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Why my love affair with books is over, but I’m reading more of them than ever.

photo of lots of books side by side on a shelf

I have always loved books. From being a little child that loved spot the dog, and then progressed to Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and then Famous Five mysteries, books were one way for me to immerse myself in another world. When I was feeling poorly I’d join Moonface and co at the Enchanted Wood, and when young teenage angst kicked in I dreamed of being in a posh boarding school like Mallory Towers. Then as I grew up and exams approached books were to be written in and annotated. It took me a long time for me to be OK with this, but to be honest scrawling on Hamlet didn’t give me much guilt as it was hardly a favourite and by the end of my exams i think i can safely say i quite enjoyed defacing a Shakespearan masterpiece. When A Levels kicked in I didn’t read books for pleasure, that was more like Mizz and More magazine for position of the fortnight! At this point books became a tool with a useful purpose, a way to get my head around what I’d half understood in class but needed time away to really understand (yes, Marxism and Liberalism nearly fried my brain). Books were for expanding knowledge and cementing ideologies and to steal quotes out of to memorise in exams.

Then I went to work in college libraries and fell in love with books for pleasure again, and started avidly buying and reading lots of fiction. I also learned very quickly that finding specific information for the course you are doing is sometimes quicker and easier to get from a book made of paper rather than the internet from on a screen. I also got good at finding books of certain colours when students couldn’t remember the author or title, but could remember the colour of the front page. It’s a testament to my love for books that I did a qualification in Library and information services, learnt all about the Dewey classification process, backed hundreds of books with a credit card and coverlon, and still loved them. I worked at a college that was ravaged by a fire and to see us having to pull all the books off the shelf and dismantle the library so they could be sent away for specialised cleaning was truly heartbreaking.

In my twenties and thirties I embraced joining ‘World Books’ a subscription service where I was a sent a book monthly to buy or return and very few were ever returned. It also allowed me to indulge in cheap fiction, from the ridiculously smaltzy USA formulaic Danielle Steel love stories to the hilarious clutz of the Shopaholic series reading for pleasure came back. It was also about this time that I started building a collection of Blue Peter annuals. I started off with the one from when I was young enough to enjoy it TV, through to be looking for missing editions for my collection. Looking through charity shops and car boots to find a battered and written in Blue Peter Annual was always a thrill when I got a new one or a better copy of one I already had. It felt like a bit of a challenge to try and get a set. Maybe the early ones were worth more than the 50p I paid for them and they’d make me a tidy sum at some point in the future?

So you could say that I have always loved books. But now the love story is over, and I’m pleading with you to declutter your books and be ruthless the same way I was with mine. I now own four small shelves of books, compared to a mini library taking over an entire wall like I did before. The book lovers amongst you are at this point thinking ‘I could never do that!’, and I totally get why, but here’s why you can and should.

Books are not living breathing creatures. They are just pieces of paper bound together, and are not more important as having breathing space in your home and a less chaotic atmosphere. Books in theory are very important, but only some, and not necessarily the ones you are keeping in your home. Books are a tool. Whether it be a tool to escape life, or to learn about things. I do not need to keep them all, I only need to keep the ones that are useful tools for the future. I buy books frequently, the latest three from Amazon arrived yesterday, more books on minimalism and self development. I also have an Audible account for listening in the car and whilst cleaning the house, I use our local library for minitingle to have a change of kids books without the expense too. I read more books than ever. I buy, read, digest and sell on or pass on to my local library. Libraries have books you can use rather than buy new, saving you money, if you like a book you’ve loaned and want to keep it to use in the future then buy it then. I only now have books I know I will need or really want to access again. The Enid Blyton books survived for me to read with my daughter, the shopaholic series and the Unmumsy Mum survived for when I need familiar comfort and a laugh. A self development book by Jack Canfield is a book I dip into time and time again, and one Blue Peter annual survived as it has the best pancake recipe for me to follow, along with the first I bought as it had the best presenters! The rest I had no problem donating. They weren’t a collection, they were just lots of individual books that gathered dust taking up space I didn’t have in my home.

Look at your books that you have today. Are there any you haven’t read yet? Why haven’t you read them? My theory being you make the time when something is a priority, so if they’ve been there a while and not been read it’s time to make it a priority to either read them or let them go – and no feeling bad if you didn’t read them before saying goodbye. If you get the urge to read it in the future getting it again will make it a priority and you will probably have success at reading it – although my guess is if you haven’t read it by now you probably never will… and you know what? That’s OK. Stop having them because you think you should.

Maybe you like to showcase books that have won awards, that are ‘weighty’. Do they make you feel good? Or maybe you thought they would but now they nag at you when you glance at them because you haven’t picked them up yet. Owning lots of books doesn’t make you look clever, it just makes you look like you have a lot of books. Reading lots of books helps you grow though – and life is for living and part of that is learning but it has to be enjoyable, not a chore or because you ‘should’. It’s OK to have coffee table books out on display – as long as you look at them, and they make you happy, and you have an empty coffee table to effectively display them too!

To declutter books first you have to look at them as individuals, not a collection. Make an assessment on each one. Do you love it? Is it a tool for you to use, to make you happy, bring you comfort, for you to learn and access frequently? Or is the information out of date and not serving any purpose? Is it just a reminder of your past, maybe of a different age, or a different career and you think you may go back to it? Nostalgia of that time can be remembered in better ways than a book, and keeping information in case one day you go back to it is wasting the present as well as taking up space with something that may be obsolete.

When you decide to let them go you have a myriad of ways to do so. Selling privately through Amazon, eBay or Facebook. You could donate them to charity – although check with the charity shop in advance, more and more are refusing books, or using freecycle or freegle. You could use the Ziffit app to get cash for them (although be warned, many won’t be accepted and some are only worth 10p) or try donating to your local school, community group or local library where they can do some good and be loved by a whole new set of people.

When buying books in the future look at alternatives, can you get one on loan from the library? Can you borrow it from someone, maybe join a book club to expand your horizons and meet new people too? Can you buy it second hand or do a book swap with someone? If you do buy it don’t think that because you spent money on it you have to keep it forever, you don’t. You spent the money on the knowledge the books contains, or the experience of reading it. Once that has been done it is OK to let it go.

I still love books, I adore the ones I’ve kept, but my love affair with hoarding them is over. See if you can do the same, I'd be interested to know how you get on.

Heather x


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