Friday, May 29, 2015

Letting go, part 2

Having passed along my vinyl music collection to Oldest Nephew, I've started tackling my next (and possibly most difficult) retirement downsizing project: our gargantuan book collection.

I may not have children -- but in some ways, my books have always been my babies. Once a book enters this house, it very rarely leaves. Occasionally,  I have made a half-hearted attempt to get rid of some of them -- but only with great reluctance, and not with much success. (The one exception being the majority of my collection of pregnancy and infertility books, which I donated long ago to our pg loss support group.)(I did keep my copy of "What to Expect" as a "souvenir" of my pregnancy.)  I think I've always had the fantasy that someday, I would have a big house with its own library, with built-in bookshelves lining all the walls.

Our collection has mushroomed over the past 15-20 years. I can point to a few reasons why. First: after a few years in our jobs, we started making more money = more disposable income. (As I've often said: some people spend their money on booze & cigarettes, or maybe shoes;  we spend our money on books, newspapers & magazines.)  Second, we moved from a small one-bedroom apartment into our house in 1990 ( = more room for more books).  Third, our national mega-bookstore chain opened a local store about 20 years ago, and we've spent just about every Saturday night there since then. Fourth, for a long time, I harboured a secret fantasy that I was going to get pregnant again, be put on bedrest, and have hours of time to read -- so why not stockpile some reading material??  Of course, I never got pregnant again, and (reason #5) many of the hours that I once spent reading books are now spent on the computer (cough cough).

I don't even want to think about how many books we have. Enough that I got concerned about the weight on the floors, when we had our bookshelves in a second-floor bedroom, and moved all but one of them into the basement, about 10-15 years ago. We have two full-sized IKEA Billy bookshelves down there, one smaller (more narrow) one, and a metal shelving unit that we had in our apartment.

There's one more IKEA bookcase upstairs, mostly full of photo albums. I did not want to put those in the basement. There are a couple of Rubbermaid bins full of books, too, both in the basement and upstairs. And there are a few book stacks in our bedroom too.

Over the years, the shelves filled up, and I started to stack books in front of the ones that were already shelved. Then there wasn't any more room on the shelves -- so I started just stacking books on the floor in front of the shelves. To put it mildly, it was a mess down there. I was finding it hard to vacuum the floor around the piles. The stacks are random, too -- a few fiction volumes here, a memoir there, which makes it hard to find a specific book at times. (I'm not just paring down my collection, I'm hoping to get it reorganized too.) 

Just as I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am never going to be pregnant again and am not going to have children, I've had to face the reality that if/when we move from here, it is likely going to be into a condo, where my storage space for books will be limited. And I am never going to have time to read all the unread books I have collected over the years (or re-read all the ones I've already read). 

We probably could have made some money if we held a garage sale, or put them on eBay or Kijiji, etc., but we decided we didn't want the hassle. (Of course, there are a ton of other baby boomers out there looking to downsize their stuff as well, for competition.)  There aren't very many used bookstores in the vicinity where we could sell the books on consignment, either. 

So we agreed to donate. The problem was, where? My immediate instinct was the library. I called, and yes, they do accept book donations. BUT.  They wanted the books to be in pristine condition. No textbooks. And no books with a publication date further back than five years ago. (!!! That last one really got me. There are TONS of good books that were published more than five years ago!)(Particularly when the library shelves are full of ancient books themselves...!) 

Thank goodness for the Salvation Army. Their local thrift stores accept book donations.

So, over the past week, I've spent a couple of afternoons in the chilly, dusty basement, going through our books and sorting them into piles, including one section designated "donate."  Dh & I made a few trips to the liquor store and filled the trunk of the car with empty cartons -- they're ideal for packing books, because they're small enough that you can't overload them to the point where they become too heavy to lift. (Although, come to think of it, I could have used some alcohol before tackling this project, lol.)  ;)

I didn't take any "before" photos before I started -- too embarrassing. :p  But, over the past week, we've taken 11 cartons full of books to the Salvation Army. (!!) I haven't counted, but dh estimates that's easily a couple hundred books already. Most of these were the "easy" choices -- books that no longer interest me (yellowing tomes about Canadian politics back in the 1970s and '80s,  souvenirs of my Ayn Rand phase from college...), books that my sister gave me in e-book format ( = the paper copy can go), books that, despite my noble intentions, I know I will never read in a million years (goodbye, "War & Peace," lol). 

