Why I Limit the Number of Books I Own

“One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters”. –Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

Why I Try Not to Collect Books

I own a lot of books.  I don’t deny it.  Still, I regularly take time to look over my collection and to remove titles.  Typically I donate them to teacher-friends who will use them in their classrooms or to the library, where they will either be added to the collection or sold at a book sale.  Sometimes I donate them to a Little Free Library or free book swap, or to an organization that gives free books to children.  Parting with a book is often a wrench.  I may have read it and enjoyed it.  I may have never read it, but hope to one day.  Or I may have dreams of keeping it to share with others.  Still, I only have so much space, and something must go.

However, I have a more compelling reason to part with my books, other than the lack of space and the hardship of moving dozens of boxes of books.  I feel strongly that I ought not to keep books that I know I will not reread or that I may never get to .  I don’t, after all, really need all these books.  I own plenty enough to keep me busy, as well as access to the library, to Project Gutenberg, and to free Kindle books (no Kindle needed–there are apps for laptops, phones, and tablets).  But many people do not have the same access to books that I do.  So it seems incumbent upon me to share what I have.

It can be easy to forget that not everyone is an avid reader and not everyone grows up surrounded by books.  But in 2016, Susan Neuman and Naomi Moland published a study of book deserts, neighborhoods where books were not sold in stores and thus not readily available to families.  Because many impoverished families do not use libraries (because of the fear of fines or suspicion of government) and because they may not have Internet at home, they face more challenges in attaining literacy skills than others.  But reading for pleasure is associated with increased educational performance and having books in the home can increase the level of education a child attains.  So it seems obvious that, even if I don’t live in a book desert, I should be promoting literacy in my community.  I do this, in my own small way, by sharing my books with others.

As the months go by, the number of books I own is dwindling (though more always creep in the door).  I find it increasingly difficult to part with books as I removed less treasured volumes long ago.  But I have taken to reflecting on Aragorn’s words to Pippin, when Pippin admits how hard it was for him to leave his Elven-brooch behind: “One who cannot cast a treasure away at need is in fetters.”  I never want to feel like I am buried under my possessions, or burdened by them because I have nowhere to store them and no way to transport them.  So, each time I choose a book to donate, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I do not need this book.  Life will go on.  I will always find other books to treasure and enjoy.  I will buy them or borrow them or be gifted them.  But, in the meantime, I still have the power and the freedom to let possessions go.

How I Remove Books from My Bookshelves

As I admitted at the start, I actually do own a lot of books–but I have given many away, as well.  These are some of my secrets in attempting to let go:

I read the book and then immediately donate it.

If I never alphabetize it on my shelf, I can’t become attached to it!  This works for me because when I buy books, they tend to be from library book sales, so I don’t have to feel bad about spending fifty cents and then getting rid of the book.  However, you can also do this with gifts if you think the giver won’t be offended.

I Donate Books I know I can Easily find again.

If I know that the book is still in print, at my library, or otherwise easily accessible (free online because out of copyright, for instance), I will let it go.  I know that I don’t need to own a copy of a book that isn’t rare.

I am honest about my chances of reading or rereading the book.

I have owned books for ten years or more that I really want to read at some point.  However, after ten years, I have to admit to myself that it’s quite possible I’ll never read the book at all.  If I feel that strongly about reading it once ten more years have passed, I’ll just have to track down another copy.  There’s no point in hauling all these books around “just in case.”

I am honest about the chances of other people reading the books.

Sometimes I think that a book might be nice to have to loan out or to keep in the family or something.  But chances are any kids are going to be reading their own books.  If I’m not totally in love with a book,  I’m not going to keep it on the off-chance someone else will read it years from now.

Places to Donate Books

  • Library Book Sales
  • Schools
  • Little Free Libraries or Book Swaps
  • Community Yard Sales
  • Literacy Programs

Or, if you need more ideas, Briana previously wrote a post about eight places to donate your gently used books.

How do you decide what to remove from your shelves?

