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Book Minimalism


Every time I read an article on the KonMari method I laugh to myself, because getting rid of books seems to be the thing that people get the most upset about. Books are always the things that people never want to get rid of because they’re “going to read it,” “don’t want to waste the money,” “don’t want to have to buy it again,” or “know it’s worth something.” My boyfriend Michael – who I’ve seen read one book in the two years we’ve been together – has started collecting books that take up more and more space as we move, yet he has not read a single one of them (or he’ll stop reading them in the middle and never pick them up again). “Why don’t you get rid of them?” I ask him all the time. “I’m going to read them” is the consistent answer I receive. But how many years have to go by to read a book that you want to read? I don’t understand this mentality. It’s also incredibly similar to the “I’ll keep it because some day I’ll need it” mentality that minimalism tries to get rid of. 

Personally, I used to own over four hundred books (yes, you read that correctly; four hundred). That was during my PhD, though, and I ended up donating all of them when I quit school. Those books, however, traveled with me from apartment to apartment, country to country, and everywhere I moved to in the years of my higher education (I moved ten times in eight years, including four times to Europe). 

When I donated my books, I still held on to probably one hundred that I thought I’d “someday need:” ‘Oh, if I ever finish my PhD I’ll need this,’ ‘Oh, this one has traveled with me since I started college,’ ‘This one was so hard to find and is a limited edition.’ We all tell ourselves these things when it comes to books, and I guess it’s a good thing in a way since books actually have substance and add value to our lives. But it’s been ten years and I haven’t gone back to my PhD. I’ve never needed a single one of those books that I kept when I was minimizing. But going from forty boxes of books to seventeen boxes of books (even keeping one hundred of them) was an amazing feeling of freedom, and it’s since continued. Books are heavy, expensive, and a pain in the ass to move, and not having to worry about moving them takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I now own twenty-six books, and six of those books are the same one with different covers (I’ll go more into that later). Twenty-six books is incredibly easy to travel with, as it takes up one small box or suitcase, but I’m constantly trying to minimize my books even more. 

I like to put all of this in its own category of minimalism: Book Minimalism. Some people really don’t have much stuff, but they have a ton of books. Some people have no attachment to things except their books. Some people are compulsive book hoarders and accumulate whatever books they can, regardless of whether they will ever read them or not. But the quest for knowledge is different than actually owning that knowledge, and owning a thousand books doesn’t mean you are any more well-read than the person who owns only four of them. 

Here are my tips for beginning Book Minimalism and continuing on your path to less baggage: 

FIRST THINGS FIRST

First things first, go through your books. Whether you do it via the traditional minimalism way, the KonMari method, or the tons of other ways to eliminate items from your home, go through them and purge. Cookbooks, my teaching manuals from Yoga training, and certain books from my PhD were the hardest for me to get rid of, and took me the longest. Actually, only a month ago did I finally get rid of the last remnants of these three categories (and I’ve been minimizing my books for nine years), so don’t feel bad if there are certain things you just can’t seem to part with. This is about your comfortability in what you have, not what you’re supposed to do, or how much you’re supposed to have. 

If you live with someone and half of the books are theirs, don’t touch them. This entire blog is about how attached people are to their books, after all. But also don’t let that person guilt you for getting rid of books that they “wanted [or were going] to read.” If you read a book and hated it, get rid of it. Why are you keeping it? If you bought a book thinking you would want to read it but don’t care anymore, get rid of it. If you have borrowed books from other people, return them. You can always borrow them again if you really do want to read it, but if you haven’t yet, chances are you won’t ever want to. 

I think the worst architectural elements are built-in bookcases. I understand we all have the grand idea of leather-bound books cascading across beautiful old wooden built-in bookcases, but that’s just never going to happen. Books don’t even look like that anymore. All built-in bookcases do is make you feel like you have to fill them either with books or tchotchkes. In fact, I’m in the middle of buying a condo right now and told the contractor “whatever you do, I do not want a single built-in bookcase or shelving unit in my house.” When I left my PhD, I had an entire wall with egg-crate bookshelves, and that thing taunted me every single day when I had emptied it of its contents. Built-ins just don’t look right when they only have a few things on them, and they definitely don’t look right when they’re empty. It’s just better not to have them, and only have enough room to house the books you have, not the books you have to get. 

