book donations

Releasing Your Books So They Can Find Love Again

This post is going to horrify some of you. I’m willing to write it anyway, because I did something I never thought I would do. Something that took courage, something that took a lot of soul-searching, something that has already changed my life in just one week…

I decluttered my books.

cleaning your bookshelves

I feared sharing this project with my bookworm friends would end badly, with an mob of intellects standing at my front door with pens instead of pitchforks. But the response was positive on Twitter—unless you all just favorited Aphrodite the panda cat photobombing this one.

Living in a studio, there is only so much clutter one can have. But when you’re living in a smaller space, the clutter you do have is very obvious. You have to get crafty with storage solutions, there is constant rearranging, and no matter what you do…it still feels messy.

In preparation for spring cleaning—something I always do in the winter so I can enjoy the beautiful weather when it comes—I read two books.

karen kingston

My mom and my sister received copies of Clear Your Clutter for their birthdays, because I knew they would love it. I flew through the book and it opened my eyes to a lot of decluttering ways I hadn’t considered before. The main question to ask yourself…does this lift me? If it doesn’t, you toss it.

Clear Your Clutter was my first time reading about getting rid of books, and I laughed. I cleaned out my closets and my bathroom—my books stayed put.

marie kondo

Then I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Without the feng shui aspect, this book is very straightforward about what you need to do—get rid of some shit.

But before you do, lay everything out so you can see it. If you’re working on your clothes, that means you pull out everything from your dresser and closet. Then you need to touch every item and make a decision…does this spark joy? Once again books were mentioned, but this time I listened to the argument.

If you’ve been lugging around books for years that are just collecting dust for the sake of decoration, is that bringing you joy? If you’re hanging onto books that someone gave to you that you will never read, old college textbooks you will never open, or fiction that you would never read again in your life, is that bringing you joy?

No. And, to get emotional here for a moment, because I truly believe books are our friends…this isn’t bringing them joy either. So last weekend I decided it was time to release them into the wild.

Easier said than done.

Kitchen with book decor

Some of you may remember that I had the bright idea to decorate the top of my kitchen cabinets with all of my books when I first moved into my studio in Portland a couple of years ago. I called it The Book Decor Workout, because strength and agility are a requirement when you’re using a ladder to organize your books.

This time was all about reverse engineering and not as difficult. But my hamstrings and upper body were put to work.

book piles

I followed the KonMari method by laying out all of my books on the floor, then holding each one to decide if it “sparked joy.” If you’re rolling your eyes right now, I have to say that there is something to this—especially when you’re a book lover parting with your sweet friends.

There are decisions that need to be made and I think it’s important to take your time when you’re taking on a decluttering project that involves emotional ties. You want to feel good about your choices. If you’re rushing through this project, you’ll either hang onto things you don’t really want or you’ll go too crazy and get rid of something you shouldn’t have.

Because we’re not talking about putting all of your books by the dumpster. (I just puked in my mouth a little.) We are talking about selecting the ones that still have meaning to you, then finding new homes for the rest.

In the image up there I have my two piles. The big pile on the left did not spark joy anymore, while the pile on the right did. Everyone is going to be different, but these are the books I decided to keep in my life.

gatsby

CLASSICS YOU WANT TO KEEP

I had quite a few classics, some that dated back to my high school years. Yep, high school (aka a million years ago).

When I held these books, I remembered that well…I really didn’t like them that much. They were a reading assignment or one of those books you just had to read because it was a classic. Sometimes we hang onto books of this nature, because we feel smarter having them in our collection.

Who gives a shit? If Mark Twain isn’t your thing, let it go.

writing toolyoga book

TOOLS YOU WILL ALWAYS TURN TO

Whether you’re a writer or you have another passion, there are some really awesome books that you will discover one day and they will become your trusted companions.

When you hold these books in your hand, you don’t get all jazzed up over the story inside—you will probably feel steadier. A book like the Emotion Thesaurus has been my confidante during the editing stages of several of my books, and that made me happy. It was a tool that helped me write a better novel.

I also ended up hanging onto all of my old Yoga books from my teacher training. They are friends I will always turn to when I need them.

costa rica book

IMAGES THAT ENERGIZE YOU

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I got to my coffee table books, which are mainly travel related but I do have one beastly one, American Fashion. I barely had to hold these, because as soon as my eyes landed on the covers, I got energized.

In reality, I will probably never go to all the places in the world I want to see. Books like these allow me to escape without the cost of leaving my house.

book inscription

WORDS OF LOVE

I’ll admit I haven’t picked up my poetry books in years, but I reconnected with them the day I brought them down to hold them in my hands. And one of them had a beautiful inscription from my dad. There was no way I was going to part with this one.

