The Great Bookshelf Purge of 2013

Have you ever seen Hoarders on TV? It’s a semi-exploitative reality show about people who refuse to throw anything away, to the degree that they alienate family and friends and are threatened with having their homes condemned.

My biggest book at 15" x 11"

My biggest book at 15″ x 11″

Watching it will compel you to vacuum the carpet and wash the dishes during the commercial break in a panic response to all the filth, bugs, and accidentally mummified pets you just witnessed on your television screen. It’s no mistake that they advertise cleaning products between the segments.

I’m definitively not a hoarder. I can’t stand clutter and have little tolerance for things that don’t fit neatly onto a shelf next to other things exactly the same size and shape. It’s my good fortune that I like to collect movies and music, which suit my orderly world of rectangles. If a thing ain’t a rectangle, I put it in a rectangular case.

I also love books. Yeah, they sort of follow the rectangle theme, but that damn size variance! There’s just no way my coffee-table book on Gothic cathedrals would work if the pictures were shrunk down to the size of a passport photo, yet I have no use for a paperback mystery in a 72-point font. Both would be unwieldy, in their own ways, at anything other than the proper size.

Which means my bookshelves look like an earthquake at a library. More books than shelf, and then there’s the rather unforgiving shelf dimensions. X high, Y deep, and Z wide, take it or leave it. My biggest book is 15-inches tall (complete works of Michelangelo), and my smallest is a quick spelling reference at 5-inches tall, with titles at every size in between. It’s my little mad hoard in the middle of all that geometric clarity.

Maybe it wasn’t so little. Did I forget to mention that I had a closet stuffed with boxes of books at my mom’s house too?

Well, on Sunday, my wife got into one of those moods. If you are a married man you know the mood I’m talking about: If you don’t get rid of this shit, I’m calling a lawyer.

I have to admit, it was cathartic and cleansing at the same time. At first I was making excuses, like, “I might read this again. It was pretty good,” and, “Aunt Gertrude gave this to me. Sure she passed away five years ago and I’m never going to read it, but…”

My tiniest book at 5" x 4"

My tiniest at 5″ x 4″

However, once I got into the groove, I went full-on rampage. I cleared out almost every novel I own, except for my five favorite Agatha Christies and a couple of classics everyone should have. I made stacks for my mom’s church flea market, stacks for eBay, stacks to chuck because the pages have yellowed or the binding glue has rotted, and stacks to keep.

I kept most of my art, film, and music books and a couple of science ones I use for writing reference. The rest is gone. The storage boxes are gone. The sneezing is over. The dust mites are saying, What the f*** just happened?

Most importantly, my shelves are now neat and tidy, and every remaining title is easily accessed. And that eBay stack? The ones I was sure would fetch me enough to buy a new car? I looked them up, and their average value appears to be somewhere between $1.75 and $4. I guess I’m stuck with my Malibu for a few more years.

How about you? Are you a book hoarder? Would purging your bookshelves be liberating or be like giving away your children?

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Note: Today’s theme was inspired by my blogging pal Tuesday and her post on a similar subject. She’s just began a countdown of 20 favorite books she’ll never give away. Now’s your chance to get in at the beginning!

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Honestly, I’m not crazy about Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I can’t think of a more appropriate song for today’s piece.

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43 responses to “The Great Bookshelf Purge of 2013

  • Cassie Bellinger

    The last time I cleaned out my book collection was also the last time I moved – 15 years ago. I gave hundreds of books to a used book store and packed my favorites into three large boxes. While not in the same realm as giving away a child, it is definitely difficult for me to get rid of books. Each one is like an old friend I like to revisit occasionally.

    • ericjbaker

      It feels better if you know someone else will enjoy them. That’s how I feel, anyway, about getting rid of things that have some emotional value but aren’t currently enhancing the quality of my life. I’m actually still uplifted, almost three days later, knowing those storage boxes no longer exist.

  • nrhatch

    The first cut is the deepest.

    I hung on to ALL books and kept adding bookshelves to accommodate them. At the peak, I had 8 good sized bookcases filled with books ~ college books, law books, novels, cookbooks, reference books, etc. We had a small flood and had to move a TON of books out of the room to replace the carpet.