Advertisements

73 thoughts on “Why I Limit the Number of Books I Own

  1. hannah @ peanutbutter&books says:

    I love this! It’s easy to forget that not all of us have the same resources, but books should be available to EVERYONE. When I’m choosing which books to donate, I make sure they’re very gently used and, like you, I assess my chances of reading the book again (especially if the book is easy to find in libraries).
    Again, super thoughtful post! ❤

    Like

  2. karathehuman says:

    Great post! I have such a hard time getting rid of my books, even if I know there is a very slim chance I’ll ever read or re-read them. You’ve provided some great tips! And the Aragorn quote ❤ I love all your LotR references in your posts!

    Like

  3. Andie says:

    This is a problem I’ve had for a while 😦 not letting go of book, I mean. I objectively know I should but I can’t bring myself to part with them and I’m just so… ugh, you know? I’m definitely working on it though.
    Great post! 💛

    Like

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I kept every book I ever owned…then I moved to a different state. Having to transport all the books (or, rather, pay for shipping costs since I mailed most of my stuff) really motivated me to get rid of books I never even liked in the first place. After I did that first big purge, I got better at getting rid of book. (Though, like Krysta, I still own a lot; I just try to routinely get rid of ones I didn’t even enjoy because hopefully someone else will appreciate them more.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Holly says:

    I definitely need to go through my bookshelves when I get home from study abroad and donate any books I don’t plan on reading/rereading. I think my goal is to fit them all on one bookshelf… we’ll see how that goes!

    Like

  5. Cecelia says:

    This is SO important. I’m constantly donating books too. I recently did a deep clean of my bookshelf and got rid of over 200 books!! I couldn’t believe I had that many on my shelves to begin with 😅 I know there are books I’ll never part with, but there were a few books I adored that I just know I’ll never reread, and I would love someone else to enjoy it as much as I did.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I never counted, but I think I donated hundreds of books, too. And that put things into perspective for me. I got rid of hundreds of books and STILL have too many books. Obviously I have enough that I could easily spare some to give to others.

      Like

  6. Rebecca says:

    Love this! Within the last 6 months I have started doing the exact same thing. There are books that hold a sentimental value to me but if I don’t absolutely love a book or think of a specific person that will enjoy it so I can give it to them, it gets donated.

    Like

  7. Paula Bardell-Hedley says:

    Your post pinged into my inbox at exactly the right moment in my life. I’m downsizing (housewise) in the next few months and must reduce my library considerably if I am ever to fit into my new home. I keep packing books into boxes then changing my mind and pulling them out again. I must, like you, have a positive attitude to the whole cluttersome business and get the job done. Thanks for posting! 🙄

    Like

  8. Michael J. Miller says:

    This post made me very uncomfortable…but in a good way! Noticing my inner reaction as I read underscored my needless attachment to the things i own. However, the ideas illustrated here – nonattachment, total giving, sharing – are foundational truths in all major religious traditions. So it’s not only the right thing to do, as you list so brilliantly above, but it’s the sort of challenges we have to offer ourselves to build a better, brighter world too. So…wow. I loved the post. I was challenged by the post. And it will give me a lot to think about today I wasn’t ready for this sort of a spiritual challenge as I read a few blog posts to start my Friday but I appreciate it!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I was initially challenged by a friend to rethink what I own. He owns very little and, amazingly (to me) doesn’t think anything of it. But I’ve found that donating my books has been very freeing as it has allowed to me to recognize that, actually, I don’t need what I thought I did. I’ve kept a lot of beloved books like my Charles Dickens collection, all my Alcott books, etc. But I think that, if I had to give them away one day, I could. And that’s definitely not something I would have thought possible before. So…all thanks goes to my friend for his powerful insights. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        It’s funny, I’m teaching Buddhism in my World Religions class right now so I read your post as I was prepping my lessons on nonattachment and impermanence. It was just one more welcome reminder that I need to always keep pushing myself to increasingly practice what I teach! So thanks to you and to your friend as well.

        Like

          • Michael J. Miller says:

            Thank you! It’s one of those course I feel quite privileged to teach. We start with a sort of “What is religion?” intro unit and then cover Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. It’s exciting to see the students take the journey of those traditions for (most often) the first time.

