Could having less books help you read more?

Friday, April 17, 2015

I was recently walking through the library, searching for a new read, when a title jumped off the shelf. "Ohh, I've been dying to read that!" I thought. Then I realized: I have that book.

Raising the obvious question: Why are you wandering through the library if you have a book at home you're dying to read?

The answer, of course, is even more obvious: I have a ton of books. Many of those fall into the TBR (To Be Read) category. The heaping piles of TBR books do not hinder me from regular trips to the library or bookstore.

This week alone, I bought two new books: The One & Only by Emily Giffin and The Art of Fieldingby Chad Harbach. In my defense, they were both on sale. And both have now joined their many friends in the TBR piles. Quite the eclectic literary party!

So — what's to stop these unread stacks from overthrowing my apartment? It turns out I'm not the first to face this dilemma. Joshua Fields Miliburn in his memoir Everything That Remains has a simple idea he lives out fully: Find joy from pursuing less, rather than from pursuing more. He extends his minimalist approach not only to clothes, gadgets, and kitchen appliances, but also (gasp!) to his burgeoning book collection.

He estimated he had around 2000 books when he started embracing minimalism, and he ruthlessly cut his collection by about 90 percent. Ironically, his decision to purge his books came from a couple quotes from a book, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Miliburn writes in his memoir:

"Palahniuk wrote something like, 'Reject the basic assumptions of civilization, especially the importance of material possessions,' and 'The things you own end up owning you. Both quotes kind of woke me up, made me look at the things I was collecting differently, which led me to another powerful line from that same book: 'It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

He realized that he was placing a ridiculous amount of value in how impressive his collection of books appeared to others. Don't we all do that sometimes? Maybe we don't judge books by their covers, but we judge people by their book collections.

But,  Miliburn points out, "The real value was in the words —in the act of reading — not in the physical books themselves." And, now that he owns way less books than he did, he claims he reads more than ever before.

Miliburn's ideals mesh well with Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering. Kondo isn't necessarily a minimalist, but she is a Japanese cleaning consultant who insists you should only keep items in your home that spark joy in your hearts. She maintains this stance with books — encouraging you only keep books that belong in the Hall of Fame. She goes as far as encouraging you to ditch her book post-reading it if you'd like.

When I consider the combined viewpoints of Miliburn and Kondo, I look at my precious TBR piles a little less lovingly. Are these books really adding value? Or, as Kondo puts it, do these books really spark joy?

Inspired by the notion of more reading, more joy, and less dusting, I've started new TBD (To Be Donated) piles. Sure, some books moved straight from TBR to TBD, but I think that's okay. I like to think they'll find someone who will read them, and spark joy for a reader somewhere.

Have you gone through a huge book purge recently? Any tips?

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