I love reading. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents read to us as little children and invested a good sum in book collections and encyclopaedia sets as we grew. I remember our weekly visits to the Library which continued right through high school.
Truthfully, I owe who I am today to books and my love of reading. From Dr Seuss to The Hardy Boys to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, books have been indicators of and the catalyst for my growth: physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.
It came naturally, then, for one of my first furniture purchases when I left home to be a bookcase. I bought two of them, carefully sanded them back and repainted them and began filling them with books. When I met Vicki, I had an office in my house which, by this time, had three bookcases. I knew each book well and had read each multiple times.
But then along came Kindle. I hadn’t really noticed before, but my collection of volumes was becoming (as Robyn Devine writes on the Becoming Minimalist blog) my “sagging shelves of stress.” They were taking up space but not performing any useful or joy-bringing function. If anything, they were simply another status symbol: “Look at me. I’m intelligent.”
Before long, my books started missing my time with them. Dust gathered. I started giving away those I had bought on Kindle, then realised how little I had actually touched any of them (except to occasionally wipe off the dust). So, long before I discovered minimalism, I had culled my books down to three small shelves.
Now I have one small stack of books that I enjoy and that have meant a lot to me in my life. These are books I also lend out to friends and family. Not only does lending out books give others a chance to read something they may have not read before, but I look at it as giving them an insight into how I think and ideals that I hold dear.
I also use the services of my local library when I don’t find the book I want on Kindle (or can’t justify paying for it). As Jamie Morrison Curtis wrote:
You have a garden. If you ever get sad that you don’t have a garden of your own, remember that you have hundreds of beautiful gardens all over the city and all over the world. Try to erase the language of “want” from your head. You have everything you need. – Jaime Morrison Curtis, quoted on Be More with Less blog.
I have nothing against owning books, provided they add value and bring joy to one’s life. There is one rule which I have adopted, however, when it comes to deciding which books I choose to keep and that is one taken from Oscar Wilde:
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading [or owning] it at all.
I have a friend who cannot abide a day without some time reading a classic novel—she must own just about every title in the Penguin Classics series (you know, the books with the orange stripes across the cover?) This brings her real joy. Her copies of these paperbacks all have dog-eared pages and torn and crinkled covers. They belong in her home and in her life. I have another friend who has a dedicated library room in his home, but he very rarely finds himself in that room or catches himself browsing the shelves filled with his massive collection. His library may bring him joy; I don’t know. Personally, I can’t see it.
If something doesn’t add value to your life or bring you genuine joy, that’s a good sign you don’t need it in your life. Time to give it away.
The Minimalists frequently give away books, but also talk about ‘minimalising’ a book once it has been read. This means that its value is multiplied as I pass it on to someone else, knowing that by removing it from my space I have not only denied it the chance to become clutter, but have provided value to someone else’s life.
I wish I could give away Kindle books.
Still, I keep my eye on my Kindle Library and remove books I’ve read so that only my current reading list shows on my device. Just like a library of books you never look at can bring a sense of being overwhelmed or mind-cluttered, an endless library in Kindle remove focus and clarity.
Currently on my Kindle, I have a couple of new fiction books from two of my favourite authors. I’ll probably sit down one weekend and knock those off in a single sitting. I have a handful of minimalist-oriented books that help to inspire me. I have a few classics by Kipling and Thoreau which I love to read in small doses from time to time, Rob Bell’s latest How to Be Here, a handful of music ‘fake books’ for when I sit down at the piano and just want to chill, and some deeper-reading books about science, religion and philosophy.
Once in a while, I’ll come across something I want to read but haven’t got time at the moment and I’ll use the email-to-kindle service to send it to my Kindle. Doing this forces the document on to my reading list and it has a much higher chance of being read than if it remained on the Internet or in my inbox.
Reading is one of my favourite pastimes and brings me great joy. That said, I prefer to live my life without the clutter of stacks of books or chokka-block full bookshelves. For me, I’ll stick with Kindle.
I haven’t talked about the ‘How to” in this post, but here are some very useful recommendations:
Breaking the Sentimental Attachment to Books (Becoming Minimalist)
How to Let Go of Your Books (Be More with Less)
Why I Downsized my Book Collection to None (Minimalist Packrat)