I love books.
Big surprise, right? I’m supposed to say that, as a literary agent, author, and frequent speaker at writers conferences. But it’s true.
Case in point: Over the years, I amassed a personal and professional library of nearly 3,000 books. Hardcover and softcover, mass market and classic leather binding, nonfiction and fiction, reference and gift books, many by friends, some by relatives, and more. Even better, my expansive home office furnished thirty-foot-long built-in bookshelves for most of the titles, with others (mostly Bibles, children’s books, and leather-bound classics) sprinkled through the rest of the house. I was happier than a camel on a Wednesday.
Then things changed. My wife, the lovely Robin, and I faced a move across the country to be closer to our children and grandchildren. That meant a new home and less—much less—space for books.
I knew the process would be painful, but I embarked on a drastic and strategic downsizing process. I didn’t know how many books I’d eventually be able to move and shelve in my new home, so I downsized my library in phases. (And, yes, before you ask, I am a bit OCD, especially when it comes to books. Got a problem with that?)
- MVBs. I began by identifying my “most valuable books.” Valuable, that is, to me. My (and my wife’s) Bibles, many with irreplaceable notes. Nearly 400 antique or leather-bound classics. Some (like my late mother’s Bible and the Winnie-the-Pooh books I read to my kids) that held deep sentimental value. And a sizeable number related to my wife’s work (though she claimed that I was overly willing to get rid of her books, which was ridiculous. Really. Honest).
- Gifts. Early in the process, I identified a small number of books I wanted to give to others. In some cases, it was because of a mutual connection relating to that book, and in others it simply involved a person I was confident would appreciate the gift. I also invited some friends and family members into my library and invited them to take whatever they wanted.
- Duplicates. I didn’t own a lot of duplicate volumes, but it was understandably easier to get rid of (for example) my college copy of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (complete with my notes in the margins) knowing I had another copy.
- Availability. I began selling or giving away books that I could (if needed) download as ebooks to my computer or iPad or obtain from the library.
- Format. With just a few exceptions, I sold or gave away all softcover books, including my complete set of Louis L’Amour paperbacks. Hated to see those go, but they were also a victim of #4, above.
- Neglect. Any books that made it through those processes faced one final hurdle. Though, actually, it was a series of hurdles. At first, I determined (Marie-Kondo-like) that if I hadn’t taken it off the shelf in the past three years, it would be sold or donated. Then I went to two years, then one. By the time this was over, I had trimmed down my collection to where it needed to be. Or almost so.
The downsizing process took months. Many trips to the post office, Books-a-Million, and the thrift store donation entrance. And still more weeding out occurred after the above processes. But when we moved into our new home, the painful process paid off. There was just enough room for our MVBs and a few others.
But though I grieved deeply through the downsizing process, I’ve suffered surprisingly little since. I’m still a devout bibliophile. My love for books is unabated. And I’m not suggesting that anyone reading this should downsize your library. In fact, I strongly urge you to buy more books. My books. My clients’ books. Only after doing so should you consider any downsizing. But if you do, if you have, or if you will, let me know in the comments what process you found helpful.