Book Hoarding or Streamlining?

Up until last year I was a book hoarder.  I had over two thousand books in my collection, meticulously catalogued and marked as mine with my custom stamps.

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Gifts from my wonderful husband many, many years ago.

My library’s always been a source of pride and, to be quite honest, a significant portion of my identity.  I wasn’t “Bess, the writer,” or “Bess, with the pink hair,” I was “Bess, with the books.”  Everyone knew it.  Books, or bookstore giftcards, made up the majority of my birthday and holiday presents.

So last year, when I decided to start slimming down my collection, it was nerve-wracking for more reasons than one.  Kind of like when the person you’ve known your whole life suddenly decides to get a pixie cut after decades of butt-length braids.

Ultimately though, my priorities had changed (what a strange, alien way of describing it!) and my library has gone from slightly over 2,000 books to just under 750.  Kevin tells me that’s 37.5%  HE DID THAT IN HIS HEAD.)

If anyone else out there decides they want a more mobile library (yes, my decision to streamline is based heavily on how easily I can drag these books around the world with me), here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

  1.  This is SO MUCH EASIER if you have a convenient library.  The harder cuts become easier when you realize you can bike three miles to your public library and pick up whatever book you’re craving.  I have a list of series that I like, but really only want to keep up with.  I can check this list whenever and see if the next book has come out, then go pick it up.
  2. Start with the books you don’t actually like.  I had a surprising number of books (even series) that I just kept despite vehemently hating them.  Partly it was because getting rid of books was completely alien to me, but also partly because they were like trophies.  I had triumphed over the evil of bad writing and mounted its head (cover?) on my wall.  These are, ultimately, the easiest books to get rid of.
  3. When you start to slow down on finding new books, try physically picking each one up in a reorganization of your book-holding-space.  I did that this morning and found thirty more books I felt comfortable parting with.
  4. Stop when you’re comfortable.  I’ve been going in sort of “rounds” of culling.  Each time I hit a point where I feel like I’ve pulled out 100% of the books I can donate.  I take those books, remove them from the catalog, and call it a day.
  5. If you want to push on, weigh the book in your hand against your new goal.  If getting rid of this book means you get to move to that new place/travel more/use that room for a new project, can you do it?  If you’re okay putting off that goal for a while longer, keep the book.  Sometimes I just can’t get rid of a book. That’s okay.  Sometimes I jettison a book so hard I have to go pick it up from where it landed, open-cover, on the floor.  That’s okay too.
  6. Set goals. My dream goal is to be down to 500 books.  I don’t know how likely that is, but it’s fun to work for.  I also have a goal of the next 25.  (So now my goal is to get down to 725, then 700, etc.)
  7. Don’t be surprised if it gets addictive.  I was.  At first I was terrified of the prospect- I was losing a massive part of my identity, after all.  But in no time at all I was hooked and started spending a few minutes each day looking through my shelves, trying to find another book to donate.  There’s something very freeing about slimming down your stuff.

Anyone else go from book hoarder to library fiend? Have other suggestions on how to manage the process?  Have a book you could never cull?  Let me know in the comments!

P.S.  My new MS is at 7,000 words!  A PoV change made all the difference.  Yay!

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