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The Life-Changing Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection

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Jenn Northington

Director, Editorial Operations

Jenn Northington has worked in the publishing industry wearing various hats since 2004, including bookseller and events director, and is currently Director of Editorial Operations at Riot New Media Group. You can hear her on the SFF Yeah! podcast nerding out about sci-fi and fantasy. When she’s not working, she’s most likely gardening, running, or (obviously) reading. Find her on Tumblr at jennIRL and Instagram at iamjennIRL.

In honor of the BYOB Book Drive on April 23, Jenn is subjecting her overflowing bookshelves to some spring cleaning. And you can join her! Get the details here.

Marie Kondo has some pretty extreme de-cluttering suggestions. She doesn’t think you need to seasonally rotate your wardrobe; she recommends you store shampoo, soap, and all other bathing items in cabinets rather than in the shower itself; and she thinks you could probably downsize by about 2/3 of your current possessions.

While I may never manage to regularly put away my body wash, my book collection could use some of Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Not just because it’s massive (last time I counted, I had 300 books that I hadn’t read yet, and I couldn’t bring myself to count the ones I had), but because it’s overwhelming. I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to what to read next, but I’m also paralyzed by the number of options. Just last week, I made myself separate out all the unread galleys that were two or more years old and take them to the local church’s used book sale. That alone yielded five overflowing tote bags’ worth — and my books still don’t all fit on my shelves.

It’s not just galleys, although I do get a few of those every week. I also bought more than ten new books in March, and that doesn’t account for comics. And that’s not an unusual month. I justify it all because books are my job — but let’s be real here. If I stopped getting books in the mail AND didn’t buy any more starting today, even at my usual reading rate of ~2 books/week I would have enough reading material for 150 weeks, or almost 3 years. Excuse me for a moment while I go turn into this guy:

Twilight Zone Reading Guy

So while I’m not an actual hoarder who will die buried under stacks of mildewed paperbacks, I do have a space and attention-span problem. Which is why I’m spending this weekend picking up every book I own, and sorting them by the KonMarie Method: “Does this spark joy?” At first glance, this seems impossible. It’s a book! Of course it sparks joy! But weirdly, this is a more freeing question than the ones I normally ask myself. Usually I’m bouncing around between: Have I read it yet? Will I ever reread it? Is it signed? How long have I had it? What if I want to lend it to someone? Who recommended it to me? How many times did I see it mentioned on Twitter? None of which has anything to do with whether or not I’m actually going to read it, or if I truly want to keep it on my shelf.

And luckily, the BYOB Book Drive on April 23 is a chance to get books to people who don’t have the access I’m lucky enough to have. Somehow, that makes it easier to contemplate parting with them. I’m not getting rid of books — I’m sending them out to find new homes, new friends, and new readers. And let’s be real here — chances are way better that they’ll get read almost anywhere else than buried three rows deep on the bottom shelf of my overflowing bookcase.

So tell me, fellow book-addicts: how many books (or bags thereof) do you think you could donate?


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