There is scope for plenty more to go. But I'm already starting to see spaces open up on the floor and on the shelves, and that's a good feeling. :)

I know it's going to get harder before I'm done. My goal is to reduce the number of books to the point where there aren't any piles sitting on the floor (and I still have some way to go before I reach that goal).  If/when we move, and need to further reduce the collection, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

But right now, I'm feeling kind of proud of myself for what I've been able to accomplish so far. :)


  1. Are there any little free libraries in your area? Little free library stwards are always looking for books. You can go to to check if there are any near you.

  2. Thanks for the tip. :) I checked and there actually is one within 10 miles of us. But it basically looks like an oversized birdhouse. I don't think it could handle 11 cartons of books. ;)

  3. Wow! I'm impressed you're managing to do this. Eleven cartons - that's a lot! Though I am cringing at the thought that you're giving away books you haven't even read.

    Your comment about the weight made me think. There are four bookshelves here in my office (on the top floor of the house!) and many of the books are also double-stacked, because we have completely run out of room. (There are two other bookshelves in the room I'm considering turning into a walk-in wardrobe.) We don't have a basement in this house on stilts, so no option to move them.

    Joining a bookclub about 15 years ago cut back my book-buying a lot. (The host would buy 2-3 books, and then they would go into a rotation system, so that we'd all eventually read the books, but each month we could choose which books we felt like reading.) So most of the books are now my husbands.

    E-readers though have saved my house from being over-run with books. And these days I'm borrowing most of my e-books from my library, so I'm saving money too.

    1. The bulk of the books I've donated are ones I've already read or ones I have in e-version. The ones I haven't read that I've let go are in the minority, and they're mostly non-fiction, on topics I was once interested in but not really anymore. Or, like I said, "War and Peace." ;) Which I'm sure I could find for free in e-version if I really wanted to read it. Or spend the $10 for another paperback. ;)

  4. Good on you. I know you're mentioned you have trouble purging so this is a big step. I know here, there's a book sale that raises funds for the Children's Hospital - maybe something like that? Although the Salvation Army does great work!

  5. That's a huge step!!!

    And now I'm so curious about your collection. Have you thought about maybe donating some of your collection through your blog? May make parting with some of those more treasured books easier because you know where they would be going.

  6. What a huge step! I'm super impressed, not least because I have the same problem and so does Q. Our house has seven full-size Billys, two tall narrow ones, and three other random small bookcases, plus shelves in E's room. All full (but not double stacked).

    We joke about having to strengthen the floors eventually but it's really not a joke. Plus Q has probably another two or three hundred in his office at the university.

    I have mostly stopped my book buying habit thanks to using my library more. It nearly always has everything I want and I've learned how to control my holds so I can put forty books on hold at once but stagger how I get them. I still buy books for E., but not as many.

    I am TERRIBLE for getting rid of books once they come in the house. I did do a small purge last summer when we switched my study and E's room, but it wasn't significant. I do feel like a bigger purge is needed- I know I have books I will never read again (or ever), but I feel enormous comfort just having them there on the shelves.

    I am thinking of instituting a rule for myself that for any book that comes into the house, I have to choose one to go out. That would at least keep the collection from ballooning any more than it already has.

  7. Well done! I love that you considered the weight of the boxes...I think this is something that most people don't consider (I've moved 14 times since I turned 18 so I am somewhat of an expert on packing and purging). I hope that seeing the progress continues to be motivating for you! :)

  8. I understand the struggle. I used to tell my husband, if I died, make sure my books went to someone who would love them, not just end up at the local DI (a local thrift store).
    When we bought our townhouse, I knew there was no way I could fit my large bookshelf there. I sold a lot of the books at a yard sale, but then I did donate the rest to the DI. I kept my favorite and said good bye to the rest. But my life interests have changed enough that I knew I would probably never read most of them again, so it wasn't too hard.
    But it is a constant battle to not cave and buy more books. I did finally get an ebook ready so I can buy books there, but its just not quite the same.

  9. Have you thought about donating them to a prison? I run an education program in jails in western Canada, and we usually always take books of all kinds, and all conditions.

  10. How did I miss this post?

    I have the same problem, though many more bookcases :-) It's an embarrassing number of books all things considered. One of the problems is that we do have great used bookstores, so when you can get a book for a quarter or check it out of the library and maybe have to pay a late fee of 50 cents, you go with buying it for a quarter.