Why is it So Hard To Get Rid of Books?

I love my books. No I mean I really love my books.

As someone who could not read or write until I was thirteen years old due to dyslexia, you could say I have played catch up and over compensated ever since. Seriously, I am book mad. I have collected volumes with a vengeance, devouring them until my eyes dimmed. In my mind, there is nothing better than a good book.

Having said that, I currently have my smallest book collection since discovering Amazon in college and have, in that time, needed to do several book purges. My library has ranged around two-four hundred volumes the entire time, and though this may not sound like loads to the dedicated bibliophile, trying to cram that many books onto two book-shelving units is not easy. In fact, it ends up becoming a rather frustrating game of Tetris come Jenga.

Recently I started moving around my office space in order to make it feel lighter and become much more practical as I leap into working from home part-time. The biggest issue I have with my office is that it is a tiny, awkward shaped room and I have a lot of stuff. The majority of which is books.

Did I mention…I have a lot of books.

Forget the myth that books have to be alphabetized, its is not always practical in a home-space.

Now my first thought was could I move the books I did not need on a regular basis to other parts of the house. Unfortunately not, as we rent a rather tiny cottage that is barely big enough for two people, and frankly I have to count my blessings for even getting to have an office space that didn’t force me outside into the garden shed.

So the books needed to stay in the office. But I had too many. Hard to believe that you can have too many books, but even I had to concede, I had outgrown my space.

Before I started designing the rest of my space, I focused on solving where I would store the books. I needed to utilize an entire wall to do so, so when shopping on Amazon for my bookcases I allowed myself that space. But then the bookcases came, and I still didn’t have enough room.associates_160x600

What was I going to do? I love my books. I am seriously addicted to collecting, reading and yes, even dusting my tomes and I knew no amount of Marie Kondo would help me make the hard choices of what to keep and what to get rid of. All my books spark joy! I had thirteen years of deprivation from the written word, I would not be giving up a single page without a fight!

If you are anything like me you will understand the aesthetic appeal of a printed book over the infinite storage ideal of the Kindle. As much as I like the idea of as many books as I can fit onto a tablet, it rather lacks appeal for me. I like the smell and texture of the pages, it makes the reading experience feel more real because it’s printed, it’s a physical product.

But more than that, it’s a portal to something else. Whether fact or fiction, books provide a contentment to the reader, they allow you to curl up under a blanket with a cup of something warm, and immerse yourself in their wisdom or whimsy. Historically, before the printing press, books were seen as a source of wealth and I believe that status should still be maintained to this day! Books are a source of great riches; for their stories, the information they provide, the time and effort poured into them by the author, the attention they were given by the editor, the carefully tailoring by the publisher, I see it all when I look at a book.

So it’s easy to see why I’m so addicted to books and why I have so many. But how to part with them.

The Process

The first thing I found was that my books fell into a few obvious categories:

Putting your books into piles really helps you to see what you are working with during a purge.
  • Read
  • Yet to be Read
  • Favorites
  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction and reference

Now for some people, the decision of what to get rid of might be quite easy. A practical person might decide that they just have no time for fiction and only keep the books that will have a beneficial impact on their career etc. But, as practical as I might be I know I need my fiction, I need the transportation for a few carefree hours every once in a while. It releases stress and brings joy and contentment. So fiction books stay.

Some people would be ruthless with the ones they have not read yet, and that have been sitting there for a while. Again another valid approach, why allow books you will never read to take up space? But I know I will read them, it just takes me some time occasionally. After all, there are a lot of books for me to go through, and personally, I prefer to take my time, enjoy, relax and learn when I read.

Others will opt to depart with the books they have read, feeling that they have had the information or enjoyment from the book and that it is now time to let it for-fill its purpose with someone else. Again, this is a hard one. I have favourite books that I re-read at least once a year, and some that hold such a strong sentimental value, for instance, the Harry Potter series, which were the first books I ever read (actually how I taught myself to read!) that I now without a doubt I will never get rid of.

