a lot of ads and pop-up ads).

And finally - moving house, or needing the space for something else unavoidable, is possibly the best solution. Though painful and hard work.
posted by paduasoy at 2:49 PM on July 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Have you thought about trying the Marie Kondo method? Go through a bookcase or shelf, or stack, or whatever quantity seems manageable to you. Pick up each book and ask yourself, "Does this book spark joy? Am I happy to own it? Does it bring pleasure to my life?" If it does, keep it. If not, pass it on so that someone else can love it.

It's okay to accumulate books. It's okay to love a great many books. It's also okay to realize you no longer love a great many (or a few dozen, or a handful) of the books you own, and it's time to pass them along. There's nothing wrong with this! Your books are there for YOU.
posted by epj at 2:52 PM on July 8, 2022

Is it the price or the calories that is bothering you about the Clif bars? It looks like your vending machine is only around .25 more per bar than if you ordered them in bulk yourself. Convenience and a nice vending machine break might be worth it.

If you want something cheaper, Handfuls of Happy Trekking from Trader Joe's is good. Buying Kind bars in bulk would be cheaper as well.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:34 PM on July 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is such great advice. Today's progress: I bought five banker boxes, then went to the library book sale and bought five really good books. Then I went to my office and filled three boxes with books that no longer provide sufficient levels of dopamine, using this discussion as motivation. I will drop them off at the thrift store tomorrow and keep thinning the herd. Thank you.
posted by mecran01 at 3:59 PM on July 8, 2022 [9 favorites]

If I get rid of these books, I will have to come to terms with the fact that I never finish any projects

I invite you to come to terms with it right now. You are who you are and you are good. You will never finish those projects and you are good. You are not the person you are trying to be. And you are good.

Here's what I've learnt,purging my book collection.

Book hoarding is a little like holding onto clothes you no longer fit into. It's holding on to the maybe. Maybe one day I'll be that thin again. Maybe one day I'll once more be that person who reads alllll the books. It's aspirational.

Aspirational robs you of the chance to be who you are in the moment. To celebrate who you are right now. To wear clothes that make you look good as you are and fill your home with things that bring you joy each time you use them. Aspirational means treating yourself as not good enough, as only a stepstone to who you're supposed to be.

I donated my entire bound Goethe collection to a little free library. My therapist seemed a little shocked because, you know. Goethe. Culture! But I've had my share of famous dead white men, enjoyed reading him when I was in my 20s. Now I want to read women of colour, romance novels, science fiction.

I want my wall of books to show me, every day, who I am right now. I want it to celebrate all the things that make me excited. To reflect my tastes accurately.

It reinforces to me that I am worth seeing and I deserve to enjoy being who I am. I am good the way I am.

Donating aspirational books frees you to be who you are. Clears the way to let you celebrate your own tastes. Moreover: Making space gives the eye places to rest that aren't busily filled with distractions. It lets you breathe.

And if you end up throwing out all the books? More space for you to simply be.

You have to want to see yourself. As long as you're still trying to distract youtself from who you are, you'll have a hard time jettisoning the distractions.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:20 PM on July 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

I am also an inveterate collector of books - I am down to about 12 yards’ worth, plus some oversized ones. My truly precious books and journals are probably 3 of those yards - books I take out and look at again and again, or that have deep symbolic power from the meaning they’ve given me.

I find a lot of value in giving to friends - I’ve done social-media posts of about 10 books at a time, and people will claim them. I enjoy spending a little money to get them new homes, because it reminds me that this is NOT a sunk cost (one of my fears about getting rid of books) - the money I paid for the book, and the money I pay to send it to a friend, are together a gift for that friend. I have connected someone I love with an object of joy or use - hooray! (It also disincentivizes me from continuing to acquire cheap books with the ostensible *out* of getting rid of them. I love to be generous! But I also need to save for retirement.)

I had a co-worker who did an annual book-giving - brought in a stack and people could claim them. I thought this was genius, especially because he had actually read them all, and so it was clearly a way to enjoy new books and then pass them on to be enjoyed again (and keep his shelves from breaking). Buy Nothing, Craigslist, NextDoor, neighborhood listserv: post photos of what you’ve got, or even just put a table out on the weekends, like a yard or stoop sale, and people will likely come to take many of them away to their new forever homes. Put out a jar for donations and collect some bucks for charity.