    I realized that I did NOT want to carry all that weight around for the rest of my life. I started clearing out the shelves and donated 8 HUGE shopping bags of books to a church for a book sale.

    That was 15 years ago. I’ve been trimming my collection ever since. This year, I donated another 25 books to the library for its annual book sale.

    Now, I have 2 bookcases. Much. More. Better.

    • ericjbaker

      In keeping with your life theme I add. I was going through some of these boxes and found college textbooks on careers I might have gone into, maybe, possibly. As if having that 20-year-old reference book from before the internet could possibly be relevant.

  • Tuesday

    You know, once I started hunting down the titles I wanted to use in my blog series, I realized that I have tucked books away here, there, and everywhere! Why? No clue. Waiting for the world power failure? I have reference books, law books, college texts, and all kinds of other books stashed all over my house! I guess I hadn’t been paying attention because they weren’t on my “official” bookshelf – out of sight out of mind. Perhaps it’s time I do some purging of my own.
    Oh- and thanks for the little shout out…much appreciated!

    • ericjbaker

      No problem! Thanks for the enjoyable posts.

      I’ll bet most of those textbooks are out of date as references anyway. I can’t think of anything “useful” I’ve held onto for 10 years that would still be useful in any way. My one other little hoard is a box (rectangular, of course) of cables and connectors for home theater systems. They’re totally obsolete! I told my wife to throw the box away when I’m not home because I’ll never know it’s gone.

      • Tuesday

        I’m pretty sure I have a box (rectangular only because that was what happened to be available) full of obsolete cables around here also. I think that box also has floppy disks in it. :/

        • ericjbaker

          HAHA! I found a box of diskettes when I was emptying the storage boxes the other day. They were labelled “backup 1” “backup 2” etc. What they hell was I backing up? It was a waste of time, whatever it was.

  • Dave

    I don’t so much as hoard books as I collect them. I love books, and I love collecting books. Specifically, first editions of my favorite authors. So far, I have two bookcases filled and have them on display in my office. I think I’d have to be destitute before I’d even consider giving them up.

    I can say that I’ve given up on paperback books altogether ever since my oldest son convinced me that Kindles were the way to go. I’ve bought and read more books on the Kindle than ever before, and the nice thing is I don’t have to worry about accumulating a bunch of paperbacks.

    Congrats on the purge, though. In your case, it sounds very liberating 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Displayed first editions is certainly different from bookshelves so overloaded that they are sagging from the weight. A prized book as part of a collection… I have empathy for that even if I don’t do it myself.

      I really have to get a kindle one of these days, if for no reason other than to download the self-pub titles by my WordPress friends.

      Thanks for the comment, Dave. Good to see you around these parts again.

      • Dave

        Thanks, Eric. Good to be back! As always, enjoy your posts. I hope that someday, in the not-too-distant future, I just might manage to get my most recent manuscript or two self-published. I’ll remind you to download it 🙂

  • Janna G. Noelle

    The dust mites are saying, What the f*** just happened?

    Love it.

    Five years ago when I moved cross-country, I ditched a substantial amount of fiction books and oddly enough, writing reference books (though still had almost a shelf’s worth of science books, field guides, and books on medieval history). I didn’t really miss the fiction books with the exception of one or two favourites I’ve since re-acquired.

    Nowadays, I will buy a book I want to read right now rather than wait my turn at the library, but I don’t tend to keep it long term unless it really resonated with me. I’ll lend it out to a number of friends, coworkers, etc., and if it doesn’t make its way back to me, I’m not all that bothered by it. I already got what I paid for through not having to wait to read it.

    • ericjbaker

      I’m a bit scared off by the $25 price tag on a lot of books. usually, if I wait a year, I can get a used copy on Amazon for 7 or 8 bucks.

      Is it odd that I write fiction but keep the non fiction?

  • High Fantasy Addict

    *laughs* I wrote a post on a similar theme last week – and came to the conclusion I am definitely a hoarder and nothing can be done about it but put up a few more bookshelves! Great post!

