Buried in Books

I love books. Like many people I like the idea of owning them and having them available in the home. However after quite a few moves I am well aware that one bookshelf can take up quite a few book size packing boxes, and mindful of just how heavy those boxes can be.

These days, I try to keep my book collection within the confines of a designated amount of space defined by the number of bookshelves I have. This makes me think carefully before I purchase a book, as I know I need to find a place to put it. I tend to favour reference books, or specialty books that would be difficult to find in a library or online, and difficult to replace in the future. I I like to have access to dictionaries, atlases and other information sources that I can run to when I am doing a crossword or watching a TV show about some remote location. When it comes to fiction however, I am less likely to hold onto books once I have read them.

Although I love to read, I realise that I would be buried in books, and a good deal poorer, if I tried to buy and keep a copy of everything I have ever read. Living in Sydney I have access to some wonderful libraries such as my local library which is a fantastic resource that I like to think of as an extension of my own book collection. Sydney also has some fantastic university libraries and of course the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street. Even if I don’t have direct borrowing rights at these libraries, I sometimes take advantage of the inter-library loan system to access special books.

More recently I have discovered the advantages of eBooks and book readers. This is one way to read and keep books without the need to find a lot of space to store them at home. Online books are normally cheaper than the same book new. I occasionally buy books on organising and decluttering from overseas, and often it is quicker, cheaper and easier to buy the book in the online format, than to pay full price and wait three weeks for delivery. The downside of online books it that you can’t easily share your copy.

How may books is enough, or too many, is a very personal thing. It depends on you interests and lifestyle. If you plan to move house frequently, or in the near future, you might be more inclined to want to reduce the total. If you live in a small space, it can easily be overwhelmed by books. A good sign that you need to take action would be books piled up on the floor or in places that books don’t normally belong (on top of the fridge… in the laundry…) This suggests that you could use more storage, or more likely, fewer books.

I like to approach sorting books by dividing them into categories. Fiction and non-fiction to start with, but then also categories of fiction (mysteries, romance classics) and non-fiction topics (cooking, animals, hobbies etc). Then you can see what you have in each category. The secret to reducing the total volume is to remove the least interesting and  least useful in each category. This gives you a library of books that you like and appreciate. Having said that, I have seen pictures of libraries organised by the colour of the spine. If you are a very visually oriented person, this might appeal. It certainly looks attractive on the shelf.

There are a lot of options if you decide to let go of some books. If they are in reasonable condition you can donate them to one-off fairs and fetes, or to charity shops. If you have the time to devote to the exercise, you might consider selling good quality specialty books online. I was skeptical about selling books this way, but decided to give it a try. I had some success selling good quality reference books on topics such as film photography, black and white photography, and health and fitness. These books are very expensive new, and although I didn’t recoup the cost, I did get a reasonable price for them.

If you feel buried in books, the best way to start is to look through the existing shelves and see if there is anything obvious that you can let go of. This creates space for newer books that don’t have a home to go to because the shelves are full. Start small, but start somewhere. While its nice to have books around, it can be a drag to feel buried in books.

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