By Wendy Lawton
Books as disposables. Nothing could be sadder.
Did you catch the the suggestion regarding books reportedly made by Marie Kondo, the organizing guru who hosts the Netflix show, Tidying Up? I read that she suggested that, ideally, we should keep less than thirty books. Yes, that’s right. Three-oh.
I’ll admit, in our minimalist age people are not collecting books like they once did. It’s a trend I’m mourning. Yes, I’m an avid ebook reader but I am still a dedicated book collector. Books are such treasures. When I did research on the life of Pilgrim’s Progress author, John Bunyan, a poor tinker by trade, I was amazed to find that he owned a small shelf of books. Volumes in those days were prohibitively expensive compared to our books of today and yet he had more than one, including Foxes’ Book of Martyrs which his wife brought into their marriage. Poor as can be, but they treasured books.
Collecting or Hoarding?
I’ve been actively collecting fine books for more than forty years. Nothing pleases me more than my collection of books. I’ve always longed to have a large room dedicated to books– a personal library– but at this point, one room could not possibly house my collection. As the years have gone on my books are in several rooms as you can see from the photos. And let me confess– there are several more bookcases filled with books that I didn’t photograph. When our local Borders store went out of business we bought sixteen bookcases and built them into several of our rooms. The best thing about them is they came with shelf label holders so we could organize our collecting. 🙂
I used to occasionally run an ad in our denominational magazine seeking books to buy. I found that retiring pastors have some of the most wonderful books and too often no one who wants them. I discovered some real treasures. Many have notes in the margins that are every bit as insightful as the text itself.
But in our day of minimalism we can’t help but ask the question, is collecting books just a different version of hoarding?
I don’t think so.
Here’s why building your own library is important:
- It is a reflection of you. I love to walk into a book collector’s home and browse their stacks. I come to know the people without a word shared.
- Your books become old friends and you can revisit them throughout your life. My mother used to say that the best thing about her forgetfulness was that all her old books were new again. She could remember the characters but she never exactly remembered the plot and she could enjoy them as if they were new all over again.
- Books do not take up much space. There’s a whole world packed in about two inches of shelf space.
- I’ve tried to convince my patient husband that, if nothing else, books are superb insulation. If you could cover each wall with books (and store boxes of them in the attic) you would cut your heating bill significantly.
- When the time comes to downsize, the volumes from your library make exquisite gifts.
Tell us about the books you treasure. Do you collect special books? Does it ever make you feel guilty? What do you think of “tidying up” to no more than thirty books?
Minmalism may well be
the flavour of the week;
drop in here, and you will see
that meaning’s what I seek.
Books are stacked in many ways
no order to the chaos
but they mark well my past days,
my life’s own paper naos.
Here is Bach and there is Shute
and Sir Gordon’s books abound
in the bookshelves built to suit
the life-spring these friends wound.
I would not be the man I am, might not even be,
without the faith and love and hope these books lent to me.
I kicked off my semi-retirement with a part-time job as a classroom aide in a local high school. The absence of books is striking. Textbooks stacked in a corner. The library is the “media center.” Teachers announce free time, “you can use your phones.” PDFs posted to the online homework center. The students turn to their smart phones and chrome books to fill empty moments. Their attention span is measured in sentences, not chapters. And their analysis of character and plot is as narrow as their phone screens. Let’s be good examples to our children and grandchildren, not just collecting books, but also reading them. And encouraging the next generation to do likewise.
Damon J. Gray
Shirlee, there is an old “James Kirk” Star Trek episode with a subplot built around “books” versus “computers,” in which the quirky attorney Samuel T. Cogley wins a case by defeating the computer using the passion of books.
Your post reminded me of that old episode.
And yours, Damon, makes me think of the 1950s movie Desk Set. The humans (and books) are proved superior to the computers in that one too when the machine malfunctions and starts spitting pink slips to everyone, including its designer!
Damon J. Gray
Oh, yes, Angela!! I’d forgotten all about Desk Set. It is in there on our DVD shelf. Might be worth a movie night with my wife. 😉
Do I see a couple of TLB series in Keith’s office? Old West?
The hardest thing for me was when I had to downsize my book collection when I moved to UK. Gave boxes of my ‘friends’ to a second-hand bookshop and a local library. Sad for me, but am hoping they’ve found new homes.