If you are in the US and have books written by Black women, you could send them to the Free Black Women’s Library, an amazing bring-a-book-take-a-book project.

Anywhere, you could probably donate books to prisons - like with a thrift store, you wouldn’t want to give junky or out-of-date books here, but prisons (at least in the US) are often desperate for books.

You could find a local artist, maker space, art school, or crafter on Etsy who works with books for the out-of-date stuff or the “looks-important” older hardbacks that actually contain tosh - lots of people make secret keepsake boxes or cut-paper art or collage with text or lamp bases or or or. You could host a paper-plane or origami party with pages from discard-level books. You could make a piñata with discard pages and *then* throw a party.

If you have discard books and none of these is feasible, check with local government and recycle or compost what you can. Ripping out pages can be super-cathartic.

I am an atheist, but I’ve been in awe of books all my life, and have spent enough time with Tibetan Buddhists that the written word feels sacred - books don’t go on the floor or get left open - that’s knowledge right there, and it deserves respect! To recognize (in a profoundly dharmic way!) that all things are impermanent, and that my letting go of a book, even destroying a book that has outlived its use, does not, in fact, invalidate my values, bring on immeasurable guilt… or unravel my SELF - that deep fear, of being a pile of some-read, some-unread books in an rrrrrrrrrt-shaped suit - what a fucking relief! Therapy is awesome. I believe you are a thoughtful, fascinating person, even without all these books you’ve collected over the years, and I bet you can come to believe it, too.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 12:12 AM on July 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: One pernicious problem is that many of the more interesting books have been purchased from the library surplus sale, so once I dump them I can't go to the library and check them out. More boxes will go out today. I've skimmed the so-so books so today's extraction is going to be felt. "Is it safe?"
posted by mecran01 at 8:31 AM on July 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I like the occasional free book, but getting a digital back up of books is now easier than scanning. That said, scanning books is pretty convenient these days, too. I would consider myself a digital hoarder, as my search engine contains over a million open source digital items, and I read many books that probably haven’t been read in decades.

Microwaving a couple of potatoes for lunch is cheap, easy, and nearly free.
posted by metatuesday at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is my experience, so maybe not relevant, but at least a perspective...

I'm a big believer in books, but not especially in their physical format. I buy almost everything digitally. The only paper books I still have are art ("coffee table") books and books that are exceptionally precious. I also don't borrow ebooks from the library very often, because my reading of one particular book or another goes in fits and starts and due dates are always in the way (if the book I want is even available).

To put it in Marie Kondo terms, I have kept the physical books that give me joy and enhance my life.

I know my digital preferences conflict with many people's preferences for physical books. I get that, but I'm also getting older, and it's harder to hold books and read small print than it was 20 years ago. The physical weight of my incurable reading habit is much lighter, and the emotional weight hasn't changed at all.
posted by lhauser at 12:11 PM on July 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

I used to book-blog, that is, write reviews really for my own future self and connecting to specifically what I’d already read or planned to read. I found it much easier to offload a book I’d written myself a careful review of - or occasionally it made it obvious I had a keeper.

It is more work than buying another book. Higher effort, higher reward.
posted by clew at 12:51 PM on July 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I'll establish a review workflow that looks like:
1. write a review in Obidian
2. paste it into Goodreads and Amazon
3. Decide whether the book is worth owning

I've taken 11 boxes now to either the local bookstore or the thrift store. It has not left as much of a dent as I thought. I'd like to clear out the three extra small shelves in my office, as the walls are getting thick with arterial book plaque, making it harder to move around.
posted by mecran01 at 1:00 PM on July 9, 2022 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you’re on track!