    • ericjbaker

      Things that aren’t bookshelves are a waste of space anyway. Onward with the collecting!!!!

      If you’re happy being surrounded by books, that’s the important thing. i can think of worse things for sure.

      • High Fantasy Addict

        And if you jam enough books on the shelf, you’ve hardly got to dust around them anyway…its a bit like real-life tetris getting all those shapes fit, isn’t it? It can be quite satisfying when you’ve got a shelf ‘full’ with no gaps! (Now I really sound like a hoarder!)

  • 1WriteWay

    My husband and I are on a perpetual binge-and-purge cycle when it comes to books. For every one that we give to the library or a friend, we buy two more. And I have a stack that I fully intend to read … someday. My guilty pleasures are Modern Library editions. Some of these books I may never read; I just want to have them. They are the size of a paperback but in hard cover and very simple book design. They don’t take up as much space as a standard hardcover so that’s part of my rationale for keeping them 😉

    Sigh. Books are the hardest things for us to give up, but sometimes I manage to convince myself that I’m just being selfish, especially hanging onto to books that I have read. And with libraries struggling these days, at least I feel I’m helping when we donate our books to them.

    But I have a Barnes & Noble membership card … so what do you think I’m going to do with that 20% off coupon that I get at least once a month? Plus the 10% members discount?

    • ericjbaker

      Nothing wrong with keeping fellow writers in business! I’d be at B&N more often if the budget permitted. I do like the packaging on those Modern Library books. For a creative guy with almost comically diverse tastes and interests, I take a disturbing pleasure in uniformity.

  • Richard Leonard

    I tend to hang on to books. My wife likes to throw things out. I had a box of classics that I somehow got from my parents. Not sure if they gave them too me or they wanted somewhere else to store them. I realised at some point they’ve gone missing, probably after a shed clean up. Not pointing fingers, but…

  • Wordlander

    I’m quite careful about buying books I’m fairly certain I’ll reread (usually in favorite genres or by trusted authors) so I can cull the few that just didn’t work for me easily. My Dad is a big reader but he doesn’t really understand buying many – it’s library and the odd charity shop book for him. There’s plenty in his house but they change frequently – I couldn’t do that!

    • ericjbaker

      I think there is a continuum of practicality, with people who don’t read or collect anything because it doesn’t earn you money or enable anything to be repaired on one end, and people who buy a bigger house to fit the books on the other. I’m slotted as the guy who get books until the existing shelf space is maxed out, and then I purge.

  • kristenotte

    My husband and I are moving at the end of July so I’m sure we will go on a book purge. We have 2 bookshelf of books in addition to some in boxes around the house. But, these days, I rarely buy paperback or hardcover books- all kindle books so at least the physical collection isn’t growing! Sometimes, I think about buying all the physical books I own and love for my kindle, but then I realize money doesn’t grow on trees.

    • ericjbaker

      It doesn’t grow in my wallet, either.

      If I ever get around to a Kindle, that’s how I’ll do my novels going forward, since I end up giving them away anyway. The hardcover non-fictions hold too much allure for me to go digital. Especially art books.

  • byjhmae

    And this why I own a Kindle…

    • ericjbaker

      They are in the rectangle shape, aren’t they?

      Seriously, I should do that, but, like I said to Kristen above, the feel of a hardcover book in my hands is too enjoyable for me to give up yet. One of these days…

  • ShannonRaelynn

    There must be something in the air? I laughed when I read this because an hour before I had purged books. My wall of shelves is my limit and my limit was being exceeded. I have family members that hoard and it drives me crazy because I have had to clean those hoards: granaries, garages, an old house full of crap and an entire a farmyard have all been cleaned by me. I abhor hoarding. However when it comes to books I have issues. My office has an entire 28 foot wall of bookshelves and I was spilling out. This morning I took some boxes and decided to make room for new books. Anything I did not like and would not recommend is going to be sold cheap in a garage sale. Everything I love, I keep and lend to others. I rarely reread anymore, but I love to share a book I enjoyed. Now if someone wants to borrow a book I can say “Go upstairs and pick one out. Everything there I would recommend.”