Once you’ve purged your books, there are a lot of things you can do with them: I donated mine to an organization who sold all the books and then used the money to get kids off of skid row (I lived in downtown LA). You can donate them to a local library (and hey, then you can go borrow one of your old books if you decide you’re actually going to read it!); you can donate them or sell them to a used book store; you can leave them randomly in places for people to find; you can sell them…the list goes on. There’s a ton to do with books, so go online and see what your town has to offer! 

BOOKS YOU KEEP

Like I said, I now own twenty-six books. Six of those books are copies of Catcher in the Rye. It is my absolute favorite book, I have a tattoo representing it, and I’ve read it every year since I was seventeen years old (and that’s a long time ago). After lending my copy out to so many people and them never giving it back, I began collecting a bunch of copies with different cover images, solely because the printing company has changed the cover so many times. I finally decided to stop lending my book out and ended up with five different copies of it. The sixth one is a first edition printing in the UK that I specifically purchased because I had never seen the cover before. 

The other twenty books I own are books I love: books that have changed my life in some manner, books I’ve read over two times, and books that I regularly use (e.g. reference books). 

If you love certain books, then keep them! There’s no need to deprive yourself just because you’re minimizing what you have. The other benefit of having only books that you absolutely love, is that you know every single book you have; you know the shape of them, the condition they’re in, and the length of them. You can then house your books backwards to minimize visual clutter, but still know what every single one of them is. 

RE-EVALUATE EVERY YEAR

This is one of my favorite things to do every year, actually. I re-evaluate each book that I own, some years getting rid of one or two, and some years not changing a thing. But the not changing a thing doesn’t make me feel guilty because I already have such a small amount of books, that getting rid of one doesn’t really do much in the long run. The only thing re-evaluating every year does for me, is keep me in check so I don’t begin to accumulate again. 

When you begin minimizing your collection, re-evaluating every year is an important step. You might start with getting rid of twenty books right now, but a year from now, after realizing you didn’t even miss those books (or even remembering what they were), you’ll be more apt to get rid of more. Or you might purge most of your books now, but in a year realize that you can still get rid of one or two more. Maybe you purchased a new book (that you read!) in the last year, and now you can let go of it. Re-evaluating doesn’t just keep you in check with accumulation, but it’s also a kind of reward: being able to see how much less you have, how much less you purchased in the category, and what you really need. It can make you proud that you’ve kept your bookshelf tidy. 

E-READERS

Eight years ago I was given a Nook (the Barnes and Noble version of a Kindle) as a gift. I hated it. It didn’t smell like a book, it didn’t feel like a book. It didn’t have a book cover and it wasn’t pretty like a book. But after a few weeks I started getting used to it. And after a few months, I started really liking my e-reader. I could go on my Goodreads account, pick a book I wanted to read, and immediately have it at my disposal. E-books were cheaper than physical books. E-books didn’t cause clutter. I could have tens, hundreds, thousands of books – and I didn’t have to look at any of them in my apartment. I didn’t have to pack them up in boxes and pay to move them. I firmly stand by e-readers for the majority of my books. Just don’t get a recipe book as an e-book. Trust me, it’s too big of a pain in the ass to find a recipe in it. 

If I do end up reading an e-book that I absolutely love (this has happened once with The Bell Jar), I purchase a physical copy of the book because it has a special meaning to me. 

USED BOOKS

One of my bucket list items is to read 100 Classic Novels. I’ve been slowly going through these novels for the past five years (it’s very slow going), but there are some pros and cons about this. The pros are obviously that I’ll have read 100 Classic Novels and be able to talk about most of the great writers that we all revere. But the cons are that it’s an expensive endeavor, most of the books are boring, and they take me forever to read. The awesome thing about e-readers is that a lot of classic novels are free or like, $2. But then there are some that are the same price as the physical book, and I don’t like spending $15 on an e-book. So this is where I go to used book stores. 

