On Being an Ex-Book Hoarder

Basically all my life, I’ve been “Bess, you know, the one with all the books.”

My mom loves to tell the story of my first grade homework, which was to count the number of books I owned and report backs. As she tells it “We got to 111 and I realized we needed to start going to the library.”

(We later stopped going to the library because I was caught reading the romance section. I’d already finished sci fi and fantasy, YA, and kids.)

So yeah, books are a pretty massive part of my life and my identity. Ergo, I’ve always known that when I grew up I’d have a massive library. People stopped helping us move because of the endless numbers of book boxes. When we moved to Maryland, the number was somewhere north of 2,000. (Books, not boxes.) I was extremely proud of that. Like a person with long hair, my massive collection of books was integral to my identity.

But like some long-haired humans, my priorities changed.

I’d built this incredible library (complete with chandelier and window seat) in our Maryland house. Bookcases lined the walls. The light wood floor made it open and warm.

But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t like owning a house and feeling weighed down and trapped. In previous years of apartment living, it had been pretty simple to uproot myself and move wherever the wind blew. I wanted that feeling back. (Kevin did too.)

My priorities had shifted. All those books, carefully collected over the years, felt more like an anchor holding me back. They weren’t my pride and joy anymore. But they were still part of my identity and I didn’t know who I’d be without them.

I talked it over (at length) with a variety of different people. Then I started culling.

The first round was the easiest. I chucked the books that I kept like hunting trophies. “I read this and killed it. Now I never have to read it again.” That cleared out a few hundred books.

After that it was round after round of books that I liked okay, or kept because I had read them, but wasn’t going to read again.

I’m now down to somewhere in the 500s, a number that I’m pretty comfortable with. They won’t travel with me for short-term moves, but they’ll come out for all more permanent moves. This is the number of books that I love, reread constantly, and would genuinely be upset to not have ready access to.

The point here though, isn’t to flaunt my biblioholism. (Well, maybe it is a little.) It’s because I see many of posts from booklr that are about how many bookcases you need/how many books you own and it’s a bragging point. Which is totally cool. Books are amazing and it’s incredible to be surrounded by them.

But it’s also cool to not be surrounded by them. There can be a lot of pressure in a community to conform to the standards of its most popular members and it’s hard to manage your response to that pressure.

If you can’t afford to be a book hoarder, don’t want to have five million boxes to haul every time you move, or simply don’t want to be that way any more, that’s completely fine. It’s a bit of a transition, but ultimately it’s so much better to be who you are rather than continue to follow the pressure to be who you were. Like cutting off three feet of hair, you’ll be amazed at how light you feel. (At least, I did.)

And be gentle on yourself when you make cuts. If you’re not ready to let go of a book, keep it. Regretting a book you can’t get back isn’t worth the extra space on your shelf. You collection will naturally settle into a level that’s comfortable for you.

It’s good to check in with yourself periodically (those who can’t do, teach) about the goals you have and rules you’re conforming to, just to make sure they’re rules and goals you’re still comfortable with. Or at the very least, to notice when they’re not anymore.

Anyone else have a “confessions of an ex-something” tale? How did people take it when you changed in front of them? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. My mss is at 54,000 words!

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