Our Reading Lives

Our Books, Our Shelves: On the Need to Book Purge



Always books. Never boring.

Last year, I made a new year’s resolution to get rid of a bag of stuff every week because my life is full enough without so much clutter around me. I thought it might make me just the tiniest bit happier if I cleared out some clothes I haven’t worn for years, high heels that hurt my feet too much to be worth it anymore, and notebooks upon notebooks full of lecture notes from undergraduate and beyond. It did.

Once I tackled those obvious areas, though, I started looking for more things that needed to go. CDs and DVDs went into a yard sale bag. A box of full of congratulatory cards from my high school graduation: recycling. Graduation robes: Goodwill, likely to become future Harry Potter costumes.

That left my books. Here’s the thing: my shelves are in my front hall. There are four of them, and all were full-to-overflowing until I decided to start purging and donating them. See, here’s the thing, my special snowflakes: my overflowing shelves had become a source of stress. Yours probably aren’t, and that’s wonderful. That’s what makes the world so beautiful and life such a treasure- we all shine in our own crazy-diamond ways. And this crazy diamond was tired of owning so many unread books. Now, I didn’t ditch my entire TBR, nor do I have a single drop of TBR guilt.

I was just tired of the TBR acquired by different versions of myself which were never fully authentic. Some were recommendations from people no longer in my life, sometimes for painful reasons. Deaths. Fallings-out. Reasons that caused me pain. Others were recommendations from people I desperately wanted to emulate in my previous career, for personal and professional reasons, but trying to do so only resulted in a highly inauthentic, impossible-to-maintain persona on my part; the actual person in there didn’t actually enjoy any of the books. Fake it til you make it only works sometimes, and you should never use that philosophy to lightly Single White Female somebody.

There were so many books I’d accumulated for so many reasons that simply no longer mattered to me. Because of the location of my shelves, the first thing people walk by when they walk into my house is my books, which definitely means some stopping and commenting on the way in. I started to get really annoyed with myself when someone would point to something they loved and ask for my thoughts, only to be greeted with a shrug because I still hadn’t gotten around to it after six or seven years. It wasn’t shame; I’ve gotten past that in pretty much every area of my life now that I’ve crossed into my 30s. It was genuine irritation I felt with myself. I was clinging to old relationships and old aspirations that I needed to let go. The Great Purge of 2014 was a really good step along the way.

Now I have so many ways of getting books into my brain without bringing them into my house that I feel incredibly lucky to be living in the future. Subscription services, the library’s online collection, the library, audiobooks, ebooks, AND paper books? Yes please! Shelves full of books I love or ones I can’t wait to read? Awesome! The freedom we have to be you and me? Amazing! I love to look at other poeple’s overflowing shelves; bookshelf porn is my favorite porn. But I also love looking at my own, pared down shelves and only having positive feelings about the books that live there.

If you can’t stand the idea of getting rid of books, that’s okay- I’m definitely not sending a team to your house to take yours away. But you knew that already.


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