Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keep or let go?

In weeding my (overabundant) possessions, I've had to make decisions about reading material. For most of my life, I held on to almost any book or magazine that came my way. I've always been a big re-reader, so this made sense. It wasn't until I was an adult with means that my ability to acquire books outpaced my ability to store them.

For the past few years, I have been donating or trading books, and discarding magazines. I didn't have many books that were easy to let go of; chances are, if I disliked a book that much, I never brought it into my house to begin with. Most of the books that are here, I deliberately chose to bring in.

At this point, reverting to an electronic library isn't an option for me. I own a few ebooks, but I've discovered that I vastly prefer reading print on paper. Maybe that will change someday, but I must deal with the reality of the moment.

It's getting easier to let go of things in general. And as my friend Kelly Fineman points out, if you pass along something you don't really need, you enable someone who really wants or needs it to find it. Still, I hang on to a lot.

Today, I realized that perhaps I can simplify book weeding with this question: Do I ever want to read this again?

It seems rather self-evident, but I haven't been quite so simple and direct with my weeding criteria before. I would look at a book, thinking how much I liked it, how much I learned from it, who gave it to me or when/where I bought it, etc., and then I would try to summon a gut feeling for "keep or give away." I would try to anticipate how regretful I might be if I let it go. I never identified a specific rule for what would make me keep something.

There are a few books I hold onto for sentimental reasons (special gifts, mostly). But my new goal is for almost every book or magazine in my house to meet this criterion: I want to read it again.

That question has already helped me pack up a donation box today.


  1. I have a bad habit of buying books I anticipate reading in the future... and don't. My new rule for purging these books is if they've remained unread after 2 years of purchase, they go into the "let it go" pile.

    I've donated some to our writing group's book swap. I've even had some luck selling some on Amazon's used book program.

    1. That's a good idea. I have the same problem with books piling up unread after I've bought them. (It doesn't stop me from buying new books either.) Most of them, I still believe I want to read--but I did put a few in the donation box that I know I'll never get to.