Friday, March 08, 2013

Crosspost: The solution to Too Many books

I'm crossposting this from another blog of mine:

So, in response to ameliaearharts post, “Is there wizardry on how to never have overstuffed shelves?”

Sadly, no, it’s not wizardry. It’s the thing that pains readers the most in the entire world and the problem they find the hardest to solve: just not having so many books.

You actually have to force yourself to the realization that you have the shelf space you have, and if you want your shelves to look good and to treat your books well, that’s the space you can use and you just can only have what will fit. I rebelled against that idea for DECADES, since I was a kid I would just box up books and store them all over the place. Boxes under my bed, in my closet, in the attic, whatever. Just to make room for more books.

The thing was though that I wouldn’t read them for months, sometimes years, and in some cases they stayed in the attic until my mom said “you’re not reading these donate them to kids that will.” When I was 25, so obviously they’d been up there a while. And so finally what dawned on me was that there were some books I will always want to have, and will always want in case I’m going to randomly want to read them. There are books I own because my friends wrote them or gave them to me.

But at the end of the day, if I’ve got a book that I’ve not read, or that I won’t pick up again, or that I’m keeping for any reason other than I love it and want to read it over again, then that book deserves a different home than one where it’s getting ignored. At that point, I’m treating that book no better than a decoration, no matter what my good intentions are.

Now, I couldn’t really do this when I was living in dorms or moving every year because it actually was quite true that I didn’t _know_ what space I had. And because I wasn’t ready to actually face the whole thing yet. But when I got married and my husband built my bookshelf, I looked at it and realized that I had enough shelves to house over 60 square feet of books, and that even when you add in his books (which were few, we actually had a lot of duplicates that I sold when we got married) I had more books than any one person could really enjoy, and I told myself that I was doing the world a disservice by not letting someone read this book. The book deserved to fill it’s purpose in life, which is to be read and cherished. And while I might have enjoyed the book (if I had read it, seven years in a bookstore means I had a LOT of books I picked up and never got around to reading) maybe I didn’t love it the way someone else would.

And since I’m not having kids, keeping all of my books from when I was a kid felt like denying things I loved in my childhood from other children who should experience the things that made my life good. I kept my favorites, but for the most part I reread them one more time and either donated or sold them. Because unless I’m going to read them again, another child should get to experience it. I see it a bit like Indiana Jones and his “it belongs in a museum” thing.

Now, obviously I’m not saying if you keep books that’s bad. Like I said, I have over 900. I can’t remember what the last count was when I finally finished cataloging them a few weeks ago. I’m also a sucker for wanting complete matched collections, so I have every Star Wars book from before New Jedi Order, for example. I’ve got almost every graphic novel Crossgen published (I’m missing a couple because I didn’t start collecting until they were out of print). I adore books and I have a LOT of them.

But I also made it a point to have a very specific space for them, a large one, and I decided that at least for now, my books have to fit in that space. If I add too many and I’ve got a shelf double-rowed or a stack sitting somewhere, then I need to sort my collection again to find things I may be ready to part with.

I also massively curtailed my spending on books. At least until I got an e-reader, but that’s another story. But I stopped buying just anything that caught my eye and started getting stuff from the library first, then buying it if I truly loved it and wanted to own it. I got pickier about what I wanted to own versus what I just wanted to read. And I told myself that my worth as a reader wasn’t measured by how many books I owned but how many books I’ve read, and how much I enjoyed them. It definitely helps that my county has a fantastic library system, so that wouldn’t have worked when I was a kid in a small town. But it helps now.

So far this has worked for me. It was hard, it was really hard. But it was one of the last steps in what’s now been about seven years of me really changing my perceptions of the things I own and my living space so that I could live a less cluttered life, because let me tell you I was on a one way train to hoarding when I got married. And the struggle to get away from that has been about dealing with a lot of stuff, both mental and physical, and so I don’t say any of this lightly or like I think people can just turn around and magically figure it all out.

What I can say though is that those changes have all made me happier, and helped me financially, so that’s why I’m always willing to talk about it when it comes up, in the hopes that maybe somebody else will be helped by listening. I’ve not regretted a single book I’ve let go of, because I waited until I was ready to do it and let them go in the right way for the right reasons. Being able to walk into my guest room and just scan the shelves for something to read next, without having to sort through and move things just to see what I own, it’s huge. And on top of that, now I actually know what I own (I used to buy extra copies of things because I’d forget I had it) AND I usually know exactly where it is when I want it. I can pinpoint the shelf, about where it is on the shelf, and what’s next to it on either side within a few volumes (maybe not exactly next to it).

I haven’t had to do a big “take everything down and put it back” reorganization in years. Instead, every few months when I’ve got a handful of new books, I’ll work them into the shelves while going over them and deciding what maybe can go this time.

It’s not always perfect, but it’s working so far.

But seriously, ebooks have brought all of it back, so I also am just channeling a lot of my old habits right into my Nook, so I am a bit of a hypocrite here. I just can’t apply the same principles to digital stuff, I’m not at that point mentally yet I think.