So, this bunch was more about the words inside of them for me. All of the poems were too lovely for me to let go.

madeleine l'engle

CHILDHOOD FAVORITES THAT SHAPED YOU

These are the books you first read as a child, but you read them again and again throughout your life. When I held these books, I remembered the feeling of the first time I read it. It was a little bizarre.

The wonderment I felt when I read these stories absolutely shaped me into becoming a writer. If an author had the ability to connect with me in such a way, to steer my imagination, I knew I wanted to try to do that too someday.

All together I decided to keep 60 books. I sold 19 (mainly old college textbooks) and I am donating 124 books to our wonderful Oregon libraries.

I have not felt any regrets. On the contrary, I have felt much happier—lighter even. That yummy feeling has been oozing into other aspects of my life.

Since early adulthood, I have dutifully moved my books across multiple states and made room for them in my home. Years later my books were covered in dust and cat hair, and because some of them were above the stove, they were speckled with kitchen grease.

Until last weekend, I hadn’t opened the majority of them and they were stiff as they moved in that unfamiliar way as lost pictures, receipts, and college papers spilled onto the floor. Many of my books were no longer loved. Now that I’m letting them go, they will find love again.

Have you decluttered your books? Or, do you find it too hard to part with your friends?

P.S. This was a helpful post I used to make the change.


WWII thriller

49 thoughts on “Releasing Your Books So They Can Find Love Again

  1. I’m a perpetual re-reader and I definitely connect my books with different times and emotions and places in my life. There are books I’ve read while traveling abroad, there are books that got me through tough moments when growing up, and there are books that leave me smiling or thoughtful etc. whenever I finish them. These books I would never let go of because I reread them again and again and just seeing them on a shelf is reassuring to me.

    But the books I didn’t like? They get donated. Just because I didn’t enjoy them doesn’t mean someone else won’t! Also, because I reread so frequently, I’ve developed a pretty good sense for books that I should buy and books that I should just borrow from the library for a one time read.

    Congratulations on your decluttering, though! It can be really hard to part with old friends…

    1. Seeing our favorite books on a shelf is absolutely reassuring. If the book is loved, being reread or providing that kind of comfort, then it makes perfect sense to keep it in your home.

      And, you’re totally right about letting a book go for someone else to enjoy. That was a breakthrough for me when I finally realized that, and started looking at the poor neglected books I was selfishly hanging onto. They will be much happier with a person who loves them.

  2. Wonderful post, Britt. Just in time. Two winters ago we decluttered our books. Just this week I was missing them. I thought to myself, “Who does that? Books are friends. Who dumps them so tidily?” Now I know who does that, and feel assured we are in good company, and better for it. Btw, I love your father’s note, your gorgeous kitchen, and that mighty Aphrodite!

    1. Hey, Laura! I imagine I’ll go through a similar emotion one day when I’m looking for something that I donated. But then I’ll remember that we parted ways for a reason, so that book could find a better life. 🙂

      I was so happy to stumble upon my dad’s note in that book. He used to give me poetry books all the time.

  3. Several years ago we thinned out our books. It was easier to do than I thought it might be because I never reread books. But still, I kept my absolute favorites. But they’ve cluttered up again with new purchases, so your post has inspired me to get on it again. For me, it’s not so much nostalgia as just not wanting to take the time to do it. So many other things cry for my attention.

    1. I understand how time-consuming it can be, honey—especially when these projects cut into our precious writing time. Because of the kitchen counter climbing, it took me longer than the average bear. But I had some tunes on and just really focused on the project.

      Even though it took time away from my second draft, it was part of my no screen time commitment. Clearing out the space also cleared my mind, so it’s worth it to hunker down!

  4. In addition to believing that books are my friends, I tend to think of books as decorative elements in a room. I’ve gotten rid of lots of them over the years, but I keep others around because they look good on the shelves– or in piles on the coffee table. I have no difficulty moving them on to better homes when need be, but I like a bit of book clutter around the house to remind me of who I am.

    1. Totally agree! Besides my kitchen, I keep a decent stash on my bedroom dresser because it makes the room cozy. Nothing beats the look and feel of books. In my case they were pretty sad and neglected, so I’m glad I’m finding better homes for many of them.

  5. I parted ways with my books for a while now. I have embraced the library. I recently did away with my final magazine subscription too. Happy Reading – Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

    1. I embraced the library too! That has really helped me with book clutter. It’s a great way for me to test drive some books, and if I feel like I will reread them, I put them on my shopping list. If not, I return the book when I’m done.

      Love the online ordering with the library these days—that has changed my reading world. Happy weekend, Renee!

  6. I love books, but they cannot rest on shelves. They must be active, alive, full of possibilities. And the only way that can happen is if you pass them on…A wonderful post, my dear friend.

