From the Blog

Getting Rid Of My Books Was The Best Idea Ever

Towards the end of 2010, we hit the downsizing hard. With the anticipation of moving into a much smaller apartment, we reached new levels of ruthlessness when it came to our “stuff.” We got rid of furniture, kitchen gadgets, clothes and other “stuff.” It’s both agonizing and electrifying to shed belongings. I spent a lot of time in fretful contemplation, looking at all the crap I have amassed over a lifetime. Some stuff I wanted to keep just because I’ve hauled it around with me for years. It seemed unceremonious to just dump it into the goodwill pile. But after goodwill trips, and the piles were gone, what remained was wonderful, glorious, empty space. I felt as free and light as a floating pink soap bubble. That smelled good.

Soon enough, I didn’t even remember most of the stuff that I gave away, which relieved any lingering doubt. But I have also had delayed moments of remorse. Like getting rid of a perfect summer sweater to go with fancy dresses. Yes, I only wore it once or twice a year. But that sweater had a very specific purpose. I didn’t realize that it was still useful until eight months later. So now when I go to weddings, I have to go sweaterless. Damn.

The items that were absolutely the most difficult to part with were my books. I agonized over them. I got lots of stories and great feedback from readers about books. Books are supremely difficult to let go of. But I bit that bullet. I bit it hard.

Between the two of us, we probably had about 1000 books. We got rid of 90% of them. I brought them to Powell’s and we probably made a few hundred dollars from them. Afterwards, we had more empty space. And we had fewer back breaking boxes to lug around each time we move.

But that’s not even the best part of getting rid of my books. The best part is that after getting rid of all those books, I am reading more than ever. Counter intuitive, but true and amazing! I used to have a ton of books that I fretted over not reading. Now I put titles that I want to read on hold at the Multnomah County Library, and even though I now live three counties away, they mail them to me. Opening the mailbox is like Christmas. I either have to read or renew within three weeks, so I’m motivated to crack the books and actually get through them. If I owned these books, I probably wouldn’t even start them, let alone finish them. They would probably gather dust, and I would probably feel guilty about them.

So now, we live in an enormous apartment. We have plenty of space. We have shit tons of storage. We have fricken built in bookshelves. We could go easily back to buying books. Of all potential clutter, books are maybe the least ugly and usually the smartest looking. There are plenty of books I’d like to buy. But I actually want to read them. So getting them from the library, with a looming return deadline, is perfect for me.

It hurt so much to make the final decision to get rid of my books. And turned out to be best idea ever.

I think I’m a big girl now.


  1. Aimee Wynhausen says

    NO!! I haven’t read this post but…*sobs* no.

  2. Meredith says

    Recommend anything? I want something fun. I finished Born to Run, about barefoot running and I heard it’s going to be made into a movie with Peter Saarsgard. I have a migraine book you gave me I’m going to reread and I’m going to look into the library for the other book you recommended. I need to keep this habit going.

  3. Oh, I never read the books that I own. Neither do my kids. Well, with the exception of Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.

    You’re right — it’s very counter-intuitive. I’m a huge book reader but I rarely advise others to buy (unless the book is *that* good, for example, Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes.)

  4. Aimee Wynhausen says

    Oh dear. I don’t know about getting rid of all of them but I can see myself paring them down. When I moved from NC to Kansas I got rid of about half of them….maybe I can do that again when I move to Oregon. *sighs*

  5. It is interesting how that works! Len and I of course also got rid of mountains of books, most of which were relics of past interests rather than a reflection of what we wanted in the present and future. There are a few I wish I hadn’t parted with, but mostly not.

    What’s scary is that even though I really try to restrain myself (and I’m also an avid library user), we’re somehow rebuilding the collection– I glance at the shelf in my office and realize that most of the books there have been acquired in the past two years. And many of them are as yet unread! Time to clean house/library again, methinks.

  6. It has been totally rejuvenating to clear out the books. I used to not look for new stuff to read, because “I have all those books waiting at home.” Which I would never read. It didn’t keep me from BUYING more books, because bookstores are like Disneyland, but anything I’d buy would go into the “unread” pile.