I buy a lot of books (not tons but at a decidedly faster rate than I read them), mostly new because of the wonderful bookstore that happens to be close by and a place I love to hang out. They don’t all get read and I have more books than I have shelving for right now. I have a lot of feelings about buying, having, and keeping books that aren’t quite related to reading them. When I do comb over books to donate them out of my life, here’s some of the things that can convince me to part with a book:

* I’ve had this for years and haven’t read it and I don’t see why I would choose it over anything I bought to read more recently.
* I’ve read this, I can’t imagine rereading it, and it adds no particular panache to my bookshelf.
* This was a gift but it was not a well-chosen one, I don’t need it.
* I started reading this and didn’t really enjoy it, it’s okay to get rid of it.

At the volume you’ve been collecting these might not be strong enough medicine to make a real dent in your collection, but maybe they’ll help you find your own way to counter the sensations that make it painful to part with a book.
posted by silby at 1:56 PM on July 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

And for what it’s worth once books are out of my house, I basically have no memory that I ever had them and no way to regret getting rid of them. I can think of about 4 books I’ve unloaded in recent years out of several dozen, and I don’t miss any of them. The rest I can’t remember to miss!
posted by silby at 1:59 PM on July 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

My advice as a recovering book hoarder : I think sometimes, it's the act of doing something and getting rewards for yourself that is part of the healing process, to fill up that emptiness from inside of you that wasn't soothed. I would look into doing inner child therapy and DBT to help manage the emotions that lead to these behaviors.

I also would say, consider not buying a book or not participating in this chain as a gift to yourself. It frees up time, resources, and energy to try to do different things to explore, and there is also so much life to live. Maybe it's like each of those books hold a different key to a different life, and each of those books would seem shameful to give away, because of whatever it represents. I think it's okay to let yourself want something different, and it's very brave and cool that you are posting this ask.

Morning Pages is also something else I recommend -- just dumping out your thoughts without judgment allows for space to breathe put and try other stuff. You got so much life and fun energy -- there is plenty of other things you can do to fulfill yourself!
posted by yueliang at 7:38 PM on July 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've taken 11 boxes now to either the local bookstore or the thrift store. It has not left as much of a dent as I thought. I'd like to clear out the three extra small shelves in my office, as the walls are getting thick with arterial book plaque, making it harder to move around.

Wow, you are doing GREAT, kudos!! You've also inspired me to restart my book decluttering. I love your wording, too. Keep going while it feels good! And please give yourself permission to stop when you feel done or just tired.

Random but related: here's an Atlantic article on how early adopters of Marie Kondo's approach were doing a few years later. I can relate! Maybe not the right time to read yet but interesting for the future.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:58 PM on July 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

smorgasbord, I liked the little Atlantic article and thanks for posting it. I did a combination of Marie Kondo and Getting Things Done a long while back as part of the whole process of clearing out, and unlike most of the people in the little article I still empty out my bag and put everything away every day. It allows me to enjoy my carefully selected collection of tote bags and handbags without catastrophically misplacing all the important small objects in my life. My house is peaceful and everything in it is something I like to see.

I have gotten rid of collections of books many many times, but the "sparking joy" process was the one that allowed me not to accumulate more books. I still buy identical versions of clothes I have determinedly discarded, though.
posted by Peach at 5:23 AM on July 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

One pernicious problem is that many of the more interesting books have been purchased from the library surplus sale, so once I dump them I can't go to the library and check them out

But you can! It's interlibrary loan, and you can get a book you want to read sent to you from a participating library. I went to the homepage of the public library for the location listed in your bio, and they do offer ILL, although you'll need to pay the postage for it.

You can also look at university libraries in your area and see if they offer checkout privileges to area residents.
posted by telophase at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I am now at 18 boxes of books that I have disposed of. Getting better at only giving the good ones to the indie bookstore and the rest to the local thrift store where frankly, people will buy almost anything and the shop is staffed by disabled folks.

I've managed to remove one shelf from my office, making it a little more open. I would like to remove two more of the small shelves, but it may require altering my brain chemistry to move past the fear and dread.

A pile of books when to coworkers, and guy way down the hall has a shelf full of books that he gives away and I have packed that thing with my discards. He also puts out a bowl of candy, which I should refill.

Oh, and I work at a University and have a massive library 1500 feet from my office.
posted by mecran01 at 3:41 PM on July 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Four more boxes of books today, including some I thought I’d never let go.
posted by mecran01 at 9:08 PM on July 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

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