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Our Reading Lives

I’m Getting Rid of My Books

Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

Is there a word for a person that is the opposite of a hoarder? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, if it exists, that is me. I hate when things accumulate, and love getting rid of things, to a fault. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized a week or so after throwing something out or giving it away, “Damnit, that could have really come in handy today,” or even had to go out and acquire said item a second (or third) time because it turns out I did need it after all.

Why am I so quick to get rid of things? First off, if I personally cannot find a self-evident practical use for something, I immediately begin to consider it dispensable. And I’ve discovered that what makes this all even easier is the fact that I find it extremely difficult to attach sentimental value to objects, though I couldn’t tell you what the root cause of that is. I certainly don’t find it impossible, but in comparison to others, I’ve definitely seen a noticeable difference in the rate at which I am able to do so. (Just ask my mother, who I’ve gotten into many an argument with for throwing out various mementos of my childhood without a second thought.)

Books had always been an exception to this rule, though. As a “book person,” I definitely bought into this false narrative we’ve constructed of books as sacred objects. So no matter what I thought of the content of the book, the item itself held some sort of intangible value just for existing. Which meant that, for the longest time, I tried my very best (within the bounds of logistical feasibility) to save every single book I ever read, even the school-assigned ones that I hated.

But this is simply unpragmatic, and very much at odds with my usual habits. I periodically do huge spring-cleaning-style purges of my belongings, but have always bypassed the books. Instead, I would leave them to be the one thing that continued to collect and pile up despite being able to maintain a certain order and lightness elsewhere.

Probably in part due to the fact that reading in and of itself has become such a struggle for me in recent years, as well as due to the increasing irritation I feel at having to rearrange my entire bookshelf every time I buy a single book, the very presence of my books has become suffocating. I even realized that at some point I stopped having that universal book lover’s dream of having a giant home library with wall-to-wall bookshelves and a sliding ladder a la Beauty and the Beast. So for my most recent big cleaning, I finally turned to the books I’d been deliberately overlooking all this time. And as it turns out, I don’t need or even want about 80% of them.

As a person who does not reread, outside of the small selection of books I have successfully attached sentimental value to, I’ve realized there is little to no point in me keeping the books I’ve read already. So goodbye to all those books I read and will never pick up again! Then there are the books I own but have failed to read at all. It’s the story of my reading life, really: all ambition, zero follow-through. Instead of allowing that lack of follow-through and shame to stare me in the face, I’ve decided to just accept that I will not read them, and let go instead. So goodbye to all those tomes I bought years and years ago and no longer have any intention of reading! All these goodbyes are making me feel lighter already!

It’s definitely going to be a process — as we’re all well aware, physical books are a bit of a logistical hassle — but my former wordy companions are on their way out of my life and I’m actually super happy about it. Not because I think they’re bad or don’t carry any inherent value, but because it’s absolutely okay that I don’t feel any attachment to them and don’t want them around anymore. Just as we all have our own unique relationships to books as content, we can also all have our own unique relationships to books as items. I don’t have to worship the book as some sort of hallowed object in order to identify as a reader or book lover. Instead, I’m content with holding books in my heart instead of on my shelves.

You may be wondering, what’s the plan from here? Am I never going to buy a book again? Obviously, the answer is no. I’ve always used the library for most of my reading and that will certainly continue to be the case, but of course I’ll still buy books, too! In fact, I might even buy more than I used to. The difference is that I’ve changed my framing of book buying from an investment in a permanent artifact to an investment in an experience. And as I’ve always valued those types of investments more, it actually feels like things are finally falling into place. No longer do I have to feel guilty about buying books when I already have so many I haven’t read yet. And no longer do I have to be stressed about the space that they take up. From now on, I’ll buy the books I’m interested in, (hopefully) read them, and then drop them off in my neighborhood Little Free Library for the next person to enjoy and cherish.

To be clear, I’m not here to tell you how to feel about your books or what to do with them. The measures I’m taking feel somewhat extreme anyway, so don’t take my word as “the answer” to anything. If you love having as many books as possible and filling physical shelves to the brim, perfect! I love that for you, too! But I do suspect there are plenty of people who fall somewhere in between these two extremes. So if you have been feeling any unease or anxiety about personal libraries that only ever seem to grow, I challenge you to re-examine what those books mean to you and find a balanced solution that works for your life and priorities. Meanwhile, I’ll probably still be hauling these books out of my house one tote bag–full at a time well into the new year.