Only 30 books? Get behind me Marie Kondo! Books are not only the best thing to collect, they are also the perfect accessory for decorating. What’s a tabletop without a stack of books? Books are also a great gift for kids moving into their own homes. I gave my Civil War buff son, a collection from his grandfather when he bought his home. My collection has overflowed to my husband’s office but I will never slow down as long as wonderful books exist to be gotten.
Lovely post, Wendy, and lovely book displays. 🙂 I have two floor-to-almost-ceiling bookshelves in our home that are pretty full of books. I have more upstairs in my project room and in our bedroom. I love our books. I do confess to giving some away that I don’t see myself reading (again). I inherited some books when I married my husband. We used to receive books from ministries we support, and they haven’t all been read.
Some of my favorite books are novels. Angela Hunt’s The Debt really challenged my thinking about how I live for the Lord. Other books have spoken to my heart in deep places at the time I most needed to read them (like Intimacy with the Almighty, by Chuck Swindoll). And some of the yet unread books call to me to pick them up and read them.
I can’t imagine only having 30 books in my entire house. My TBR list is about 6 times that number! 😉
Insulation is my excuse, too. I have no idea whether my collection will survive me, but for some decades, my friends will likely surround me. This is also useful because 1/3 of my reading is rereading: On Writing, The Stand, Pride and Prejudice, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy come up for rereading more than most people would think likely or rational. Thank you for your suggestion about pastors–brilliant. Maybe we could form a support group, not to kick this habit but to do it MORE and BETTER!
When we downsized and moved, my greatest grief was our library. We gave away and sold thousands of books. Felt like leaving friends.
Nice article and photos! Keep those books as long as possible!
I love browsing other people’s bookshelves too! It’s always so fun to find familiar favorites, and definitely gives a feel for the other person’s tastes and values.
The thought of only thirty books makes me rather incredulous and sad. While I do have to weed through my collection now and then, it is only to sift out those I really wouldn’t want to read again to make room for new ones. 🙂 My husband and I have one room in our apartment mostly lined with bookshelves now, but I can tell we will need more bookcases before many years pass, especially with our little one on the way! I so want to pass on our love of books to him or her.
My son actually did research on the insulation factor of a wall of books when he and his wife were building a house. Given how small the house was going to be, she wasn’t thrilled about his huge collection of books. FYI the insulation factor is R2.
Mary Kay Moody
Oh, I love that he did that research!
Damon J. Gray
The assertion that we should have no more than 30 books is laughable. I confess that I have “book hoarder” personality traits. I do not borrow books, but rather buy them to read so I can keep them. I do not give my books away, but rather buy a copy so you can read something I enjoyed (have one arriving from Amazon tomorrow).
Neither do I toss books. I have a floor-to-ceiling shelf in the garage packed with books with purchase dates running back to the 1960s. My beloved wife wants me to clean them out, to thin my collection, but that is like asking me which arm I want to cut off. I canna no do that!!
(LOVE your bookshelf photos!)
Thanks for this! I just discovered Marie Kondo and really like her method. It does truly, and surprisingly, bring joy when I control my stuff instead of it controlling me. I’m trying to think through why I have so many books and how often I use them. I’m also thinking about having to move them one day. Do I care about them enough to invest the time and energy in moving them? I often call my books my friends. My husband says, “Who needs this many friends?” I do wonder sometimes if I cling to my books more than I cling to my people. Lots to think about . . .
I’m so thankful for your investment in books, Afton! You bring out the best in them. So glad to see you here! : )
I have difficulty trusting anyone who doesn’t have at least one full bookcase worth of books in their home. A house without books is just wrong. I couldn’t disagree more strongly with that “organizing guru” about how many books a person should keep.
Currently, my husband and I have 3800 +/- books in our home. There isn’t a room in the house that doesn’t have bookcases. There are lots of things we don’t have, but books will never be on that list.
I should add that my husband is retired military, as was my father (whose own love for books passed on to me and my siblings). Not moving our books with us was never a consideration.
30? That’s just one shelf. Impossible! And, since I’ve been including one special book in my son’s stack of Christmas gifts every year since early childhood–often early editions hunted down at used bookstores, he’d already have to be in throw-away mode as well. No way.
Someone who lives who-knows-how-many miles from me, who doesn’t know me or my likes or preferences personally, has no say in how many books I keep on hand. 🙂 No offense to Kondo. I have not read her, but generally with advice books I like to glean what works for me and leave the rest. And this advice about only 30 books is one I’d leave.