More mature persons might suggest that children’s fiction such as Harry Potter has no place in an adult book case but as an aspiring writer and auntie, I say, ‘oh no‘. I will keep what ‘children’s’ fiction I see fit because I can check books for my nieces and nephews before they read them, give recommendations and more importantly, I want to write for kids someday, this is one way I can learn to do that.

So what did happen? Well, I did get rid of quite a few books. As I said this is not my first purge, as an avid reader this is something I have to do on a regular basis and it never gets any easier.

I started by taking everything off the shelf and dividing up the books that I know I want to keep straight away. Why go through the heartbreaking decision for every book. I know I simply will not depart with some of them, so there is no need to make the process longer than necessary.

Next, I look for commonly found books that I could easily get a hold of again at short notice should I depart with it. Such things are more common titles or authors that you know flood the charity shops and public libraries. These books go. Then I do the opposite and look for the less common titles, particularly my Egyptology reference books, another easy decision – they stay.

Then whatever is left with is what gets the big assessment. I go through each book and if I am not sure I put it aside to read a little once I have gone through the rest of the piles. If I am still unsure if I can part with it, I keep it and put it on the top of my reading pile. At least that way once it has been read fully I will be able to make a proper choice. If it is something I have already read and I am unsure whether I want to keep it, it just goes.

Colour coding your books adds great visual appeal to a space.

If at the end of my work through the books I still have not made any process I do let practicality help me, and it’s brutal. I hate every minute of it but it has to be done.

If I have too many big books for the bottom shelf, these go first. I then colour code my books, if I have too many red covers I know I need to focus here. I take emotion out of the game completely and try not to get too attached. If it doesn’t fit on the shelf with all the must keeps, it goes. Simple. This way I alienate myself from my hoarding prerogative. I know the books I love are safe so it makes the process a lot less heartbreaking.

When Books Depart

How I get rid of my books varies. I have a lot of specialist knowledge books, such as writing, history (various eras) and historical fiction books. Having gone through them, I then decide if I can gift a book to a re-enactment friend or fellow enthusiast and if I think it’s not suitable I check the book buying sites. These are great as they offer a small fee, collect for free, and have a better chance of finding a beneficial home for the book (such as a school or library).

If they buy the title great, there’s a little bit towards my next bookshelf, if not it goes to the charity shop. Now please don’t think me shallow, I would rather take the lot to the charity shop but the fact is most people in my local town do not need nor want a copy of Egyptian Hieratic and Hieroglyphics, it would just be wasted. There is little point donated something if you believe it might never sell within the community, as this just means it is likely to get thrown away which causes the charity more work for no reward.

There are also other options when ensuring a book leaves your home but finds a new place to be enjoyed. If you have children’s books you or your kids have grown out of why not gift them to a neighbour with children of the correct age range. You can also have a stall at the local village fair or raffle, donate to a local school or even museum.

The main thing when the books depart is to do something with them that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived or that the books are being wasted.

The Result

Eventually though, after repeating the process and going back through my collection, I boxed and bagged the ones I was comfortable getting rid of and …still had too many.

But that is OK. I know I want the books that remain, so it just meant I had to be a little bit more creative with my shelving. It took a few hours but I got there in the end and all my books, (bar the ones I am currently reading) are on the shelves in reasonable, not quite so hap-hazard non-order manner and it no longer feels like an avalanche of hardbacks will kill me whilst I’m working at my desk.

My main tip for anyone else looking to do a book purge is to take your time, don’t push yourself too hard to get rid of things all at once. Deep coming at it or else you will associate nothing by woe to the task. Instead focus on the books new purpose in making someone else happy, in imparting its knowledge to someone else who can use it and cherish it the way you did. And also do not forget all the books remaining. They are still there to make you happy. And as likely as not, just like me, you still have a lot.

A sneak peek of the final results.

However, you get on in your own book purge I wish you happy reading in the future. Please do share any tips and tricks you have for getting through a book purge in the comments below, I always enjoy hearing from you.


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