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.
And now with back against the wall
there comes a time when I must heed
the insistent mournful call
to relinquish that I love to read,
and pass along to distant friends
the books that have defined my life.
Every temp’ral good thing ends,
and I will not burden wife
with making choices I can make
while I yet have strength and will,
and though I wish that I might take
my loved books over yonder hill,
I know that God does really care,
and I will find them waiting there.
This is encouraging, Bob. I don’t know if I have as many books as you had, but I might be able to give you a run for your money—and I have determined I want my life to fit in a 26’ U-Haul by May. Letting my horses go a couple years ago was gut-wrenching. Thinning the book collection … I’m thinking it may be worse. 😖
But it’s all going to be ok. 😃
I’m saving your post as a checklist. Thank you.
I’m at that stage in life. I’m looking for a young preacher who is a student of the Word, especially regarding the life of Christ which I taught young pastors. Maybe I won’t cry when they leave.
I am not moving, but I have run out of shelf space. I am not yet able to consider getting rid of any books, (with a few exceptions) so my brilliant strategy is now to put some of them into boxes, and find a place to store those, thus making space on the shelves for the books now sitting on chairs, tables, the floor etc. Is there hope for me?
Sy, try googling ‘hanging bookshelves’. You may find something worthwhile.
When we made the decision to sell our home and knew our new one would be a lot smaller, my daughter suggested we add a wee bit to the real estate listing: House for sale. Includes library.
Of course I would not entertain such a thought! So the culling began. Painful, yes, but necessary. I did find joy in rediscovering some of the old treasures I hadn’t touched in some time. If it hadn’t been for my daughter looking over my shoulder my ‘keep’ pile would have been much larger. Still sighing.
Bob, I love your infusion of humor into what is a painful, emotional & tedious process. Especially your comment about non-judgmentally aiding your wife’s efforts.
Went through this 3.5 years ago when I moved. Could add more to the giveaway pile today.
While traveling makes a digital book reader a good choice, there is no greater reading pleasure than holding a book with a well-designed cover in my hands. Ah, life’s simple pleasures!
I cringe at the thought. My 2,000 books (give or take) are a precious commodity. We recently moved. My poor husband’s aching back. Vowing to him that I will purge has saddened me so. He loves our books as well, so he also feels my pain. Your list is most helpful. I will keep it in mind. To know you survived the ordeal is comforting. Thank you.
We did that over three years ago when we moved across the country. Although it was painful, it helped to know some of our books were donated to a Bible college, and others to pastors.
I downsized my library several years ago. Later, when I was writing my book, Should Christians be Environmentalists? I had to rebuy two of them. As a writer, you just never know, so be careful when you downsize!
Kristen Joy Wilks
So hard! I had to simply not buy books in the first place because up until this year our family of five has been in a two bedroom apartment. I bought books for our sons, but got my books from the library. Then I got a Nook and yay! I could fit books into the house!
Since I fell in love with audiobooks years ago it’s been much easier to cull the paper ones. My biggest challenge was passing on my childhood collection of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Thankfully, my niece had boy/girl twins so I had the perfect place to send them. My husband, on the other hand….
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Bob, now you’re meddling. I love my books and take great comfort in having many. There is something so serene about looking over the many books I’ve read through the years. Maybe I’m just not ready to let go of the little darlings….. But I’m willing to make a deal on some of the books I read for my Ph.D. program. One class had 11 textbooks. I kid you not.
So there are many like me. Hello wonderful people.
After 2 months in rehab after a stroke, sooo excited
to finally enjoy my surroundings of 11 plus cabinets full…..
Cabinets oak Amish made-bought in summer end sale,
old almost antique unique from the
second hand store in our last neighborhood,
garage sale somewhere treasure and
all soothingly eye and touch filled – jammed filled full of delightful books.
Plus they hold the heat when the electric goes out.
To ready the house for me in the rented hospital bed—
the family never loving of the books got rid in a huge dumpster
many of things to be loving of me–said and described kindly.
20 months later I still work at kindly patience gone on to endurance.
My bucket list after I can walk has to get books sorted out.
Just in case I told family to get a dumpster if I die.
Now I’ll add call a couple of my friends then call the Christian college.
Thanks for the memories off my back.
I totally sympathize with your biggest downsizing challenge. I give things away quite easily with one exception—my books. Congratulations on your creative approach and perseverance. Now enjoy those grandkids . . . they were worth the effort!
Bob, my wife and I are also downsizing and going through this traumatic process, though perhaps in not as organized a process as yours.
You left out the part about getting professional therapy to aid in the journey!
I also need to part with some books who are like old friends. If I clear space on the shelves, perhaps I’ll have room to shelve the stacks of books on various tables. The suggestion some offer to take a photo of the cover brings no comfort. Now I’ll say, “If Bob can do this, I can, too (maybe).” I must try. Thanks for your always humorous yet valuable posts.
Bob, I love your humor & the way you communicate. You make the task sound possible. In my organizing business, I confidently share tips & wisdom; preaching a good sermon on culling all the books. When I face my own shelves, my books taunt me. I pick one up to “skim”, confident I’ll toss it, and then an hour later, I’m still “skimming.” That’s my problem; a nugget or two are in each one, so how can I let them go?
I feel encouraged after reading your list, to pull out the MVB’s first and finally realize I can live the rest of my days without the those few profound nuggets I’ve missed. Thanks for your rich post. 🙂
Bob, your comments are appreciated. Well said. I would only add to that I do not regret purchasing any book. It filled a need at the time and I appreciate that it added to my life. Even if it needed to move on to a new home.
I was gratified to read that someone loves books as I do, and finds “weeding” their collection a laborious task. Before retiring, I was a librarian by profession. Weeding the collection was necessary and somewhat difficult, but weeding my personal book collection was, and is, exponentially more difficult, because it is fraught with emotions. Discarding a book is like parting from friends. Those memories!
But there are books that never need to be weeded. Since electronic books became available, I’ve done all of my buying and reading in e-versions. I have nearly 2000 books on my Kindle app for IPad, and I can carry my entire collection with me everywhere I go. I love that I can organize the collection into limitless categories. I can rearrange the books within a category, as well as into and out of categories, and place books in multiple categories, at will. All of this I do, often, as a way of keeping track of what I’ve read.
Oh my! Can I relate! I’ve inherited study/reference books from my pastor when he retired (he let me have first pick), my mother when she passed…and her mother’s before her–sitting on my mother’s shelves, and my own books which have increased substantially from twenty years as a book club leader where I did the selecting. One of the joys, though, has been reading books from prior generations like In His Steps. I’d never read some of the classics and I am loving them, including a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress from my great-grand father’s books, an 1800 leather bound edition. However, I can’t keep them all. I’ll have to do some trimming in the near future.