Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Too Many Books!

I have a problem. I have too many books. I know, I know ... "one can never have too many books." Yet, I do. I live in a rather small space and have limited storage. I think I have done quite well with the space I have, but it is time to take a good hard look at my book collection and start weeding.

I have two fairly large bookcases ... one in the bedroom and one in the living room. I've also got a great storage system for the overflow. I purchased see-through plastic bins and numbered them. Then I cataloged all my books into LibraryThing and made a location note telling me which shelves or which box held each book. The plastic bins live in the garage ... around 20 of them. So far so good. Then I acquired more books and didn't really want to add to the plastic bin numbers. And I was going to read these books soon (riiiiight). So they sat in a small pile on the bench of my breakfast nook. Guess what. Those books still live there and they have been procreating. I swear. They just multiply. I would really like to have my breakfast nook back ... you know, to eat at ... so I've given the books notice. They must find somewhere else to live. Of course, book lovers that you all are, you already know my dilemma. I want to read most of those books and some I will want to keep, so they won't disappear by tomorrow.

What to do about this dilemma? A plan. Accountability. More books going out than coming in.

I'm a librarian, so I'm no stranger to the concept of weeding the collection. I've just never really applied this to myself ... you know ... to my books ... to my lovely, lovely collection. Gulp. But, I remind myself, I'm feeling overwhelmed. I desire an uncluttered living environment. Books are a major source of clutter in my home. I need to weed. My collection. My books. I need to make it happen. I need to have my own collection development and maintenance plan.

Here is the plan. It is really quite simple.

1. Guidelines for the collection. Basically, criteria for what comes in, what stays and what goes. Should I purchase books by unknown authors or borrow from the library first? (I'm actually pretty good at picking authors/books that I end up liking, so this is a bit of a problem!) Will I re-read it? Does it fit into one of my major areas of interest? Is it special in some way that dictates that I would keep it?

2. A spreadsheet with a page for each month of the year. Each page has 2 columns -- Books In and Books Out. I format each page so that the titles do not wrap around. This makes it easy to see, at a glance, which side is longer. At the end of the month I enter the totals for each column. The Books Out column must be greater than the Books In; preferably MUCH greater until some significant progress has been made.

I can hear your question. "So how is it going??" So far, really well. It has been rather easy to find quite a few books that I'm willing to part with as I begin this discipline. Books I know I will never read again -- OUT. Books I have completely lost any interest in reading -- OUT. The books going out are bagged and stored for about 4 weeks before they are actually sent away. I'm hoping to avoid "OMG! I can't believe I got rid of that book. I want it back!" I'm sure I will regret getting rid of at least a few books, but the waiting period should help minimize this.

I've prioritized reading the books I'm pretty sure I won't be keeping. Does this cut into some of my reading spontaneity? Sure. But it's worth it. I really do want my breakfast nook back!

I know it will get more difficult to identify books to give away as the collection diminishes and I also know that some books will stay because I WANT them to stay. My 19th century Russian literature collection will stay; my Victorian literature collection will stay; my Ray Bradbury collection will stay; books I know I will re-read will stay. You get the picture. I will still have quite the collection and anticipate a need to continue storing some of my books, but hopefully this plan will allow me to reclaim my breakfast nook and develop a more peaceful relationship to my books. I want to appreciate my book collection; not feel overwhelmed by it.

Numbers so far this year:

Books Out = 127
Books In = 41
Net books OUT = 86

*I haven't mentioned that my husband contributes to the book madness and is participating in this latest "bee in my bonnet."

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your book collection? Have you implemented a weeding project of your own?


  1. Well done :)

    I'm a hoarder... I virtualy have to be forced to do something like actually get rid of any of my books. Although, I must admit that there are one or two books that friends have given me that I'm not particularly interested in reading.

  2. Congratulations! Unfortunately my statistics are the reverse of yours - I have far more coming in than going out. I really need to do a big sort out - maybe next month :-)

  3. Hi Terri, my books are becoming a problem as much as they are a joy to me. I keep some of the read ones in large plastic containers. The new ones--due to lack of shelf space--are in plastic/paper bags and floor. I need to get them organized properly. I catalog them all using LibraryThing to keep track of what I have. I mirror the list in Visual Books for Facebook.

    You're doing a great job there! :D

  4. Totally overwhelmed by the books in my house - especially because my reading ability seems to have disappeared this year. I'm dreaming of summer in a hammock, with a good stack beside me.

    I have a terrible affinity for a book after it has spent time in my hands. So difficult to part with, but recently cleared out our study of many books. Just had to close my eyes and bury them in boxes for other's eyes. Painful.

  5. Oh Terri--I couldn't have written this post better. I have three large 6 foot bookshelves in my living room (not counting the one that's full of my husband's old textbooks that he refuses to part with) and many of the shelves are double stacked. Somethings GOTTA give but I just can't seem to part with any of them. Even the ones that I have read and didn't love. I think "well, maybe I can find someone to lend it to."

    What I need is someone to come up with criteria FOR me. I do like the idea of bins, though. Maybe I'll do this with some of my teaching stuff "in case I ever decide to teach." :)

    Kudos to you. 86 books out is fantastic!

  6. This is great, funny in its way (cuz I identify)and helpful. Book sorting. Can I do it? Can I really ditch the ones I haven't read and likely won't read? And then, what if one of you mentions that book months from now and I realize I could/should/would read it.
    OK, you're right. Take a good hard look. I may imitate your spreadhseet idea. Never thought of that. And typically I don't "do" the library because I cannot comply with the two-week limit rule our library imposes. Which is my greatest excuse for buying a book, used or not.
    Just to start out on the right foot, I have four books behind me that I'm done with. They can go. It's ok. I did have 5 on the stack but my daughter and came in and said, "are you sure you don't want to keep that, for when you have grandchildren?" First, I gave her the look and she laughed and said, no, nothing imminent. But we agreed that it was a fun one (about the Muppets) and I think it's nostalgic for her.
    So that's my off-the-cuff total: 4 OUT.
    I cannot tell you the amount "IN."
    Stay tuned.
    Thanks for this!

  7. Sounds like a good plan! I have three bookcases that stand edge-to-edge and cover most of one of my bedroom walls...when I can no longer fit all of my books in them, I have a weeding out session. I do the same 'bag up and live in the basement' period to avoid regrets!

  8. Like you, I have a pretty good knack of picking up books by authors I haven't read that I end up really liking, which does make it easy for the books to pile up.

    A little over a year ago I made the decision to weed out the book piles due to financial reasons. We were just starting our debt reduction plan and needed to make a big impact quickly. It was hard at first, but I managed to find over a 100 books that I was willing to list on and/or Ebay to sell. All of the funds raised went to pay off debt. I made about three to four thousand dollars doing that over the past year.

    Since then I've been much more picky about buying vs. library. Out of the 51 books I've read thus far this year, 24 have been either borrowed from the library or from friends and 14 have been purchased, either new or used, this year. Much better than my old habits, I assure you.

    I'm not sure I've figured out a hard and fast system so much as I go with a combination of analyzing a purchase and going with my gut when it comes to adding books to the collection. We have a small house, so I don't have endless room to store books. And I do not want to own books that are in boxes. I want them on a shelf somewhere, be it the nicer shelves upstairs or the makeshift 'library' downstairs.

  9. I am LOL as I read this post Teri, as I feel your pain. I have the same problem and tried similar systems. My problem is that I don't have a problem parting with the books, but they are replaced by others so the result is not even noticeable...LOL