Getting rid of books can be tough. Books feel like old friends who never let us down. They are dusty metaphors for who we were, who we are now and who we hope to someday become. Books are little trophies to our smartatude, nostalgic keepers of our pasts, givers of hope, and potential teachers of all the things we want to learn. It is easy to get emotionally attached to our books and it is difficult to let them go. That being said I recently realized that my books were collecting large amounts of dust and taking over my living space. I wanted to create new energy and potential for creative endeavors, so most of my dusty old friends had to go. I just needed to figure out the kindest, easiest way to do it for both me and them.
Marie Kondo, who wrote The Life Changing Power of Tidying Up, recommends a Japanese philosophy to help people dig out from their mounds of clutter and achieve inner and outer peace. I like that this system advocates letting go of everything that doesn't spark joy in your life and I'm pretty sure it's been the catalyst for at least a few divorces. One part of the book that doesn't agree with me is taking everything out at once, thereby creating a giant pile of chaos that must be dealt with in one fell swoop. This method seems overwhelming and like it involves uninterrupted stretches of time, energy and decluttering mojo, none of which I have. To clear out my book graveyard I used a more gradual approach which worked well, never felt overwhelming and did not require a giant clutter ball.
Here’s what I did:
First: Clutter is 1,000 tiny decisions that we put off making and working through it takes physical, mental and emotional energy. Be ready for this and take good care of yourself. Focus on the positive. Read this great article on the amazing benefits of living in a clutter free environment. Pick three benefits that you will remember when the clutter killing gets rough. Select three short activities you can do if you are feeling overwhelmed such as drink a glass of water, do ten push-ups or text a friend with a progress report.
I recommend taking regular breaks before you absolutely need them. I like 45 minute clutter attacks followed by 15 minutes of down time, but experiment with your own pacing.
Now open a window. Things are about to get very dusty.
Second: Separate all the low hanging fruit books, the ones you think you should read but never will, books you are keeping just to impress other, books you have tried to read more than twice and never gotten into, books whose content can easily be reproduced by the Internet, books that you’ve outgrown, books about you becoming someone that you are finally ready to admit you’re never going to be, etc. Package these books for sale, donation or recycling.
Second: Pick 3-10 books from each decade or genre to keep. These are the seminal life shaping books that are part of who you are and who you want to be. They are guideposts, heroes, friends, mentors and muses that you want to keep close. You want to live with them and are happy to give them the space they need to breathe and be happy. These are your core books.
Third: Write the name and title of each of the books that did not make the cut and slip this list into the jackets of one of the similar core books. If you’re not willing to take the time to write this info down, then you should probably let this book go. Having the information about the books you like but don't love will allow you to look them up and find them in the future. The odds of this happening aren't great, but it can make the letting go process much easier and less tragic. If the book is out of print or valuable in someway but not one of your core books, find another place to store it not in your primary field of vision (or better yet sell it and use the money to buy something you actually love).
So you will end up with 4 categories:
1. Core books that you love and spark joy (thanks Marie).
2. The book list which includes books that are important but not imperative.
3. Books to sell or recycle as possible.
4. A whole heck of a lot more shelf space, less visual clutter and clarity about what's important to you.
Fourth: Celebrate. Enjoy the space, freedom and potential that you have opened up in your life. Take a break before you tackle the next project. Post before and after photos on social media to inspire others.
Ironically getting rid of all those books can make you smarter. One study of young children found that they learned more (55% versus 42%) and were less distracted (28% versus 38%) when taught in a classroom without visual clutter covering the walls. Cleaning visual clutter can reduce your cognitive load, improve your ability to concentrate and relax, help you focus your priorities, reduce stress and make your life a lot more romantic (clutter is not sexy).
Facing your clutter takes courage, a heroic attitude and a system. Try mine or Marie’s or invent your own. I would love to hear more about your decluttering quests, struggles and victories.