    Meredith, I can’t say I’ve read anything “fun” lately. I’ve read books on the scummy health insurance industry, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and now a book on Denialism. I’m a barrel of laughs.

  7. So nice to read this instead of the typical “I gave away everything I own…except my books, books are sacred.” mantra. I’m trying to pare down my book collection, but it is hard. I tried to make myself read the books I’ve been saving but not read yet, but going to the library and picking out something new to read was much more fun.

    I often think I’d be broke, or get to read a lot less, if not for the library.

  8. I so related to your original post on getting rid of the books. I was an English major and whether I had read the books or not, and whether I would ever read them again or not, I loved looking at them. But I just didn’t have the room for ALL of them anymore. Getting rid of my books was the best thing I’ve ever done.

    Now, on my one small bookshelf, instead of overflowing piles there are a few small collections. My travel books. A small stack of meaningful books: one from my mom as a gift for college graduation, one from my boyfriend that was a very sweet gift early on in our relationship (i hated the book, but love what it symbolizes, plus he put a very cute inscription), a book of poetry from my best friend.

    And best of all, there is now room for my travel momentos (I try to buy just one small thing that reminds me of each country I visit).

    Every time I look at the shelves, I smile.

  9. Books. My serotonin and brupropion combined. Whenever I get stressed, which is less often than you’d think, I get me to Powells. There’s something about Powells I find completely soothing. Mostly I just wander, reading book jackets, but often I leave with a book I just have to have, that I can use for work, or so I tell myself. It’s all available online, you say, but sometimes I just have to buy a book.

    To have and to hold, that’s the value of ownership. Which is not to say that I haven’t liberated myself of more-than-my-share-of books. I have. I used to have 30 boxes of books, not a number I’m proud of. I’m down to about three boxes worth of (current) keepers, mostly French design and style, color and architecture, photography and art.

    I do have four boxes of vintage children’s books, all photographed and swathed in cellophane covers and ready to sell on ebay, which I can’t seem to figure out. The selling, I mean, not the children’s books.

    But I loudly applaud any downsizing or rightsizing of book collections, particularly at Powells. It’s the beauty of Powells, actually, that the used books are right next to the new books and part of the joy is sorting through. Besides, they need the support.

  10. powell’s is awesome. i stumbled onto them online years ago. then, when i visited heather in portland, when in the actual storefront. it was like a temple. i love that the new and used books are side by side too.

    @meredith fun books… a walk in the woods by bill bryson, any of the “A is for Alibi” alphabet books by sue grafton. if i knew what you liked, i could recommend more. i read a lot of crime/thrillers but i prefer the ones that are a series, so the character development is strong.

  11. I got rid of my books a few years back too. Cept for the cookbooks, I may not use them often and I know I can pretty much find any recipe I want on the internet, its just not the same. I have approx 15 cookbooks, I keep thinking of paring down but I just cant… yet.

  12. I almost didn’t read this because it makes me CRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am in no ways a hoarder but when it comes to books, perhaps. As an avid reader I read 2-4 books a week depending on how busy I am. I collected books as a hobby. Old books, clearance books, anything. My apartments were always packed with books and I loved them. But they were a humongous pain the ass to move. Every time I moved, the hardest part was moving boxes of books.

    I moved in with my boyfriend three years ago and had to downsize a lot of stuff. Yes, I was moving into a house from an apartment, but I had a lot of crap. I was able to get rid of 40% of the crap I didn’t need anymore (nick-nacks, clothes, crap!) but when it was time to go through the books it was heart-wrenching. I had to call in reinforcements. My best friend helped me part with about 50% of my book collection. They were books I’d read and didn’t need to read again, or books I hadn’t read yet and probably wouldn’t until they were the “last books on earth”.

    I’m ready to go through them again and downsize. This post inspired me. Thanks!

  13. Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve also been going through the process of getting rid of books, and right now it does not feel like the best idea ever! It was really nice to read about someone who is on the other side of that hurdle! If you’re interested, you can check out my post about this struggle: Any encouraging words would be appreciated :)

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