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Letting go of our back pages

Books are very difficult for many people to keep pared down to only what they currently love or use. We cling to the physical shells of these formative experiences as though they were pieces of our identity itself. We even do this with media which we we do not intend to re-experience anytime soon, if ever.

Send books on to a new life elsewhere when they stop having a positive interaction in yours. Check for inscriptions or papers tucked into the items you’re parting with. Remember that you can keep a digital photo of a meaningful inscription, a page on which you are quoted, or even the cover to help you remember the title, and not keep the book itself. You can get rid of the physical, space-taking, dust-gathering objects and just keep the memory.

Here are some suggestions for books which could leave your shelves to make room for things you really love:
    •    Out-of-date reference, technical and travel guidebooks (if no computer in your house is running that version of that software, you do not need a book about it);
    •    Books you haven't opened in five years and that you don't feel like reading within the next month;
    •    Books you bought and intended to read, but still haven't read several years later and don't want to start this month;
    •    Books you didn't like;
    •    Books someone gave you that you don't want to read;
    •    Books for a hobby you no longer have; and
    •    Cookbooks for foods you don't eat anymore.

Slow the flow of incoming books by being more selective when you choose to buy a book rather than borrow it from the library and note that not all good reasons for buying are also good reasons for keeping a book after you read it. In a world with libraries, used bookstores, Amazon, OpenLibrary, Google Book Search, and trading websites like Swap.com, it should be easy to see that putting the books in the donation bag does not remove them from the universe. If you later decide that you want to read one of them, odds are very good that the local library or used bookstore will have a copy—maybe even this copy—or you’ll be able to get it online. A lot of books, especially nonfiction, are like oranges. Juice ’em to extract the goodness and discard the remains.

So, if you can get pretty much any book you want again later, what guidelines will you use for why you should keep a book in your house? Here are mine:
    •    I'm going to read or reread it within two years.
    •    I periodically reread or consult it, and it contains annotations that remain useful to me.
    •    It is an object of beauty or sentiment, which brings me frequent joy.
    •    I wrote it.
Decide your guidelines and then look to see what you have that doesn't meet any of them. Donate those replaceable (or never again needed) books to the library or charity. Give the things you love more room and give yourself less unnecessary weight of stuff in your life.

Posted on February 25, 2012 | Permalink

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