Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Top 8 reasons you have too many books

I used to add more bookshelf space every few years but it never solved the problem because the number of books would always expand to exceed available space. What I needed to do - and finally did do - was brutally cull the population. Here are some bad reasons to own extra books:

1. Wishful thinking. Someday, when I have the time and motivation to spare, I might read this book. Mind, you haven't read it in the last three years...but who knows? Examples: The Art of Computer Programming (Knuth), War and Peace(Tolstoy). If and when your interest level returns, you can always buy the book back from abebooks.com or amazon.com or find it in a library. Meanwhile, it's taking up too much valuable space.

2. Reference. Someday I'll want to check some numbers I found in this book. Example: The Economic Consequences of Immigration (Simon). Why you won't: by the time the argument comes up, the reference will be outdated. It's faster to check your half-remembered facts using the internet. And besides, nobody will accept your ten-year-old book reference as more relevant than something current. Keep a dictionary; lose most of the rest.

3. It's a lifestyle statement. The kind of person I am, ought to own this book. You might never read it, but still feel good about having it around to demonstrate your values. Examples: The Panda's Thumb (Dawkins), Brief History of Time(Hawking). Why not? Realistically, nobody else cares that much about your library. Keep a few books like this, chuck the rest.

4. Loaners/gifts. This is such a good book, I'll want to lend or give it to my friends who haven't read it. Example: The Golden Transcendence (Wright). Keep a few like this if you must, chuck the rest. Remember that Amazon does gift-wrapping!

5. Will-finish. If you read half a chapter and got bored or distracted, what makes you think you'll get back to it? Toss.

6. Will-reread. I'll want to re-read this. How long has it been since you read it last? Less than a year: Keep. Three years: Toss.

7. Reminders. I want to buy the next book in this series; having the current one on my shelf will prod my memory. That's what recommendation services are for. Besides, you do most of your reading on the net now and don't have time to read more than a fraction of the good books that come out each year. If you overlook this one author or series for a while, it's no big loss. Toss.

8. I'm interested in this. Fair enough, but do you need a whole shelf on that topic or would just a few of the best books suffice? Keep only the best references, cull the rest.

Having culled gave me a bigger apartment without having to move or pay more rent - fewer bookcases and fewer free stacks of books means I've got more square footage of usable space. So be merciless. Buy boxes. Fill them with the books, tape them closed, and get the boxes out of your house. When you've cleared enough room to free a bookcase, get the bookcase out too.

The reason to own books is that you expect and intend to read them sometime soon. Getting rid of all the almost-but-not-quites doesn't merely declutter your house and your life, it also makes it easier to find and access those few books you really care about when you do want them.

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