Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thinning the Herd

I admit I was one of those people who loved to say, "there's no such thing as too many books." And in the realm of the whole world, there isn't. However, within the walls of my home, I have now come to admit, there IS such a thing as too many books.

Numerous years back I converted my guest bedroom--which I never used for guests--into a craft room. I have always been an avid crafter and if I see a new idea I not only feel the need to try it but I feel the need to buy every supply known to man that is associated with it. Unfortunately there is no Crafters Anonymous that I'm aware of, but I have managed to get that obsessive behavior under control (mostly by staying out of craft stores--bars/craft stores, see the similarities?) and have pretty much limited my crafting to crochet and knitting. But before that happened, the craft room had become a large storage room for all the craft supplies that weren't being stored in the attic. I ALWAYS kept the door closed because the room was useless, it was a disaster of craft supplies.

Enter my good friend Judy who came and spent a weekend with me. She slept on the sofa because, of course, there is no longer a guest bedroom, and she helped me go through that entire room. We got rid of a lot, boxed more up to put in a garage sale, and sorted and stored the rest in the attic. Then I was able to convert the room yet again. This time it became a library.

I desperately needed some place to collect all the books that were piled throughout my house. When I say throughout my house, that isn't an exaggeration. There were books in EVERY. ROOM. IN. MY. HOUSE. And not just one or two books--mounds of books.

My dad worked with a school district that was closing some of its buildings, and so we were able to get nice, sturdy bookshelves from an old school library. He installed them in my former spare room-former craft room-now library and I filled them. All of them. Floor -to-ceiling.

And then the books started piling up in all the rooms of my house again because there was no shelf space left. It was out of control. I was completely convinced I was going to read each and every book I was keeping....someday. But finally, I couldn't take it anymore.

I was making pathways to be able to navigate through my house. I'd get upset with the dogs and cats if they knocked over carefully stacked piles of books because OF COURSE these critters should know better, right? It was, like the crafts, obsessive. Luckily I hit my breaking point.

That's when I went through my shelves and I looked at every book and asked myself, was I honestly going to read it? Some I no longer had interest in. Some I wondered if I ever had interest in. Some I had multiple copies of or had audio versions of. Some I knew were just too far down the priority list to ever make it into my hands to sit and read.

I was surprised because culling all these books wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be. I love to read and I value books, but I finally realized I don't need to own them all and I won't ever be able to read them all.  I still have more than I'll be able to read, but they are confined to the library. The shelves are not packed to overflowing and I don't need additional storage bins. I even have a working rotation system in place.

With  minor exceptions, books leave my house when I've finished reading and reviewing them. And I'm more honest with myself when books first arrive or I visit a bookstore--if it's unrealistic that I'll read it, it deserves a better home than mine--books should be read, not stored. I have a variety of places the books go now and I try to spread the love, but I'm also always on the look out for places to donate books. I'm especially keen on getting books into the hands of those who find it hard to get them. Some of the places my books go:

1. A lending library my friend George started at the Cleveland Clinic for long-term patients.
2. Local little free libraries--obviously just a few at a time.
3. Teacher friends who share them with their students.
4. A program that sends books to women in prisons.

And of course I share books with friends and family. My dog Rufus goes to daycare and both his caretaker, Heather, and his groomer, Marlo, like to read, so they get books. I've taken books to the vet's office and shared them with the staff. It makes me feel much better to share my books than to keep them on my shelves. And I love that!

In the interest of full disclosure, there are two bookshelves in my office that hold the books that have special significance to me. These are personalized by the authors for the most part and are off limits to sharing. I still have a little book possessiveness left in me.

Interestingly enough, my book purge led to my present home project of minimizing and organizing. It's a long process, but being able to change my ways on my books has freed me to get rid of a lot of clutter I've held on to for unexplainable reasons. I wouldn't count myself among the minimalists, but I'm no longer on the brink of being a hoarder either.

