Our Reading Lives

Minimalism, Books, And Me

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Brandi Bailey

Staff Writer

Brandi can be found writing about books and dreaming up outfits on her blog, Book Style. She'll probably be reading something with mythology, Brits, unicorns, a feisty heroine, or (ideally) all of the above. She has lived in too many cities, but has settled down in Portland with her awesome husband and almost-as-awesome cat. Follow her on Instagram @PinkBBWhiskey.

I hate being dropped into the middle of a narrative, so let’s start with some facts:

Fact 1: I grew up in a large and stable home. (Lucky me, I know.)

Fact 2: I do not own a home, nor have a budget in my adult life that allows for spacious living.

Fact 3: I am a sentimental near-hoarder.

Fact 4: I have moved cross-country 3 times in less than 4 years.

Those facts should help explain why I have been a resistant convert to minimalism. The evolution of the cross-country moves, alone, should explain my transformation: Move 1 was in a uHaul, Move 2 was via plane with the belongings shipped in a uPack (thinks PODS but cheaper), and Move 3 was everything in the back of our Jeep Patriot. Between living in studios, minuscule one-bedroom apartments, or small two bedroom setups with other couples and having to repack everything I own so often, I have been forced to reckon with my own, often stubborn, attachment to things.

The first to go was my collection of heels which were gorgeous yet made me walk like a drunken newborn giraffe. They were a sad loss but I accepted their fate after I literally fell walking towards the altar on my wedding day in a stunning pair of 5″ ombre blue snakeskin stilettos. It made for an hysterical anecdote and motivation to save on space in our new apartment for more books. It was only 962 sq. ft. after all. The next to go was actually my concept of personal space when we relocated from East to West Coast into a rental cottage. I tossed a few pointless mementos, that had been living in closets for too long, but nothing else had to go. From the tiny one bedroom cottage we moved to a studio apartment. It had a large closet and sizable kitchen and bath, so I still got to keep most things; none of my books had to suffer. Then we moved from the West Coast to western Pennsylvania and, while the housing was still reasonable, our ability to move all of our furniture and clothing AND books, was becoming stressful and a huge pain in the budget. I cleaned the closets out. I accepted that IKEA furniture isn’t forever furniture and that the really cool dresser I scored for free on the curb wasn’t “the find” I imagined it to be.

This move, though. This move was us tightening our belts and our budget. This move was only what could fit in the back of our Jeep once my husband, our cat, and myself were given space inside. This move has forced me to apply the minimalist principles that I always scoffed at. This move forced me to part with my paper and ink babies. I am not a huge audiobook lover and I have never enjoyed ebooks that much; books are my decor, my life, my joy. I started digging into Minimalism: A Documentary and Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Millburn and Nicodemus were able to speak to me in a way that other champions of minimalism – I’m looking at you Marie Kondo – hadn’t been able. I finally understood that minimalism isn’t about having nothing, but only having things that you A) need or B) bring you joy.

So I sat back and thought about the objects I was struggling to part with and why. Some of the clothing, household goods and objects were gifts and I felt guilty, but that didn’t mean I needed them or they brought me joy. My books did bring me joy, however. A lot of joy. I’m an introvert who relishes spending time wrapped up in a fictional world. I’m an aesthete who has built up my writing career based on my love of beautiful book covers, seeing them in my home is essential to my inspiration. A blanket can jazz up a Goodwill couch, but a shelf of books makes a room feel like home to me. Books definitely fill the brings-me-joy category of items acceptable to own as a minimalist. They also, I would argue, fulfill a need for me. My mental health isn’t always positive and “healthy” and books offer some of the best medicine in the world for me, personally. So the books, they get to stay.

Not all of them though. I had an atrocious TBR stack that was left over from my bookselling days. Some weeding was essential. Jessica’s given us some great tips before, so I’ll just tell you what system I used, under the deadline of an impending move. I separated my books into A) signed/personalized, B) beloved series/novels I know I do/will reread, C) non-fiction not easily referenced online, D) beautiful coffee table books, and E) the others. The first two categories were absolute keeps. I took some time with the non-fiction to make sure the information wasn’t outdated or a 5-second Google search away. The coffee table books took some consideration as well, I actually parted with a few gorgeous cookbooks that I only owned because they were pretty not for their recipes. The final category was filled with several-year old galleys and Little Free Library trades, a few purchased books, as well. I gave myself 60 days to pick any of them up and start reading and then everything else got carted in by the grocery bagful to work where my colleagues feasted on fresh tomes.

Now, in my new rental, my books are lined up like little soldiers along the living room wall awaiting a new bookshelf to house them. I have come to terms with parting with books that don’t bring joy to my life, and if I acquired the book for free I can easily pass it along when I’m finished. Minimalism has also helped my budget: I no longer buy every single book I think looks interesting. If a book grabs my attention I’ll give the first chapter a read in the store, check it out from the library, or read the sample chapters online. Making an educated, frugal, and minimalism-minded decision about what comes into my library is what makes it “My Library”. Becoming a (mostly, let’s be real here) minimalist didn’t mean I had to give up my books, instead, embracing minimalism meant becoming aware of the value books have in my life and made me appreciate them all the more.