Posts Tagged ‘almost minimalism’

On Getting Rid of Books

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.

Even librarian kitty thinks we have too many books

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
Do any of these sound familiar to you? I’ve never been this ruthless about books — they were always exempt from any new shopping or spending limits I set for myself. For the past few years, I’ve been at net zero, with as many going out as coming in. That’s all beginning to change.

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?

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How much is enough?

Having enough — not too much, not too little — is kind of a foreign concept in this country. In the three hundred odd years that we’ve been around, we seem to swing between the extremes of not having enough (as colonists, pioneers, Depression survivors) and having far too much (roaring twenties, materialistic 50s, and everything that followed). It’s like we’re cultural bulimics with a consumption disorder on a national scale.

Somewhere in this mess, the idea of having enough seems to have gotten a little lost. It’s not just about having enough money to cover your basic needs and some of your wants; it’s also about having the time and energy and space to enjoy being alive. The equation is simple enough: the more things we want, the more money we have to make, the more hours we have to work, and the less energy and time we have for relationships, hobbies, experiences, and perhaps even our own health and sanity.

This is not my idea, by the way. It’s one of the founding principles behind one of EcoCatLady’s book recommendations, Your Money or Your Life, and it’s such a nice, intuitive idea that I’m amazed we have to read a book to wrap our heads around it. Buying too much stuff is expensive not only to the planet, but also to our own very finite resources of time and energy and money.

I heard the other day that the average wedding dress now costs $8,000. My first reaction was to wonder how many feral cats I could save with that much money. My second was to retort that I got married in a pretty shirt I picked up at the thrift store and a skirt that I had bought over five years ago. Neither Kevin nor I cared. Our marriage isn’t doomed because we didn’t spend thousands on a wedding. Our lives are not poorer because we don’t have smart phones, new cars, designer sunglasses, or granite counters. Quite the opposite, actually. Those things come at a price we’re not willing to pay.

Surprisingly enough, when I think about my life in terms of enough, I’m almost there already. I’m not wealthy, but I have more than I use. I have a thoughtful spouse who puts up with incredible amounts of eccentricity (trust me, I’m worse in real life) and a companion kitty who reminds me every day of the rewards of a little patience and kindness. A quiet home in which I feel comfortable and safe. A hobby that leaves me feeling centered and fulfilled. A job that I don’t love but leaves enough space and money for the things I do.

Maybe it sounds naive, but I like my life. I find the world endlessly interesting. I enjoy being alive. And it has absolutely nothing to do with how many pairs of shoes I have. It’s true that I would eventually like a small country house with a garden and a potter’s wheel. And I know I can’t count on enjoying good health for the rest of my life, so it makes sense to have savings and safety nets for the future. But they don’t seriously challenge my gut-level conviction that I have enough. 

I imagine that everyone’s version of enough will look a little different, since happiness is so subjective and individual. Mine is especially low budget because I am unsociable (no keeping up with the Joneses), don’t have kids (no college funds to save up for), don’t have a television (less advertising), and hate the piped music and fluorescent lighting common to most malls (shopping limit: roughly 30 minutes each month).

I don’t blame you if my choices don’t sound appealing, but I do invite you to spend some time thinking about what you have, what you need, and how much is actually enough. Isn’t it time we started shopping less and living more?

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