How about you? Have you ever hit a tipping point like that? Or are the books overtaking your home? How about fun places you've shared your books? Feel free to share in the comments. And with the books you keep around...HAPPY READING!


kristine hall May 12, 2015 at 7:50 AM  

EXCELLENT article and congratulations! I am inspired. "Books should be read, not stored." Repeat, repeat, repeat. Thanks, Jen!

Ginny Tata-Phillips May 12, 2015 at 8:00 AM  

So very happy to be counted among your friends and family! I always pay it forward and share books shared with me!!!

Kay May 12, 2015 at 8:44 AM  

I did this when we moved into this house almost 4 years ago. I thought I was going to fill my office/library with more bookshelves because I had filled the ones I had and more books were stored in bins. Actually, I ended up letting go of a bunch of books. And last year, I let go of one of my big bookshelves and gave to my daughter and son-in-law. So, I have one big bookcase and one small one. Now, they are both filled, but out of 9 shelves, 5 of them are books that are keepers. Ones that I saved from my kid/teen years. And others that I just like to have around. My Louise Penny books are taking up about 1/3 of another shelf. It felt good to let go. But I am a declutterer by nature. Know that it is tough for some. I pass along books to my mystery book group, my local library, my nieces, my daughter, friends - whoever likes to read. Good job, Jen!

Malcolm Avenue Review May 12, 2015 at 9:56 AM  

Great post, I laughed along with you. I'm so proud of all the hard work you've done and the fantastic results! And yes, I too have too many books. That's one thing that binds most all of us in this community, right? (See what I did there? Bind? Ah, got a million of 'em). I absolutely love the various places you've found to donate your books. How did you come across them? I basically donate to my library, but I would love some more creative and useful ideas. I've offered to my local retirement homes, but much of what I read is so dark that I often feel I'm doing more harm than good. :)

Becky LeJeune May 12, 2015 at 7:26 PM  

Oh, god have I reached my tipping point! I'm with you, no such thing as too many books, but until I can get a TARDIS to keep them all in I have to regularly cull. I just got finished with a massive one in hopes I could get everything off the floor. No dice. It apparently just wasn't enough. Oh, well. I'll keep going through them regularly and one of these days, maybe I'll get it manageable! I do find that as I get more frustrated it does get easier to part with more of them.

I'm jealous of your bookshelves, by the way!

Jen May 13, 2015 at 10:42 AM  

Yay! So glad you enjoyed this one, Kristine!

Jen May 13, 2015 at 10:43 AM  

You are indeed! xoxoxoxox

Jen May 13, 2015 at 10:43 AM  

Thanks Kay! I have a section of Louise Penny, too, by the way :-)

Jen May 13, 2015 at 10:44 AM  

Becky, my house is almost entirely hand-me-down stuff...and technically the bookshelves are, too, but they're my furniture gems for sure.

Keeping the books under control is such an on-going task, isn't it?

Jen May 13, 2015 at 10:45 AM  

Thank you for being my cheering squad, my friend! xoxoxo

BethFishReads May 14, 2015 at 7:45 AM  

" if I see a new idea I not only feel the need to try it but I feel the
need to buy every supply known to man that is associated with it" -- sigh. Let's not talk yarn, fabric, thread, cross-stitch patterns, lace books, etc. Crafts are the hardest.

We've talked books, and I am going to adapt your method to suit my needs -- I do not want books on the floor any more. I HATE it.

Betty May 15, 2015 at 9:22 AM  

As a book lover and crocheter I can relate to everything you said. I have always made use of my local libraries to keep from adding too many books to my collection. Now I work in a library and I if I buy a book, It is one the library does not have and I donate it after reading.

B Smith May 19, 2015 at 10:00 PM  

In addition to being a member of an online bookswap site, I give books to local charities for sale and to a local food pantry (along with CD's and DVD's) so their patrons can get something to read too. My brother puts the ones I send him out at a town site where folks go and exchange books.

When I was still in corporate America, I had a lending library everyone was free to use and after 6 months I'd clear it out and give the books to a man who volunteered at a veterans home. I always try and 'rehome' books. Only badly damaged ones get tossed away.

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