Used book stores generally have classic novels in stock because students will donate their semester’s books after they’ve finished reading them. I can now get a barely used classic novel for $1 - $3. So if you’re a fan of holding a physical copy of a book, I highly recommend going to a used book store (plus, it minimizes waste), or going to a library which will also hold you accountable for not accumulating books. Personally, I can’t go to the library because I travel too much and a lot of libraries will only let you take a book out if your driver’s license is in the state that the library is in. When I was living in Vegas (where my license is), I went to the university library all the time, and it was amazing. Any book you could or couldn’t imagine was there, and I got to read about really cool things that I normally wouldn’t have. 

A LITTLE GIFT

One of my favorite things to do is leave books in random places with an anonymous note. When I was first minimizing my books I would do this a lot more than now – obviously – but I liked to imagine someone finding the book and it passing from person to person. The last book I left was Tess of the d’Urbervilles which was on my classics list (I spent $1 on it), and I couldn’t wait to get rid of it! I hated that book so much, and I didn’t want it in my house anymore (forget waiting until the next year to re-evaluate), so I left it at a restaurant with a note for the next person. I think this is a very cool way of minimizing your books instead of just donating them to Goodwill, but that’s just my opinion. I do this immediately after I finish a physical book that I don’t intend to keep. 

LENDING BOOKS

Don’t do it. My rule for myself is that I never lend books to anyone, no matter how much they ask. I have gone through so much money replacing books that people never returned. Also, when you lend out books that you love, you forget how many books you actually have. If you’re not physically looking at them, how will you get an accurate idea of what you own? So it may sound harsh, but just don’t lend out books. If someone asked to borrow your computer for an indefinite amount of time, would you let them? Why should a book that you treasure be any different? 

COOKBOOKS

Cookbooks take up a lot of room. They’re thick, usually hardcover, and hold so many recipes that you keep purchasing them and end up forgetting what’s in them, so they’re easy to accumulate. Cookbooks were a very difficult category for me to minimize because I love cooking and baking. But not only did I have a plethora of cookbooks, I also had clippings of recipes, my own recipe book of things I had created, online recipes, screenshots of recipes, e-book cookbooks…the list goes on. Finally, I decided to do something about it. First, I threw away all of my recipe clippings. If I hadn’t made them at this point, I wasn’t going to. Next, I went through every single recipe in my cookbooks and if I had liked them or still wanted to try them, I typed them out. Every single one. Yes, it took a long time. But then I donated all of my cookbooks and was left with one binder that has the recipes I use in it. If I make a recipe from Pinterest or something I see online and like it, I type it out and put it in the binder (pins of recipes are just as bad as recipe clippings). If I didn't like the recipe, I delete the pin immediately. So if you have a ton of recipes and cookbooks like I did, try minimizing them as well; it actually makes your cooking life a lot easier. 

So that’s it! Those are my thoughts on Book Minimalism. And if you’re curious about the books that I own, I’ll list them below. 

Until next time… 

All my best, 

Alexx 

BOOKS I OWN

Reference Books:

1. The Baby Signing Bible

2. Eat Right 4 Your Type

3. Complete Formulary of Magical Oils

4. The Palm

5. Native American Ethnobotany

6. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

7. Food Politics

8. Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume 

Other Books:

9-14. Catcher in the Rye

15. Franny and Zooey

16. Raise High the Roofbeams & Seymour, an Introduction

17. Nine Stories

18. The Phantom Tollbooth

19. How to Kill Your Husband (and other handy household hints)

20. Rebecca

21. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man

22. The Diva’s Guide to Selling Your Soul

23. The Bell Jar

24. The Giver

25. Dracula (Classics list that I will be disposing of)

26. Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (used book that I will be disposing of)