Book Report: Downsizing My Books

October 13, 2022

A frequent conversation among elders is what to do with our stuff. We all have it.

We know it’s only stuff. But it’s our stuff, and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

I can feel my body become rigid, my throat constrict, and my eyes narrow if anyone dares tell me I have too many books. What is too many? I am not willing to have that conversation.

But, of course, the truth is I do have lots of books.

What to do?

I know that the next move, if and when that happens, will be to a much smaller space; one in which there will be much less room for all our books. Does that mean I need to empty our bookshelves now and never purchase another book? Or do I just ignore the elephant –in this case hundreds of books–in the room(s)?ownsizing

Strategies and Process

My main strategy is to recognize and to practice the PROCESS of downsizing. Here’s what that means:

  1. Use the library more and buy fewer books. So far this year I have checked out almost 80 books from the library, and I have purchased a little more than half that amount.
  2. Every time I read a book I own I consider if it is one I might want to read again or refer to in my work as a spiritual director or small group facilitator. If I decide I don’t need or want to keep it, it is placed in a basket of books to take to a Little Free Library or set aside for our annual garage sale or pass on to someone else and say, “No need to return.” Occasionally, I want to re-read a book I no longer own. Well, there’s the library to save the day!
  3. The last two years my Lenten spiritual practice has been to eliminate at least one book from my spirituality/theology bookshelves each day. I intend to continue that practice this year, too.
  4. Each time I return a book to a shelf or find space for a new book, I spend time looking at the other books on those shelves and often I decide I don’t need to save one of the nearby books any longer.
  5. No books are allowed to gather in piles on the floor. Books do not become the base for a lamp or prop up a table leg.
  6. There are no boxes of books in storage areas. Seeing my books not only gives me pleasure, but that prevents the “out of sight, out of mind” issue that solves nothing.
  7. The books I have acquired, but not yet read are kept on two shelves. Nonfiction books are on a shelf in the garret and fiction in the snug. That means I am aware of them when I finish a book and wonder what to read next.

Practicing Awareness

Part of this downsizing process is to ask myself –not just once, but periodically–what is the meaning of this specific category of stuff? Why do I hold on to these books?

There is more than one answer. First of all, I am a passionate reader, and I prefer to read books in their paper form. You may prefer listening to books or reading on a Kindle. Good for you, and maybe, someday I will do that, too, but not now. Books are beautiful and are part of my decor and add to the warmth and personality of our home. I feel the presence of the writer and their words by having books physically present. Also, I am a writer and a teacher and browse my books for inspiration, for answers, for reinforcement and support and for ideas to broaden my perspective. I suppose I can do that on the internet, but it’s not the same. Finally, my books offer a glance into my history, a view into who I am. And my books remind me to continue the process of growth and evolution.

I know someday I will have to face (or my family will) the challenge of what to do with all these books, and I guess should apologize for that, but oh well… I continue to remind myself that downsizing is a process, and I am in the midst of that process. I am becoming aware that each book I let go of makes it easier to let go of another one.

One more thing: I’ve noticed it is much easier to prod someone else to do something about their stuff, than it is to tackle our own stuff. I’m guilty of that, and I am trying to reform and focus on my own stuff. Enough said!

An Invitation:

What stuff is plaguing you and what are you doing about it? I would love to know.

12 thoughts on “Book Report: Downsizing My Books

  1. Thank you, Nancy. You are ahead of me and therefore inspire me to continue the culling process. As I try to give books to family they often decline. A sadness, as I intrinsically know the value of that book for that family member. —All a result of a life as a bookseller, I guess. I believe that they don’t have the wisdom yet that will come with age. So, I keep the book for now.


    • It sounds to me as if you are being a discerning and thoughtful book by book! And by the way, I need to acknowledge what a pivotal person you have been in my book-loving journey. The day when I was once again shopping in your original great bookstore and you said “You are here so often you might as well work here.” And I did and have so many wonderful memories. Thank you.


  2. I usually try to plan what is the next stage in the life of the books I finish. Either:- pass it on to someone I know who might enjoy it, put in on my shelf, take it to a charity shop.
    Also, I usually have 3 or 4 books of different genre on the go at a time so that I can refresh my vision with a different type face.
    Sally Fox


  3. A friend of mine emailed me with this comment and said I could post: Books continue to hold “the question” for me. Does it speak to creativity -does it offer someting new to my inquisitive nature? How does it speak to my heart? These are only a few of the questions I may ponder and sometimes treasure from a book.
    My discipline has been each summer to remove several books. I give mine to the library to add to their fundraiser book sale or gift books to someone that may have an interest in it.
    Hard Work-Letting Go! I get it.


  4. I can relate to every word of this! I found myself nodding as I read along. I have bookcases in just about every room in my house (good thing the bathrooms are too small, ha ha), stacked on tables, etc. A few years ago I did go through my fiction books and ending up getting rid of about 300. But I still bring in more from library book sales, or sometimes on Amazon, or a couple of online used book sites I frequent. I do use the library too and check out a lot of books from there. At least those ones have to be returned!


  5. Pingback: Dilemmas In Downsizing | Living on Life's Labyrinth

  6. Thank you, Nancy. I totally understand. I love your cozy bookshelves. About five years ago I purged my bookshelves, designating books to go to the library for their annual sale. I gave at least one hundred books away. Two friends come over to pick them up because I knew I would hesitate or rethink each book that I delivered personally. They took the books they liked for their collections, and the rest went to the sale. It felt good …but I still have hundreds of books and they seem to propagate in the nights. I use the public library, Kindle and Audible but the REAL books continue to migrate into my life. Nothing beats holding a book, turning pages and making margin notes when something resonates with me.


  7. How wise you were to enlist help with re-directing your books. You know yourself and what you needed to be successful. Bravo! I feel no guilt about continuing to bring books into our home because at the same time I try to be aware of which ones do not need to stay in our home. Process.


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