When we moved ten years ago, we had to leave behind two lovely built-in bookcases (they even had lights wired in on some shelves!) We brought two other bookcases with us that my husband had built, and he said no more, at least in the family room. There really was no more room – unless we got rid of the piano or couch. 🙂 I got a half-sized bookcase for my bedroom and a full-sized one for the sewing/craft room – and I still have three boxes of books in various closets. Even so, I did purge a lot of books from my shelves after our move, considering carefully whether I would really ever reread them and whether they’d be doing someone else more good.
I’ll probably never read everything on my ever-growing TBR list, but I’ll always have something to look forward to!
I would love to have a library in my home! Then again, I do like having books in almost every room. When I visit someone else, one thing I like to do is peruse their books shelves. It’s a fun way to get to know them. Having books in a room conveys something of ourselves and invites visitors to linger.
Books saved my life–literally. As a physically abused child who spent a lot of time in the basement after having been thrown down there by my father while the rest of the family ate dinner, I lived in a world of terror and inconsistencies. In a day, or an hour, or fifteen minutes I could go from having the sunshine of my mother’s voice and personality to becoming a raggedy Ann doll at the end of my father’s hands.
Some of us that lived in and through hell, like me, read books for hope. Just to know there is a possibility to live a different way.
The greatest book of all, the Bible is.my life, my transformation, the power of God to not only rescue me but my father and mother who have since passed
So, there is at least one book I would NEVER want to part with. But, I do have many more, not so much since 2014 when we moved from a much larger home to our townhouse which is much, much smaller. In fact, Wendy, your pictures remind me of the books and book shelves my husband and I had in that house. I had an office bookshelves from Ikea. It was wonderful. We had some with glass doors, a crossover bookshelf over my desk area that joined other bigger shelves. We had books everywhere.
And, forbid, I should ever have just one devotional book! I have classics, and newer ones. And of course, I absolutely need all my books to study my Bible. I don’t care that I can find them online, I like them in my hands.
I have biographies and autobiographies, fiction, self-help books, and the list goes on. But since we moved, I had to decrease my book collection by thousands of books, books I not only read and used, but those doubles I loaned out to others or gave away.
Having to part from my books was harder than parting from the house.
Every book I had, I had chosen for a particular reason.
I miss my books so very much, but God knows and he has given me new ones. My husband has been surprised at my skill of finding places for books while still keeping our townhome looking good. Course, I think we’ve “about” hit our limit for storing books- four full size bookshelves downstairs and four upstairs–still far less than our last home, but enough to keep me busy reading, lending out, and studying.
What does a tidy expert know about books anyway when she says 30 or less? She’s a tidy expert only. What book lovers need is a tidy expert who loves books and can instruct book lovers on the best way to create space for beloved books in a tidy manner. By the way, I have her book on tidying and I blew right past her recommendations on books and never looked back. Yes!
Wendy L Macdonald
I feel at home in this post, dear Wendy. There are probably thirty books in my bedside cupboard alone. My book shelves aren’t as lovely as yours; however, books are beautiful regardless of their setting. I collect a menagerie of genres. Antique books are my biggest temptation to hoard.
Blessings ~ Wendy Mac
At the risk of being the odd person out, I have moved almost entirely to collecting audio and Kindle books. You can carry 300 books in your purse! I had been actively downsizing the pile of “stuff” we have for that past two years and don’t miss the physical books at all. There are exceptions.. I’ve kept two textbooks from college: the complete works of Shakespeare and another on literature in the western world. I also have a few favorite novels that have been autographed. If I can get something in digital form, however, it’s one less item that has to be dusted, packed, moved, saved, stored, or carried with me for the rest of my life. The stories themselves…irreplaceable. And portable.
Teresa, although it’s nice to be more of a minimalist, I try to do that with other things. I would never go to just digital because if there’s no Wifi or something happens to make it impossible to access the digital copies, then what? For me because of how I’ve seen books not only affect me but others in significant and life changing ways I will hang onto hardcopy as long as I can. All else, I will forsake, but never my Bible and my numerous study books, unless God directed me. I have so much memorized, but there is something beautiful and powerful and transformational about handling God’s Word, and books that can give further understanding. I never want to lose that.
I have more than thirty books autographed by my godfather, “To Judith, on her birthday, 1945 – with love, Dr. Graves” – or Christmas, or just because. These, of course, are children’s books. They are not – repeat not – leaving my house again. They were lent to a city library until they were so worn that they need rebinding.
And then there are those of writer friends, and some for study, and the list goes on. If Ms Kondo moved the decimal two places to the right, I might buy her premise.
