the minimalist bookworm


when pierre and i moved to our little bungalow from our equally little apartment in 2010, most of what we moved was books. my books. and my two falling-apart billy bookcases to hold them (double-stacked, all the shelves bowing — you book lovers know what i’m talking about). i am a big reader and always have been. reading is my number one way to unwind and pass the time when waiting (like, for the subway to begin moving again) and i will always choose a good book over television or a movie. it’s also my livelihood (not at the moment, but it has been and will be again) and so, besides doing a lot of book reading, i also do a lot of book buying. which is how i ended up with eight rubbermaid bins of books when we moved — and that was six years ago.

since we committed to living small in 2011, i’ve stopped buying books. i still ask for them for christmas and my birthday and do occasionally pick up particularly buzz-y books from trade shows, but i’ve acquired very few books in the last few years. i still read a ton, but i borrow all my books from the library. i also did a big purge in 2012, editing two double-stacked billy bookcases of books down to what would fit (um, also double stacked) onto this teak shelving unit. i donated roughly 200 books to the library for their used book sales. but i had difficulty parting with more than that because i liked the way the books looked all lined up on the shelf — pretty covers and dust jackets and the spines barely cracked because they’d only been read once.

over the past couple of years i have completed more book purges, but smaller ones — ten to twenty books at a time, most slotted into one of the little free libraries that are all over my neighbourhood (take a book/leave a book cubbies on peoples’ front lawns). but, as we face a cross-country move in the spring, i decided to tackle another extreme purge. i decided to edit my library (still some 600 books strong) by asking not if i liked having the book around, but by asking whether i would read it again. and note that i didn’t ask whether i would read it twice, but whether i would read it again — so, if i’d read a book ten times, would i read it an eleventh? many books that i’ve read two or three times actually got chucked into the donate pile. not because they weren’t good books (obviously!), but if i couldn’t imagine reading it again, i decided it just wouldn’t be worth moving. following this recipe means that many of the books i have kept for now might get donated at a later date, once i embark on that second reading and then decide i won’t read the book a third time. so, all that’s left of a huge book collection is what you see sitting on these few shelves. not necessarily my favourite books, but just the ones i’d like to reread sometime in the future.

frankie has her own books in her bedroom and downstairs, but the thought of these relatively empty shelves did give me pause. since reading is such a huge part of my life, i certainly don’t want her to grow up in a “house without books.” of course, she won’t really be without books; i’m already at the library three days a week and can’t imagine that won’t continue as she gets older and can choose books to borrow for herself. so, in fact, we have the biggest book collection ever, we just don’t store it in the living room.

what do you think? do you feel super guilty getting rid of books? how do you evaluate which books stay and which books go in your library?

4 thoughts on “the minimalist bookworm

  1. We reduced our number of bookshelves from 4 (2 big, 2 small) to just the 2 big bookshelves a couple of months ago, but I need to go through them again because they are well and truly double stacked. I like your criteria for keeping the books that you still have, and I’m glad to see that Harry Potter made the cut 😉

    They are beautiful bookshelves too!

  2. I did exactly the same thing as you. First cull was down to books I’d loved reading, which was still a lot. Then I applied a year’s time limit to ‘read it or lose it’ to my unread books (I’m on the last one now). I ditched the unread books which I started and didn’t love. My last cull was down to books I think I’ll read again, which isn’t many. I’ve also started picking some of those off the shelves and starting to read to see if I really will read them again. I like the look of books but I no longer feel that is a justification for keeping a collection that is so large and difficult to move.

    I loved your comment about the library meaning your daughter has the biggest collection of books at her disposal.

    1. awesome! i’m with you. i really like books and the look of a house with lots of books, but not enough to pay to move the ones i can’t imagine reading again 4,000 km. i actually think it’s indulgence in a small space to keep any books at all! with the library and e-readers there’s actually no real need to have any physical books taking up space. (but i’d be out of work if too many people agreed! so, shhhh.)

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