I used to be a bookseller. Books weren’t just functional objects, they were things of beauty – to be coveted and revered. Over the years my own collection of books grew and grew. Browsing bookshops and charity shops was a favourite pastime – rarely a week would go by without a few new ones creeping into the house. And they were very welcome. Once read, they made their way onto a shelf to be read again one day.
I think you’re either sentimental about books or you’re not. Many people might read a book, enjoy it and then pass it on to someone else. But if, like me, you’re sentimental about books it’s very hard to keep your collection under control.
Like a photograph, books are a little snapshot of our lives. Books that you remember from your childhood, books from student days when you wanted to look terribly intelligent… I even feel sentimental about the book I was reading whilst in labour with Tom. They’re a physical expression of a memory, which makes them very hard to part with.
But, inevitably, there comes a time when you just own too many. You can only have so many bookshelves in your house and the beloved books can become a burden. Memories, yes, but very dusty cluttered ones. Problems also arise when you combine two book collections. James and I both love books, but we have very different ideas about what constitutes a book worth keeping. I find it hard giving space to his dusty old sci fi books, and I know he feels the same about my vintage knitting guides. We’re not hoarders, but it’s hard getting rid of books.
Regular readers will know that we’re trying to tackle the clutter in our house – to make our limited space more useable and, dare I say it, minimalist. Over the Easter weekend we decided to tackle our dusty book mountain. Here’s what we’ve discovered so far.
If you haven’t opened a book in five years then you probably don’t need it…
This is a tough realisation, especially when the book reminds you of a particular time in your life. But we’ve had to accept that we can’t keep everything. Our bookshelves are groaning under the strain, and we don’t have space in the house to build any more. I like books but I don’t want to live in a library.
We took everything off the shelves and really looked at it. Not just glanced at it, really looked at it and asked ourselves if we wanted to keep it. Do you really need a dusty book which you haven’t opened in years to jog your memory? Are memories worth that much if they clutter up your house and make you miserable?
Piling up the books we didn’t want anymore was liberating. Once you start, it’s actually quite addictive.
What should do with all those unwanted books?
Over one weekend we managed to get rid of over two hundred books between us. The house feels lighter and less dusty already.
You could try and sell your books, but in my experience once you’ve decided to get rid of a huge heap of them the last thing you want to them hanging around while you try and make some money out of them. You might get 10p at a car boot sale for your books, but can you really be bothered?
If you have some really valuable books then it’s worth trying to sell them on eBay or Amazon. Sometimes if books are out of print then they can be unexpectedly valuable. I once sold a little paperback about vintage hairstyles for £60 on eBay as it was no longer available anywhere else.
Usually though, it’s hard to make any money out of books. We always take ours to the charity shop where we know they’ll have the time to make the most out of them.
How to make the most of the books you keep…
Despite our book cull, we still have rather a lot of books. We’ve been as brutal as we can be for now. To make the most of the books we’re keeping we decided to colour code them. People have been doing this for years, but it’s a new one for me.
We spend ages arranging all our orange and green Penguins, my grey Persephone books and everything else in more general colours. I’m amazed by the results – everything looks a lot calmer and less busy. I now slightly resent any colour that doesn’t fit into my scheme.
How to keep things under control
I think we both know now that we have to have a one in, one out policy with books. If we don’t then things will just start piling up again. It’s ok to keep as many as you want to but the time to change is when they feel like a burden. There is a good side to keeping books – I actually don’t buy new things that often as I’m usually re-reading something old. Just be careful not to let it get out of hand, books should never make you feel unhappy.