  7. As a retired English teacher, reader for more than fifty years, and writer-of-all-things, I very much identify with this. Like Ally Bean and you, I also decorate with books, and they can be found in every single room of my house. I truly Love Books.

    Also like you, I decided to release some for many of the same reasons. But I had been doing so in small increments–releasing some I did not Especially Care For (that disappointed me after a read) Into The Wild, leaving them in waiting rooms, on a bench in a public area, etc. Our local library has an enormous book sale every spring, and I donated cartons of them (all hardbacks, the only way I adopt books) in one fell swoop. It was liberating.

    I will never, ever give some of them up, like the ones I taught, even though I will carry them forever in my heart, small personal Gatsbys and Holdens and Atticuses and Santiagos, even Hester Prynnes. I hope they never leave me.

    You did a terrific job of winnowing out. (And your dad–what a guy!)

    1. I just heard from my friend, Dianne, that releasing in small increments is safer on an emotional level. I went all out, but I still feel good. I think if I get sad I’ll just take a trip to the bookstore and find a new friend or two to hang out with for a while. I’m a library enthusiast, so I always have a pile of books that I’m working through.

      Liberated is the perfect description. I never thought I would part with ANY of my books, but the positive effects in my life this week have been undeniable.

      My dad is quite awesome. 🙂

  8. I’m adamant about holding onto books, still have my calculus textbook from the horse and buggy days. Most of them are down in my basement space, but they’re everywhere in the house. I DID, however, make an attempt to reduce the inflow of more books by getting a library card.

    Books, tools and wood. All things I can’t part with until they become a nuisance. As luck would have it, I have a house with ample room to keep them organized enough to keep from tripping over them. Barely.

    1. Calculus textbook, Tim?! I never had one of those. Always been horrible at math. 😉

      I love my library card and the way I can order books online and pick them up at my little library down the street. I have increased my reading and decreased my clutter with the library commitment. Win!

      Yes, I do not have a house with ample room. It’s good for me though, because it forces me to simplify.

      1. After majoring in music, I really enjoyed math. So straightforward.

        Our little house is still too big for just the two of us, and too much for me to keep up with, maintenance wise. It’s like me, showing its age and in need of work. 😛

    1. Haha, I love how you said: “I did the unthinkable.” Clearly I felt the same way when I took this on. I put it off for a while, but the second book I read, The Magic of Tidying Up, finally helped me see my book hoarding in a new light.

      Hope this inspires you to do some decluttering, doll!

  9. I know I’ve held on to books for much too long , but luckily I’ve always had the space for them. Then a few years ago, a friend needed books to start a library in Israel. It was an opportunity to do good and clean up my shelves. I was able to fill six boxes, and it felt good to let go. I knew the books were going to a place where people would read them. Since then though, I’ve refilled my shelves (and then some), and probably have to do another decluttering!

    Great post, Britt,
    xo
    eden

    1. That’s so awesome, Eden! I’m very happy the library can take on my beloved books. They were so grateful on the phone when I was scheduling a pick-up, but hell, I was grateful they were taking them! I didn’t know what to do with all of them. They are so special, and I’m relieved they have new homes in their future.

  10. When I saw you were doing it through your facebook page, I told you I had just done so too. Since I’ve entered the zero waste lifestyle, the truly “use only what you have, have only what you need” motto, I’ve found the will and strength to declutter my childhood bedroom -the only space left that’s truly mine in France, now that I practically live off my backpack. I had hundreds of books. I’ve kept about 30; among them an ancient collection of Emile Zola’s series “Les Rougon Macquart,” the Harry Potter series in English and all my versions of “The Little Prince.”

    Unlike you, I didn’t dwell over it or use your method of sensing if I wanted to keep these or those. I needed to get rid of everything, one way or another. It was an urge. I sold many, gave others back to the english book store where I can get a new one for every 10 I bring back. I’ve felt wonderful.
    Never would they have ended up in a dumpster! We’re not in Fahrenheit 451!!! 😉 No way I could have done that to books either.

    But really, decluttering your life and your place is the best way to declutter your mind and feel much lighter in everything you do.
    Happy reading for all that’s to come!

    1. I have you to thank for the Zero Waste book! Ever since then, I’ve been on a mission. I have gotten rid of so many things and my life has felt lighter. It’s amazing how many things we hang onto, then we release them, and that creates space for other possibilities.

      1. I’m happy we could find yet another subject to agree on. I wish us a great adventure on this path, it’s definitely felt great to be able to take part in this mission.
        Now that Raul has arrived (today!), I’m on a mission to teach him so we can do the same in Mexico when we get back!

