How do you part with books?

I’m behind on a couple of work projects, but a photo of my home is the first Google hit for “squalor.” I can’t think when the house is a wreck. The piles and pandemonium seep into my brain and scatter my thoughts in every which direction. I don’t need it to be perfect; I just need it to be orderly enough that it’s not a distraction. Today it’s a distraction. I sat at my desk, my back to the computer, and I took it all in. Where the hell did it come from? Where the hell does it go? Why the hell is it everywhere?

I came to the same conclusion at which I arrive at least weekly: we have too much crap. There’s just too much shit, and it’s everywhere.

There was a new conclusion today, though: A very large proportion of the clutter in every room is contained to shelves, and because my husband children are completely incapable of putting books tidily on a shelf, those shelves are full of haphazard stacks, random binders, and paper, paper, paper.

In the same moment in which I reached this conclusion, a terrifying thought crossed my mind: What if I got rid of most of the books?

Insert a well known literary allusion: THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

I counted every book my husband and I own. I excluded the children’s books. I already have a shelf of the children’s books I will keep forever, and the kids are allowed to keep, trade, and give away the rest as they choose, and I chuck them when they fall apart.


When am I ever going to read 1,147 books, all of which I’ve already read?

I pulled out the ones with which I could not possibly part. Fahrenheit 451, Wicked, the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare, Orlando, Heart of Darkness, The Intuitionist, Oryx and Crake, a couple other novels, copies of lit journals containing the work of my near and dear friends, and a few writing and art reference books and cycling atlases. (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver and Gathering Blue, and the Harry Potter and Unfortunate Events series are with the kids; they’re not in the count, but they’re on the keep list.) All of my current graduate school books are keepers, and most of them will live on my desk at work once I graduate.


My stack is now 53.

Can I really bring myself to get rid of the rest? Can I really get rid of 1,094 books? Imagine the weight—both literal and figurative—that would be gone. And dusting would be easier. And I’d have so much more space.

Would you do it?


6 thoughts on “How do you part with books?

  1. I think I’m at close to 3,000. When we were getting the house ready for the baby I tried to tackle the library. It’s wall to wall shelves and there are still too many books for the space. Just boxing up a bunch to store in the basement to make it more orderly until I can get more shelving put me into fits. There’s no way I could get rid of my books. I lend them and reference them and sometimes just look at my shelves and reminisce about all the wonderful stories I’ve read. 🙂

  2. Jenni,
    I know how this feels. I have a basement full of books (25+ boxes). Not including all the kids books or my office full of teaching books and other novels and education journals.

    I had to decide long ago to bite the bullet and start to get rid of my books. I kept all the books I have taught (which is great since I’ll return to teaching this fall) and nearly all of my graduate school books and most of my undergrad novels.

    It’s hard to imagine life without them, but the lack of clutter will free you.

  3. I am actually asking myself that exact question. I thought I could and I piled them all up in four piles and they’re all still in my room and now I want to go through them again to put them bacl on my shelf. We’ll see what happens!

  4. When I was able to throw stuff away left and right. My BOOKS were the hardest to let go. I felt like I was doing something wrong when a book went to the donate pile. I had the pile sitting on a box, and every once in while I would go and look at them. I am happy to say they all found new homes with people I know.

    My classics stay with me. I also have a ton of e-books. Yes it is kinda like cheating; But how else can you pick up 300+ books and walk away?

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