While clothes tend to be somewhat emotional, and paperwork is usually an issue because of a fear of misunderstanding, a collection of books can be the result of a multitude of reasons.
The main distinctions I have found to be useful to make are these:
Where the previous instalment focused on work/research-related books, this blog post’s focus is on interest-based books.
When it comes to books that relate to your personal interests, you don’t have to look at the usefulness of the book in front of you, nor the question if it is outdated. The main decision on this kind of books is not so much based on practicality and reason, but on emotional responses to each of them. While that’s not to say that the work/research library won’t have any emotional side to it, the interest library is just more aligned with this element to start with.
When dealing with literature, be it short-lived sensationalist novels or old-time favourites, common perception of these works does not matter as much as does their effect on your personal psyche. How does that book make you feel?
We often hang on to books simply because we own them. It feels like the right thing to do: I’ve bought it, read it, and might one day read it again. The problem is: ‘one day’ never comes because not every book is worth reading again.
You could simply ask yourself: “will I ever read this again?”
It is important to be brutally honest. If the answer is “I’ve read it dozens of times” there is a likelihood you will enjoy reading it once again, and it’s a keeper. If, however, the answer is something like “I’ve read it 15 years ago and remember I enjoyed it”, you may want to ask yourself why you have not read the book again in all those years… maybe it’s time to let it go and make space for something new. That book may have been an important part of your younger self, but has no relevance to your current life.
Sometimes the reason for keeping a book has nothing to do with the content, though. Here are a couple of notions to consider:
Is the book part of a collection?
Let’s say you have all the books from a particular author. If you are even slightly affected by “collector-itis”, there is a danger here. On the one hand you might like this author’s work in general, and therefore hang on to each of their books. On the other hand, you might only really enjoy some of the books to a point where you would ever read them again, but you hang on to all of them ‘because they form a set’.
My advice is to let go of the idea of ‘a set’. Find the books you really like (see the first question above in bold) and let go of the rest. No point in keeping books you’re unlikely to read ever again.
Does it have an emotional impact?
This is a big one! If that is the case, it’s important to find out what exactly excites that feeling in you: it could be the story that touches you in some way, or the feel of the book cover, the skill involved in the binding of this particular book or the imagery used on the cover. In some of those cases, taking a picture of the book cover is enough to decide you can let go of the actual book.
Quite apart from the physical book, the emotion could also come from the circumstances (real or imagined) under which the book came to you. Was it given to you by a beloved family member? Did you buy it with someone special or in a place that means something particular to you? Sometimes, the book itself is not really important, but the circumstances and the memories associated with them are the reason for the emotion.
Once you figure out what the appeal is for any particular book, you may find that this appeal is less than valid, and other books are much more valuable in that aspect of your emotional life.
The case of a negative memory
Sometimes, emotions associated with items actually conjure up bad memories. And yet some people hang on even to those items, and books often turn out to hold such emotions. By their sheer nature, the emotion could be linked to the content of a book, it’s cover, the circumstances under which they came to you, or any association you make between a particular book and some kind of trauma. Books are wonderful because they are multifaceted, but that quality can also have serious drawbacks.
Suffice it to say, books speak to many of us in many different ways, and most people will have a hard time letting go of books. There is an element of ‘we do not burn books’ and ‘there is wisdom here that I might need some day’ that comes up each time we consider letting go of one of them.
The important step for any decluttering of an interest library is to decide on the merits of each book separately: how it enriches your life, how it serves you. If you find that it does neither of these things, or worse yet, that it holds negative emotions, by all means let it go sooner rather than later.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.