There is a deep restlessness gnawing at my bones. I want a change — to learn something new, dive into something that I feel truly passionate about, grow a garden, be crazy and impetuous for once in my life. Most of all, I want to move. Away from my neighbors who fry fish at 7am. Away from smog, highways, concrete, light pollution, and strip malls.
I want a small — or perhaps even a very small — house. Kevin and I can’t afford one (plus things like, you know, land) just now, but it’s not entirely out of the question within the next few years. We’ve started talking about downsizing from our current 1100 sf condo, looking at Tumbleweed cottage floor plans (the lofted Whidbey at 557 sf is our favorite), thinking about what spaces we use and how often, and what things we use and how often.
Kevin and I have reached an unavoidable conclusion: we currently have too many books to live in a very small house.
This is not surprising. We are both ex-English majors. We have both worked at bookstores. I review for Amazon Vine. We are shameless zealots of the written word, the smell of good quality ink, the warm heft of cotton-rich paper. Kevin’s collections include Japanese poetry, modern photography, modern literature, and surrealism. My collections include fairy tales and mythology, natural science, art reference, and British literature. Despite knowing that books = dead trees, we refuse to worship at the altar of the Kindle.
However. We want this small house to happen enough that we’re finally willing to part with some of our books. The first handfuls were a wrench. I felt terrible putting books I’d had for years on the cull pile, as if I were consigning old friends to the guillotine. But then I found a kind of momentum and realized that I was making better, more conscious decisions about my books for the first time. The books I keep have to meet two basic criteria: 1) I anticipate wanting to reread and/or reference it in the relatively near future; and 2) I actually like the book. It’s astonishing how I don’t actually like maybe 25% of my books but have kept them anyway. Finally, I’m getting rid of books I’ve kept for bad reasons, including:
- Books that belong within a certain collection, even if I didn’t especially care for them (e.g. fairy tale picture books illustrated by Michael Hague, whose people look like trolls)
- Mediocre books by authors whose other books I enjoy
- Books that I acquired for a former interest that I am now unlikely to return to (e.g. costume history books)
- Books that make me feel smarter when they’re on the shelf (see the Machiavelli? the Plato?)
- Books that I paid full price for (regardless of whether they were enjoyable or not)
- Books that people I love have given me
- Books that just look pretty (I am a sucker for 19th and early 20th century gilt and leather bindings)
- Books that I have been meaning to read for years and never got around to
I’ve said before that I’m no minimalist, and it’s still true. I don’t feel the need to strip my belongings to just the bare essentials, or to part with books I truly enjoyed and will want to read again. At the same time, there is something exciting, even liberating, about not having more stuff than what I consider beautiful or useful.
What do you think about living in small spaces? How would you feel about getting rid of books?