  11. I love feng shui, Britt – but one thing they don’t really stress when de-cluttering is not to get rid of too many things at once (otherwise you drain too much energy from yourself. I gave some of my books away before we moved to the RUC, but now I have so much bookshelf space I’m buying them again – oh dear! 😉

    1. I have spent some time with my books that I am donating this week, cleaning each of them and packing them nicely. In fact, they are still here in boxes as the library can’t pick them up until Tuesday. I’m sure once they are out of the house, it will feel weird, but I’m enjoying the rejuvenation effects since I tackled the project.

      I’m facing the kitchen today, pulling everything out of the cabinets and going to town. 🙂

  12. Yes, I admit, I like the Panda cat photo bomb. How could I not?

    You did a good thing by decluttering your books and donating them. I always feel lighter in mind and spirit when I do that.

    I like the idea of touching each book before deciding to keep or donating. I’ll have to do that next time I do a book cleaning. xoxo

    1. Panda cat photo bombs are hard NOT to love. I totally feel lighter in mind and spirit. I’m attacking the kitchen today. Not sure I need to fondle my glasses and bowls as much, but I’ll try it. 🙂

  13. A task well done! I have decluttered some of my bookshelves but some more could be released. Fortunately, we have a gorgeous second hand bookshop near by and I have no problem with giving my books over to their care. I have done the KonMari tidy up of my drawers but they need redoing already. If I were to have a dream home, it would be small and decluttered but there would be a big storage shed with lots of lovely organised shelves with all my possessions. And every now and then I would go to the storage shed and bring in just the books, ornaments, pictures, china that I was in the mood for. And what was in the house could be given away or put back in storage. 🙂 Dream on!

    1. That’s great that you have a secondhand bookshop close to you. We have Powell’s out here, but they’re such a popular store that I wanted to avoid going in there.

      Yeah, I tried her drawer tips and found that hasn’t been working very well for me. 😦

  14. I could not declutter my books, not in a million years! I even hold on to the ones I’ve hated. One way or the other, they’ve earned a space on my shelves and I would feel wrong renting their position to some other book. Haha, does that make sense?

    I loved seeing A Wrinkle in Time there! Did you know it’s the first of five books? I acquired a box set with all five, but haven’t had the time to sit and read them. I want to give them my full attention!

    1. Oh, Zen! I know all about your book loving ways. 🙂

      A Wrinkle in Time was one of my faves. I knew they were part of a series, but I haven’t read the others. Are they as good? I don’t want any of the magic to go away if I try reading them and they can’t compete with the first.

  15. Yes! I just did this so that I could get my boxes of books down to 48 for our move. I let go of a couple of hundred books. AND we let go of a lot of other things especially the stuff cluttering our garage. Craigslist Free is a wonderful invention. It made us feel like small-time philanthropists. We will use it more.

    1. I know you guys just moved, so that always helps. Though our place is small, we have started accumulating stuff over the past two years.

      If we ever need to get rid of something, we tend to leave it in the trash room of our apartment building. That’s always an unspoken giveaway zone in apartments. Our patio chairs came from the trash room. Cleaned them up and voila! 🙂

      1. A giant boulder stood just inside the entrance to our old apartment building. Everyone called it “the giving rock.” Our son would often come back from the mailbox, carrying something he’d found on the rock. Sometimes he got to keep things, other times, we sent him back before it could take up space in our apartment. We always knew when someone was moving out since the rock would be inundated with stuff. We placed things on the rock when we left. It was a fantastic way to turn unwanted items into treasure. We have also recently discovered Craigslist Free. A great way to get rid of items that other people may want.

  16. I love books too, but I have always been choosy about which books to buy. I will only buy the ones that I know I will re-read, or that affected me deeply, etc. This is mainly because I am a minimalist at heart and have never been one to live in too much much-ness! I love seeing books going to new homes where they will be adopted and loved all over again. Books deserve to touch many lives!

    1. I hear ya, honey! With the exception of indies I can only read electronically, I stick to library books now. I’m able to test drive books this way and decide if I will reread them again. If so, I’ll purchase them to keep around.

  17. I declutter every six months or so and then do a big one every two years or so. You described the experience so well because, in the end, it really is a positive one. And, it makes room for new books!

  18. I am a passionate declutter-er. I’ll clear my house of just about anything the moment it ceases to be useful. That said, getting rid of books does give me pause. I do pare them down, but I do it with a little touch of melancholy.

    1. I’m a neat freak in general, Mike, but I’ve always steered clear of my books. Glad I finally took the plunge. The next hard step for me will be my keepsakes. I’ve been hanging onto a few tubs of them and I need to address those once and for all. I read a tip about taking photos of things, so you can still “keep” them around. Going to give that a try!

  19. Oh, I did this years ago and now carefully consider before keeping a book. Most are given to friends or donated, with an admonition to pass the love when finished. And I feel lighter!

Hey, be a doll and chime in...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s