I can do without a lot of things, but books are on that list. Such heresy.
I enjoyed browsing through some of your collections. Like you, I have books in many rooms in my home. There are some special collections, like the:
– 1971 edition of the Little House books and the many other books about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family
– 1950 six-book Louisa May Alcott set from Nelson Doubleday
– 1979 three-book Lucy Maud Montgomery set starting with Anne of Green Gables, which I then added the other books to
– collection of books about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (which I still add to)
I also have whole series of books from authors like Kathi Macias, Charlotte Hubbard, Marilyn Meredith, and Vanetta Chapman. One can never have enough books. 🙂
I LOVE your book collection, Wendy!
I grew up in a house where books were an integral part of the atmosphere. Even my bedroom as a toddler contained multiple bookcases. Just this morning, I spent time moving my suspense/thriller collection to a wonderfully large bookcase I recently received as a gift. At a quick count, those books alone are significantly more than five times that suggested amount of thirty. (And thirty books is what – a month’s supply? What would I do in case of a national emergency?)
What books do I collect? Besides my modern favorites in fiction, I have several antique (though probably monetarily worthless) volumes such as a 1929 copy of Gregg Shorthand that I picked up at a yard sale when I was about twelve. Or a more recent find – a 1904 edition of The New Eclectic History of the United States. Probably a more unique interest that I haven’t added to in a while is copies of the Bible in different languages, including a hardback in the original languages that traveled thousands of miles from a lady currently living at Amy Carmichael’s school in India, through a missionary friend of mine, and finally to me during my junior or senior year of college.
Do I feel guilty collecting (or hoarding) books? Nope. 🙂
Mary Kay Moody
Thirty books? No way.
Like you, Wendy, we have books in every room. Some shelves are even double-booked. Yet they still overflow. I seldom borrow from a library as so often those books have triggered allergic responses. Previous readers clearly enjoy their fur-babies in their laps while they read!
When I was a single mom and moving a couple times a year, we carried not only my son’s books, but for many years the boards & bricks for shelves. Still have a few of those children’s books, but some have disappeared. One that used colored drawings on acetate pages to build various animals as the story progressed is the one I most ache to replace. (‘Twould help if I could remember the name!)
Thanks for sharing your photos. Keith’s office resembles a book store. Fun and comforting.
Our books eventually took the place of members in our “minimalist” family. We are few in number, but we have some bookshelves Inherited from great-grand parents (makes them even more precious) filled with books; some first editions from the 19th century.
Wonderful to read books considered contemporary by people who lived through those times. A true insight to history, written by authors familiar with events, lifestyles etc. they experienced.
Eventually, they may go to our church families, but for now, we really appreciate them.
Enjoyed the post–made a lovely connection for me, Wendy. Thank you.
I could not agree more. I had to skip over that part of Marie’s book! I love my book collection and reference it often, although I do pare it down periodically and try to limit it to books that I would like to read again or might want to reference. For those of us with small children, too, studies have shown that the best predictor of them growing up to be readers is a book-filled house. (I wanted to tell Marie Kondo that!)
I try to contain to one book case – tall and wide. Also keep a stack by my bed and my living room chair. I give away many but the books I fall in love with stay with me.
I am late to the party, but I say the amount of books one owns is an individual decision and depends on the space available. And if you don’t have space, you can make it. My daughter has a big collection. We just cleaned her room really good and wondered what to do with all the books. She has a table in her room for a desk. So we utilized the space underneath her desk by stacking wooden crates. That made the sweetest book shelves and cost very little. She crawled under the table and wanted to stay … stay with all her imaginary friends.
Mary Kay Moody
Love the image of your daughter wanting to stay under the desk, Shelli. Sort of like a tent or cozy reading nook. Yea!
Two things–That sweet guest room! And “If nothing else, they’re great insulation!” 🙂 Although I was able to purge some, it was for the purpose of making room for more, for the keepables that either speak deeply to me or are important reads, both for me and those who come behind me.
My daughter is in her first apartment, and she is applying Kondo’s approach to her wardrobe. But she has no intention of disposing of the books she now has (probably in the low hundreds) or not buying new ones. People in their 20s like print. (My son only reads print, my daughter 90+% print.) For people who love to read, I don’t expect Kondo’s “only 30” to catch on. When readers have children, I can’t imagine them depriving their kids of the joy of owning favorite books by restricting to 30. Kondo must be thinking of books as mere “things” instead of the doorway to expanded living that they are.