    • ericjbaker

      OI guess it’s a springtime urge, but I don’t know how it suddenly turned into a mad cleanout. Lately I’ve been trying to simplify, and we have 8 libraries in our county, so it’s not like I have a shortage of things I can borrow.

  • Katie

    I completely understand the logic behind book purging, but the thought of getting rid of any of my books is appalling, and frankly makes me a bit sick to think about. I fully intend to grow my book collection until I need an extra bedroom to house them all. Classics, neo-classics, fiction, nonfiction, Spanish college books (but none of those awful marketing/operations books!), children’s books…

    At some point, I will probably realize my collection has gotten out of control and facepalm, but until that point….I will hold my books tight to my chest.

    • ericjbaker

      If it elevates your feeling of well being to be in the company of books (and you would hardly be alone in that regard), then embrace it. Being a book lover is romantic and wistful and impractical and all the things that make someone cool. Being 100% utilitarian in life is boring.

  • cecilia

    Ditching the rubbish is such a light feeling isn’t it, i have travelled an awful lot in my life so my rule is .. would i pack this and take it with me, this goes for everything actually, books are the hardest (and I have packed them and brought them with me) and I have overflowing badly managed book shelves filled to the brim with books now that i have finally settled, but i cannot be parted with them. For the rest I have a box for the library. It sits by my bed and if a book is junk, (about 70 percent) I read it and into the box it goes. Real treasures get jammed into the book case. I am building a new book case, it is all i can think of to do! c

    • ericjbaker

      Cluttered bookshelves have a certain charm, even for those of us who like a bit of order and control. I don’t move that often, but I’m also terrible in that I take advantage of my mom to store things. Hey, it was my bedroom once, many years ago. No one is in there. The closet is empty.

      This is how I rationalize not getting rid things I don’t use.

  • Uzoma

    My small apartment has a section dedicated to books, novels inclusive. But in our family house, my dad–a business genius, that’s what I call him–has a room full of books about banking and finance, economics, to classic novels. There, you will also see a bunch of “how-to” books.

    Last year, he and mum quarreled over space and rearrangement of certain things in his house. Dad insisted that he was going to give his books away–not even to friends or family members. It took me five good days to get them talking to each other again. This is what my father says about books: “If you really love to read, there is a special charm that comes with a every good book.”

    • ericjbaker

      That’s one of the interesting things about books… they are a window into the reader’s soul. even with disparate subject matter, you can see a pattern if you look hard enough that will reveal the person’s character.

      Outside of a few writing-themed titles, you will not find any how-to books on my shelves. If a skill or process doesn’t come to me intuitively, I will be too frustrated with it to bother learning. Perhaps that’s why I don’t know anything.

  • tracycembor

    While I am not a book hoarder either, I do have very full bookshelves, even after a massive de-cluttering before my daughter was born. I think the only reason that the shelves have not been filled passed the breaking point is my e-reader, which saves me so much space and doesn’t have to be dusted. 😉

    • ericjbaker

      It’s taking a while, by you and my other WordPress pals are slowly pulling me into the 21st century and helping me see the light in regard to Kindles and self-publishing and all that brave-new-world stuff.

  • Jodi

    My hubby and I both share a dream of one day having a conservatory or solarium where at least one whole wall is shelved from end to end with our extensive book collection. Until then the shelf space is appointed by relevance and just how much we liked the book. Don’t ask to see what’s hiding in the storage…

    • ericjbaker

      What happens when you love a book that he hates? Even the most perfect marriage hits a bump once in a while.

      😉

      I like the word “conservatory,” by the way. A library can be any old rectangular room, but a conservatory requires an architect with some flair.

      • Jodi

        Luckily we haven’t run into that problem, we each have our secret stash that is strictly no questions asked. One day we’d love to hire an awesome architect – perhaps if one of my books goes viral…

  • kriskkaria

    My partner, Jack, is a hoarder of books and everything else. Its not as bad as the show on TV. Giving away anything though is just not possible. He occasionally sells a game on eBay but he collects twice what he sells.

    • ericjbaker

      That’s the great danger of eBay. I’ve been checking the values of things I might want to sell on there, and so far I’m negative 16 dollars for buying an out-of-print CD.

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