The “discard” pile held a small number of books to let go (and those were probably due to go for a long time as he never hesitated to put books on that particular pile. The “keepers” pile was the largest, as was to be expected when you consider that he very much enjoys the written word and re-reads books regularly. So no surprise there. In the end, the goal of the exercise was to reasonably reduce the number of books, not to get rid of as many as possible, come what may.
The big surprise was the “grey zone” pile: it never stopped growing and while it contained not as many books by far as the “keepers” pile it turned out to be a huge problem. When he revisited to make a final decision, he simply couldn’t decide what to do with those. He was caught up between emotional attachment and the wish to downsize his collection, so he ended up asking for my advice. I probably was a good thing that the third pile was as large as it was because he might otherwise just have kept the whole lot!
We took a closer look at the third pile together and I asked him why he felt like keeping this book or that one. After a short while we found a couple of major categories of books: gifts from friends serving as memory hooks for good times or special moments, a series of books that held fond memories of the place he first read them, some were just beautiful books with elaborate and decorative covers, there were even a couple of valuable ones in financial terms, and a small number that defied categorisation. As you can see, lots of good reasons to keep them, but also lots of reasons to let go. However, once we had discovered these categories, things became much clearer and easier to take decisions.
We started off with the obvious one: he was reluctant to let the valuable books go. They had ended up on that pile more out of a feeling of financial loss than any real emotional reason, for the most part. Once he realised that he was ready to go to a book seller and see what he could get for them.
The other categories were trickier, as he felt emotionally bound to them. In the end, he came up with a brilliantly workable solution himself, in fact he found a way to eat the cake and keep it at the same time: he took pictures of the covers of most of the books he felt attached to, but didn’t feel like keeping.
Incredibly, this took care of the majority of the books in the third pile! The beautiful books had ended up on that pile because of their looks, and that could easily be retained in a picture. The books received as gifts had actually served their purpose, and the picture would always be there to remind him of the gift.
The only really troubling category contained the books that evoked memories of the place he first read them. In the end, some of them were returned to the “keepers” pile and ultimately to the bookshelves. Others joined the photographed ones that were later given away.
Oh, you are wondering about the odd ones without a category? Those went wholesale to the “discard” pile in the end. They turned out to be flukes that were only in the grey zone because my friend had felt that the “discard” pile had grown too much. There’s a lesson in there about how easily we manage to convince ourselves of things that we don’t really want.
In the end he managed to reduce his collection dramatically to a point where no more books were lying sideways on top of others, double rows of books were a thing of the past and there was even enough space on his shelves to accommodate new books as they arrive. A job well done.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.