Posts Tagged ‘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?


100 Personal Items: Minimalism & Environmentalism

My slightly lopsided pottery

I’ve read a lot of minimalist articles lately. One of the most recent to come to my attention was a 100 personal items challenge. Pretty simple: get yourself down to under 100 personal belongings. (Easier said than done, of course.) Then I read a far more upsetting article: how to get rid of your books.

And I thought immediately, Over my cold, dead body.

I guess I’m not sufficiently evolved in my thinking to embrace minimalism. It’s not hard to see the connection between minimalism and environmentalism; I’ve been arguing all along that we need to be buying much less and centering our lives around things more satisfying than shopping. At the same time — and I speak as an unabashed sensory junkie — I really like stuff.  I think it can play a positive role in our lives. And I don’t think we necessarily need to be minimalists to lead environmentally conscious and sustainable lives. What we do need is a new attitude towards stuff.

I keep coming back to this one quote by William Morris: “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Whenever I’m out shopping, which is increasingly rare, I’m amazed at the types of things people buy. I can’t think of any way you could justify plastic inflatable Santas as either useful or beautiful. Half the time, I think we buy things just because we think we’re getting a good deal. The other half of the time, I don’t think we actually think about what we’re buying at all. We definitely don’t spend enough time thinking about the true cost of our addiction to consumerism, and I admire minimalism because it does — and rejects it.

At the same time, I’m no minimalist. Come into my house, and the first thing you’ll see is a dainty Art Nouveau style console table, with two antique barley twist candlesticks and a hand turned wooden bowl perched on top of it. Sensory junkie-ness continues throughout the house. I love the glow of oiled antique maple, the smooth coldness of burnished pottery, the smell of an Arthur Rackham book published in 1908, the dense pile of a plush peacock-blue throw. I love drinking tea out of mugs specifically chosen for the way they feel in my hands. From a sensory and aesthetic perspective, I love stuff. I love making it. I love supporting artists who make beautiful things. But I’m very picky and quite poor, and between the two of those, I don’t end up getting very much, and most of it isn’t new. 

Minimalism is one, perhaps the ideal, way to be conscious about stuff. I’m arguing that thoughtful appreciation is another. It’s about only buying things that genuinely bring beauty into my life, and it’s about buying less. It’s also about appreciating what I already have, and realizing that I don’t always need to own something to appreciate its beauty. Like everything else, it’s ultimately about consciousness.

That said, I’m also willing to admit that I’m not a perfect adherent to my own principles (who is?) and could probably do more appreciating with less stuff. I’m not ready to get down to 100 items, but getting rid of 100 items? That sounds like something I could do.

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