            Like

  9. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    I am working on doing more of this this year! 💕 I am trying to make thtee boxes. One for the school, a local shelter and an indie bookstore. Of course it is a daunting process because I still aim to keep certain collections amd favorites. But giving is wonderfum. Love this!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I love how you divided up your donations! There are so many great places to donate and I think sometimes we’re not aware of them all. I’m sure there are local charities I don’t know about!

      Keeping favorites makes sense to me. I don’t know that there’s a good reason to be a minimalist just to feel good about how little we own. But making an informed choice about what we will use or need or simply enjoy does make sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

        I agree! I am certainly no minimalist though haha (although my kids are and I am happy about that). I think I would be more so if I were not confined to the house as much and able to move enough to clear more out ❤ We have so many centers and charities here, I am sure I will never know them all! I just try to make sure whatever source I choose to give to if either using them correctly or benefiting the community 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ali (@thebandarblog) says:

    This is exactly how I am with non-classics. Classics I collect, because I think they’re beautiful on the shelves and I love how they make a room look, but everything – it’s donated immediately if I don’t think I’m going to re-read it or it doesn’t have some particular significance to me. Even for bookstagram – if I get a book from a publisher just for photo-taking, I’ll take my photo of it, and if I don’t think I’m going to read it, I immediately put it in a donate bin!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I have not donated many of my classics, except a few of the ones I didn’t like. Sometimes I feel like I OUGHT to have Hemingway on my shelf, but, then again, I don’t really enjoy his work, so what’s the point? It’s like I’m worried one day I’ll NEED Hemingway, but I’m not sure why I would?? XD

      Like

  11. Tammy says:

    Me too, letting go of books is nearly impossible for me. But when I do, I always feel good knowing someone will get some unexpected joy from my donation😊

    Like

  12. ashley says:

    I get rid of books I know I’ll never read again, and then I make a pile of those books and donate them mostly to the library or Goodwill. There are some books that I will not get rid of because they are the books that I will someday be able to pass on to my kids, when I have them.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Well, I think life circumstances sometimes can prompt us, too. For instance–moving thousands of books isn’t an option for most. I know a lot of book lovers and, whenever they move, they get rid of boxes of books first. But, if they didn’t have to move, they probably wouldn’t! Or, if they lived in a mansion with its own library, they would probably keep more books than if they lived in a tiny apartment. So I think a lot of what people decide to do with their books can be motivated by external factors. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Krysta says:

      I like that idea! I like to reread, as well, so I will keep books I can see myself coming back to. It wouldn’t make too much sense to donate them and then buy them again!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. ofoceansandgeeks says:

    I really like this post. I do the same thing. I get rid of the book if I will not reread. Plus it is nice to have shelves full of book you know you love. Since I have a small budget, I have personally been borrowing more books from the library and if I really really love the book I will go out and buy it.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s a lovely idea! You want to be surrounded by things you actually like! 😀

      I use the library a lot, too, which really helps me save money and keep my space from being overrun by books! I know other people who read the library book and then purchase it if they liked it. Why not? If you plan to read it again, it’s a good investment!

      Like

  14. Cam @ Camillea Reads says:

    This is such an honest post, Krysta! Looking at my own bookshelf, I realize how right you are about needing to support our community’s literacy. While I don’t think I’ll be able to part with treasured books – like ones gifted to me or my favourites – there are many on my shelf that are in need of a new home. Thank you for inspiring!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I still have three or four shelves of books, so I definitely understand wanting to keep books that you treasure! For me, the important thing has really been letting go of books that I thought I needed to keep around “just in case.” Just in case I ever finally got around to reading them or just in case I needed them for some reason or just in case I wanted to lend them out. I’m still going through and trying to decide on some of them–I don’t want to get rid of books and then rebuy them later! But I do feel like I have a lot more space and I feel good that I’ve been able to give something back to my community!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. theorangutanlibrarian says:

    I really agree! Personally I won’t keep books I don’t plan to reread or don’t plan to read at all. The one thing I have so much trouble with is gifts- because I don’t think I can give them away without offending someone. I tend to just donate to a charity shop- but these are cool suggestions I never thought of 😀

