Read it or lose it – the bookshelf challenge

As I’ve mentioned before, every time I get the cleaning/decluttering/simplifying bug (actually, it’s becoming more of a chronic condition than an occasional bug), the first thing I go for is my bookshelf, even though it’s one of the neatest and most organized parts of my house. I’m pretty sure that’s because the books represent the intellectual clutter that bothers me much more than the physical clutter: all those unfinished projects and “I’ll get around to it someday” subjects sitting there demanding attention drive me crazy.

I never get very far cleaning out my bookshelves though. (That’s not entirely true. I’ve gotten rid of around 100 books in the last two years.) As soon as I start looking for books to get rid of, I start coming up with reasons to keep them, mostly “I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll regret it if I get rid of it.” But here’s the thing, of the 250 or so books on my shelves, I count 83 that I’ve never read (not counting reference books that aren’t really meant to be read). That’s about a third of the books on my shelf that I’ve never actually read! And yet, I won’t get rid of them, and I keep buying other new books to read instead of reading those.

So here’s the challenge I’ve set for myself: I will not acquire any new books until I have read or gotten rid of every one of those 83 books. That will force me to decide which books I genuinely want and which books are just “shoulds”, as in “I really should read this book someday, but I don’t really want to.” I’m guessing that, by the time I’m done, my bookshelves will be 50 or so books lighter and a lot less guilt-inducing.

I’ll report on my progress. You may be getting lots of book reviews in the coming months. If anyone wants to join me, please share your goals and progress in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “Read it or lose it – the bookshelf challenge

  1. What are the topics of the books you haven’t read? I tend to buy books I put off reading, too (but 83?! Wow, I’m actually kind of jealous, I wish I had space for 83 books in our little condo…)

    I’m giving myself the freedom to read as many non-Montessori books as possible between now and the end of the school year in mid-June, and after that, it’s all Montessori, all the time, until training starts. I might even do a couple of posts on the Montessori elementary texts (if I actually understand anything that I’m reading!).

    I’m looking forward to your book reviews!

    • superplexa says:

      (I’m exaggerating on that 83, since some of those books are things like NAMTA journals and it’s probably not fair to expect myself to read those cover to cover.)

      They’re quite a mishmash. Most are education or Buddhism books, and there are also a bunch of math, linguistics, and foreign language books. Those will definitely have to go, because there’s no way I’ll finish this project before August if I stop to teach myself Arabic or Classical Greek, and after that, all hope of teaching myself anything not Montessori-related will be gone. Actually, I have a lot of books that are *projects* and those will be the hardest and also the most useful to get rid of.

      I’ve also been waiting on reading the Montessori books, mostly because I’m dreading slogging through the Advanced Montessori Method II. On the other hand, we can both read them over the summer and trade posts.

    • superplexa says:

      Also, you’ve inspired me to get rid of lots of books instead of trying to read them all because I really, really want to read Mindset. Thanks!

  2. Laura Shaffer says:

    Hey Alexa! We are going through a similar process with books since we are moving soon. I highly recommend using Amazon to unload them! Good luck cleaning out. I don’t think we’ll probably get as far as you in terms of getting rid of books! Cookbooks are my vice – they are big and heavy, and I have lots of them. But I do use them!

    • superplexa says:

      Amazon is great for unloading books, though they’re not going as fast as I’d like them too this time. If I get fed up, I’ll haul them down to Powell’s and take the credit instead, but I’d rather have the cash since Powell’s doesn’t sell a lot of the Montessori books I need to buy.

      I’ve gotten myself down to about 5 or 6 cookbooks, because I’ve realized those are the only ones I use. (That includes: the green Bittman book, a couple Deborah Madison books, though I only actually use Vegetarian Cooking for everyone, The New Best Recipe, Edward Espe Brown’s Complete Tassajara Cookbook and Tassajara Bread book, and maybe Yamuna Devi’s Indian cookbook.) It’s probably easier for me though, since I’m a vegetarian. But seriously, if you’re using them, they’re serving a purpose. That’s (part of) why I went for the unread books…

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