10 December 2017 ~ 0 Comments

Minimally Minimalist (or how to get rid of 400 books as slowly as possible)

I have an addiction… Books.

I can’t help myself. When I was growing up, books were the one thing my family always worked into the budget no matter how tight our finances might be. And not just trips to the library to participate in Summer Reading programs and borrow more books than we could carry, (which I absolutely loved), but we were also allowed to buy as many books as we could read from our school book clubs.

However, after amassing hundreds and hundreds of books — scratch that — I’ve never counted them all, but it’s more likely I have 2,000+ books in one format or another (not counting comic books which fill at least 16 cardboard comic book boxes, nor digital ebooks in Kindle, PDF, or other formats) it comes down to a simple problem of space. I can only fit so many bookshelves into my living space, and believe me, there are bookshelves in every room except the bathroom and laundry room!

(Note to self: explore idea of adding books to laundry room shelves…)

In the last condominium my wife and I lived in, I had an entire family room and office filled wall-to-wall with bookshelves. Every shelf bowed under the weight of the books crammed and stacked to fill them to capacity, but even that wasn’t enough. We lived there 3-4 years and I still never had a chance to unpack all the books I owned for lack of total shelf space.

When we visited Hawaii and decided we’d really love to move there someday, the conversation came around to how to deal with all the “stuff” we owned (most of that “stuff” being my personal library). I decided on that day I would begin reducing the number of books I owned, but I had to do it slow and easy to acclimate myself to the idea of casting off these dear lifelong friends of mine.

What was the slowest acceptable rate of progress for divesting myself of these valued tomes of knowledge and entertainment?

One book per day.

I decided the least amount of mental stress and panicked pain of loss would be to choose just one book each day and put it into a box for donation or resale (even I hate those cheap-undervaluing-offers at Half Price Books!) I rejected the option of reselling the books myself through Amazon’s used book platform, because I’d have to go through the effort of listing the book, waiting for someone to buy it (if at all), and expend the effort to package and mail it (along with the potential of dealing with claims of missing or damaged purchases). Nope. Dropping the book in a box and then dropping off the filled box all at once would be the easiest way for me to go, and the least likely way for me to procrastinate or abandon my efforts.

I started the process during the during the last week of November in 2015 and carried through 2016 without fail. Once I hit the milestone of 400 total books, I decided to take a break during January 2017 to reflect on how far I’d come (and how far I still have to go!) Aside from the occasional book or two that I still drop into a donation box, it has been almost a full year hiatus from removing a daily book from my library and I wanted to reflect on the effort (because I’m considering going back to the one-book-per-day habit again in 2018).

Here are a few more insights into how I managed to divest myself of so many pieces of the things I am so fond of.

  1. The one-per-day strategy really helped. I only had to justify a single book to get rid of.
  2. The first month was easier than the last month. It was almost a simple thing to pick and choose the books to give away in the beginning. Old paperback fiction were among the first to go, followed quickly by any business book that had dated (vs. timeless) information. Books on social media like Twitter and how to use YouTube for marketing might have been valuable when they first came out, but the YouTube of today is dramatically different than the YouTube of 24 months ago.
  3. Friends of mine who read really benefited! I knew which friends might like specific books, so I gifted them to a new home.
  4. A couple times I took a box to the office and offered my co-workers the opportunity to choose books for themselves, and then I would deliver any remaining books to the donation bin on my commute home.
  5. Some days I’d get on a roll in removing books from my shelves for donation. On these days I would pull as many books as possible and set them aside to be put into the box individually, day-by-day. It was important to stick to the one-book-per-day habit (and it made it a lot easier to pull from the donation stack rather than trying to pick one book from many “keepers” still on the shelf.

I think this process to develop a daily habit of purging just one item daily is very do-able. It can be applied to almost any type of belonging, and I plan to give it a try with articles of clothing in the new year. There are plenty of shirts, pants, jackets that I know can be donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

I am also weighing the idea of doing this with my coffee mugs and drinking glasses. Some how those suckers started multiplying like rabbits and filling the kitchen shelves. I think I can clear some kitchen cupboard space by removing at least one mug or glass per week.

(Note to self: explore idea of adding books to kitchen cupboard shelves…)