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I do feel bad about donating books that were gifts. However, once I’ve read them and determined I am unlikely to reread them (sorry, gift giver), it seems kind of pointless to store them in my closet just in case the giver one day asks me where the books they gave me are. :S

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) says:

    Like you, I don’t think it makes much sense to keep books I won’t re-read and since I don’t really re-read at all, I get rid of everything except my absolute favorite books. That’s made easier for me by the fact that I mostly read review copies or library books, so it’s not like I lose any money by immediately donating or returning books I’ve read.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That sounds like an excellent system! Most of my books are from the library or from library book sales, so it’s definitely easier to donate something that didn’t cost me $20!

      Like

  17. paulavince says:

    This is a timely post, since I’ve just moved and culled a lot of books from my shelves, for similar reasons to those you’ve mentioned. It’s a small house and books have to earn a permanent spot by matching at least one of the following criteria 🙂 1. Sentimental favourite 2. Excellent story which I’d certainly read again 3. Good but rare, and possibly difficult to find another 4. Given to me by the author (and even they sometimes don’t make the cut). I like the idea of putting books out in the community to spread the love and stop them being stagnant by staying unread for years on someone’s shelf.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I like your system! I definitely keep some books for sentimental reasons. I’m not sure when/if I will reread them all, but they do have fond memories attached, so that makes them worth keeping around for me. As for the books I give away–I hope others make fond memories with them!

      Like

  18. Ikram Reads says:

    I’m almost the same. I love books, but their primary purpose is to be read not sit and look pretty on a shelf. I have amassed quite a few books but I only keep the few I know for sure I will re-read and the books I will get to in the near future. My rule of thumb is if they are sitting on the shelf for more than a few months and I haven’t thought about it in that time I probably won’t get around to reading them. I also do keep signed copies because those have a story behind them. I generally end up donating books at my local library. Great post!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yeah, I understand that some people collect books and I think that’s fine. There are many lovely book editions! However, I’m not really into collecting books so, for me, it makes more sense to donate them to people who will read them.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Sammie says:

    I love this list so much, and I can definitely relate! This is basically my reasoning, too. Also, if I read a book I liked that I don’t plan on re-reading, why wouldn’t I want to share it with the world? I live in a small county that’s really poor and also has education issues. Our library is wonderful and does what it can, but it’s sometimes tough, but everyone in the community gets so much from the library, so it’s my favorite place to donate. It’s basically the hub of our county. 😀

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      Yes, even libraries are hurting these days. Mine has been struggling with budget issues for years. I don’t think most people realize that because they have so many programs and initiatives, but I can tell that they’re doing more fundraisers and that they have fewer new books. But the library is so important to a community and to providing equal access, so I try to give back to the library when I can!

      Like

  20. Jade @ Reading With Jade says:

    It sounds like we have a very similar approach to our personal book collections – if I don’t see myself returning to a title in the future, than I do donate it.

    Whilst I love books, reading and the written word as a whole, I want my bookshelves to be a positive place and reflect the experiences with books that I’ve enjoyed.

    Like

  21. Kristilyn says:

    This is a great post! I tend to go through my books a few times a year, usually when I run out of shelf space, and get rid of titles I know I will definitely not reread. I’d rather keep books on my shelf that I’ve loved rather than a book I hated, just for the sake of keeping it. I did go through a time where I’d keep EVERYTHING thinking that my kids will want them one day, but then I figured my home library will be full of books that I loved now, rather than everything, which is so much better. We can always go find books for them at the library or thrift stores for great deals, so there’s no point in keeping everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Cristina @ Girl in the Pages says:

    I’ve been struggling with this a lot myself recently. I bought a LOT of books in 2017 that were ultimately disappointing or sort of “meh” that I don’t see myself rereading. But I’ve spend money on them (many are hardbacks) so it’s really hard for me to part with them, but my shelves are just overflowing! From now on I’m trying to vet books first by reading them through the library or waiting until I find them on a good sale to buy them.

    Like

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.