Organizing and Letting Go of Books

Whenever I start talking with clients about maybe donating some books and organizing the rest, I know that I will get some strong reactions. Mind you, these are people who have asked for the help.

Many people feel strong connections to their books. Textbooks they had in college remind them of their classes and experiences in college. Old cookbooks remind them of meals and feasts they have prepared in the past even though they know they will not use them again. Some books just remind them of a time or place or memory.

One episode with Marie Kondo showed her advising a woman to part with books that she had read or likely never would read. To me, this sounds reasonable. A tweet went out about how you should fill your apartment and world with books. That every human needs an extensive library and not clean, boring shelves. The tweet went viral.

Other people, when considering their collection, realize that their interests have changed and that they are still learning and growing. They can pass on books from their past.

I have always felt that you could have as many books as you want if you honor them by making sure that each has a home on a bookcase. Having said that, I did have one client who not only had bookcases around almost every wall but in one room he called the “library” he also had bookcases running down the middle of the room – like a public library. Still, the books were on shelves!

I recently had a client from the past contact me because her books are blocking pathways in her home and the apartment complex has told her she is breaking safety codes.

When helping someone with their books, a great way to begin the discussion is to start by grouping books by genre. When we start some of these sorts, we almost always find some books that are duplicated. We also find books with similar themes, topics, pictures and can eliminate some. We may find books that are damaged and moldy and those usually go (and cannot be donated). We talk about how these books when mixed in with “healthy” books can ruin the good ones  We may find books that were bought on a whim or just because they buyer liked the author but the book not so much.

Knowing the “why” of keeping the book makes it easier to make not only the decision of if you really want to keep it but also where you will store it. My challenge to you is to really look at each book you own and remember why you are still holding on to it. It really might just be that it is still there because it was put there once and forgotten. It might be fun to clear the space either to enjoy some empty space or to allow something new to come in.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Book Collecting or Bibliomania?

Recently I worked with a team to help a family empty a deceased parents’ home. Both parents loved books, but the mother, who had been a librarian, had a huge selection of books. Our team boxed up over 120 boxes of books. It was ironic that on the last day one of the team came across a book entitled Living with Books.

The Living with Books stated that books offer building material for the formation of character, the activation of intelligence, and the deepening of sensitivity. The book was a guide for librarians, but some of the chapter titles were intriguing; for example, “People and Books”, “Familiar Friends and Companions”, and “Daily Help for Daily Needs.”

Attachment to books makes it hard to let books go. They do become “friends and companions”, but if books begin to take over the whole house, it also affects our style of living. This is not the first home where I have worked with this many books. How does one decide how many books to keep and what books to let go?

Some questions to consider:

  1. How much room do you have to store your books in a way that honors the book? Books should not intrude. They should not obstruct walking space. They should not be stacked on the floor.
  2. How many books do you have that you have not yet gotten around to reading? Make it a rule that you will read 3 of your unread books before buying one new book.
  3. How many of these books will your reread or reference? Set a realistic number and check at least once a year that you have not surpassed that number.

When thinking back on that book we found, maybe more of our reading should come from the collections of books in our local library. Then books can be continually recycled and there is always something new for us to read.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer