Thursday, April 9, 2015

Judging Books by Their Cover (or How I Learned Not to be a Book Hoarder)

You guys remember how I have this dream of some day owning a fantastic home library? The dream of that library is why I hold on to pretty much every book I've ever owned. Because when we get that someday house with that someday library, all of my books are going to have a home on a shelf. That, and I'm just a book hoarder that doesn't throw out books. Are you kidding? What kind of respectable book blogger throws out books?

Well, we don't have a dream home library yet. So, tiny current apartment + one set of Ikea Billy bookshelves in the living room + book hoarding habit = A TON of our books sitting in various boxes spread between closets and under beds. We owned more books that sat in boxes than books that could fit on shelves.

Anyway, when I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up a few weeks ago, and Marie Kondo started talking about throwing out books, my thoughts were NO! ALL MY BOOKS BRING ME JOY! I WILL NEVER THROW OUT BOOKS!

But in order to be faithful to her system, I thought I ought to at least give it a good effort and really consider each book for it's joy level. After all, I had a few textbooks from college that maybe I could throw out.

Warning: once you realize how good it feels to get rid of useless, joyless stuff, you CAN'T STOP throwing things out.

This is a picture of all of the books I ended up throwing out. Even I'm a little shell shocked at how ruthless I was in this department. I didn't count, but I threw out literally hundreds of books. Boxes and boxes and boxes of books.

I don't regret it all.

I didn't begin with a set criteria of what to throw out and what to keep, but in the end, here's how I made most of my decisions for what went:

1. Cheap and Ugly: I owned a lot of really cheap paperbacks, Penguin classics and the like, that were already browning or losing their binding or showing a lot of wear even though I've only read them maybe once. Basically, they looked cheap and trashy, so I threw them out (I even had a cheap paperback copy of Les Miserables where the spine was actually split in two, I don't know why I didn't throw that out years ago). This was kind of sad, after all I loved some of these books, but as objects themselves they didn't make me happy.

2. Not Re-readable: I threw out any book that I knew I wasn't going to read again, or if I ever do read it again, I will listen to it as an audiobook or find a different copy (I don't actually enjoy reading those cheap paperbacks, especially when they are falling apart).

3. Duplicates: I threw out any book we had double copies of. This may sound obvious, that you don't need two copies of a book, but apparently my husband and I never went through and inventoried our books when we got married, because I was shocked at the number of duplicates we owned between the two of us (obviously, we have similar taste in books, which is why we got married).

4. Information Overload: I finally threw out all those old college textbooks that we will honestly never read again (I did keep my literature anthologies, mostly because I'm still using them for grad school, but after graduation I'll have to reassess that situation again). I also threw away a lot of hard copies of books or other texts we only access online now (the vast majority of our church manuals, cookbooks, electronics manuals, anything where it's quicker to Google it than to look it up in a book).

What shocked me the most about this whole experience was the criteria I used to keep books on my shelf when I wasn't sure if I loved it enough to keep it. There were only two:

1. Do I Want My Children to Grow Up With This Book in the House? I did end up throwing a lot of my cheap classics out, but I kept every single Newberry I own plus some other books that I really want just hanging around as the kids get older.

2. Is it Pretty? This was the surprise. I ended up keeping a lot of books that I don't necessarily have strong feelings for just because it was a pretty or high quality book. I think I was heavily influenced by all the pictures Ann from Modern Mrs. Darcy has been posting of her pretty books. Check that link. Aren't those books gorgeous? It made me realize that if I want that dream library someday, I don't want to fill it with all these cheap ugly paperbacks. I only want to fill it with pretty books, quality books, books that work on an aesthetic level too. I never knew this was something I valued about books.

Anyway, I wish I had a before picture to show you of my bookcase, but trust me, it's probably best that I don't. Here's what it looks like post-cleanse:

Maybe this doesn't look all that impressive to you (also, my photography skills are amateur at best), but trust me, this is a major improvement over the clutter magnet these shelves were before. I had to work really, really hard to get to a place where there was actually space on some of these shelves for something other than books (like my tea cups from England), but in the end I love these shelves now. They are no longer just a repository for my books, they are a part of my living room decor, a thing of beauty to be looked at and enjoyed. And it makes me much happier to look at these shelves now. In fact, I can't believe it took me so long to realize that all these books in my living room should add to the decor and aesthetic value of the room. It just seems obvious now, like why didn't I think of this before? I still have a long way to go making my books and shelves more beautiful and part of the decor, and now I'm even thinking about DIY projects to repaint or jazz up the bookshelf (all our black furniture looked great in our last apartment, it looks terribly dismal in our current one).

Do you want one more tip? This one doesn't come from Marie Kondo's book, this is one I just figured out on my own and that really worked for me.

Throw Away Your Book Jackets!

Scandal and sacrilege, I know, but trust me on this one. I never would have thought of this, but while I was sorting through my books, the jacket fell off of one and I realized underneath the garish, plastic book jacket was a really lovely hard back book with gold leaf on the spine. I had no idea! So, I started ripping all the jackets off, just to see what was underneath, and when I had all the books lined up together, it LOOKED SO GOOD! I was shocked. The overall effect was calmer, quieter, more elegant, and much more aesthetically pleasing. So I just threw the jackets away. I mean, do you really need them for anything? I kept jackets for books where the jackets added (like our Harry Potter series), but most of the books looked better without. I've even had a few visitors notice how nice they look sans the plastic covers.

Now I am proud to say that we have no more sad little books hidden away in boxes under beds or in closets. All our books have a home (we also have two more small sets of bookshelves in each bedroom too), and all our books are loved. It feels great and wonderful and completely freeing. Books are heavy objects. They occupy a lot of space, physically and mentally. It's nice to know I can be a book lover without being a book hoarder.

And now I know for the future, when I buy books, they need to serve two functions. They need to be great books for the ideas they hold, but they also need to be quality, pretty books worth displaying in my home.

Coming from a background where every book was sacred regardless of what the cover looked like, and also fully believing in the idea that a home needs to be crowded and full of books, this is a completely new mindset for me, and I'm curious to know, do you agree or disagree? Could you ever throw a book out just because it's ugly?


  1. I loved this post! I know you thought I would balk at all those books being thrown away, but I didn't at all! Having grown up in a home where my mom thought almost every book was worth keeping just because it was a book, I have been very, very careful with what books I let stay in my own home. I know I still have books that I'll get rid of when I do my own book-purge, but for the most part, I never buy a book in the first place unless I already know I love it and will reread it (or will want my kids to read it).

  2. Suzanne
    Old post but just found it. Oh my where to start..well I so needed to read this. after reading KonMari second hand (aka friend reads and tells me all) I'm in the midst of cleansing my 8000 book collection. I always thought this would be too hard but no, it's freeing. Going to percolate your pretty idea, hooked