January
12th 2012
New Year’s Resolution: Hundreds of pounds gone, overnight! And a promise to keep them off.

Posted under: happy endings, local news

Thanks for the memories!

Book weight, that is, not body weight.  Our recent discussion of clutter, inspired by the super-detailed and super-creepy installation “Barbie Trashes her Dream House“, has inspired me to donate the shelves full of books I no longer read or use.  I’ve just removed four boxes and large bags of books off of my shelves, and I’m just getting started.  Whichever organization calls me first to ask if I have any good, re-useable household goods, books, or clothing, and offers to pick my donation up from my front door, will be the beneficiary.

I’ve lived in this house for ten years–by far, the longest place I’ve ever lived in my adult life.  And I’ve bought or been given a lot of books over the past thirty years.  I was wondering, aside from the household clutter angle, why now?  Why get rid of the excess books now, instead of sometime during the 1990s, when I moved ten times in as many years and was always packing and moving and unpacking those damn boxes of books.  It’s perverse, no? 

But my theory is that it’s precisely because I have a stable home now and I’m no longer moving once or twice a year, I don’t need the old books any more. It’s like I carted around those books as though I were building walls with them, Three Little Pigs-style, in the hopes that they’d make me feel secure and keep the wolf from the door.  But after ten years of not regularly culling the heard, some shelves in my living room and office were starting to look like the shelves of a crazy hoarder–you know, shelves with double-rows of books, and shelves with books files horizonally as well as vertically.

(And please–no lectures on e-readers.  For most of my life as a biliophile, e-books were entirely unavailable, so I’d still be stuck with 95% of this pile of unwanted dead-tree codex even if I had a Kindle or an i-Pad now.)

Fifteen year-old travel books?  Who needs ‘em!  Trendy books purchased on impulse in an airport two or five or ten years ago?  Buh-bye.  That whole shelf of anti-George W. Bush books I bought ca. 2001-2008?  You’re outta here, too.  Cultural studies books that mystified me 20 years ago?  Gone.  Fiction I bought but never read because it bored me?  Guiltlessly gone!  I’m keeping only books that relate to my work, and great literary fiction.  If I give away something and find I need it again (unlikely), I can get it at a library.  After all, I can get nearly any book in the world delivered to my university library, after all, and then return it when I’m done.  (And even non-academics can do this too–most local library systems participate in interlibrary loan services.)

A shande! Sin verguenza!

So the big clean-out is part I of my resolution.  Part II is a promise not to buy a single book for myself in 2012.  (And it’s a leap year! )  Instead, so as to support the work of my fellow historians and other useful authors, I will agressively pepper my subject-area librarian with requests for the Baa Ram U. library shelves.  Amazon and brick-and-mortar bookstores with new books aren’t my weakness.  It’s the used bookstores that always yield the greatest treasures, as I’ve written here before, and will be the most difficult test of my resolve.  (Maybe I’ll make exceptions for rare finds, if they’re directly germane to my work.)

Now, if only I could shovel off my desk, I might get some real work done this semester. . .any advice for me on this?  In the past, my experience is that if I wait long enough for the documents and papers on the desk to become irrelevant or useless, it’s a pretty easy cleanup.  (But it’s hardly efficient.)

45 Comments »

45 Responses to “New Year’s Resolution: Hundreds of pounds gone, overnight! And a promise to keep them off.”

  1. Monica on 12 Jan 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Good for you! I remember slimming down about 20 years ago. Became a librarian and now they’re all mine. Mwaa-haa-haa! I’m pretty sure I contribute to the decline of the small bookstore though. But it’s either the or a hernia. Redistribution of wealth is a good thing. Jettison away!

  2. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Monica–love your mwaa-haa-haa! Have you seen the new Muppet movie? Your laugh reminds me of Tex Richman’s (Chris Cooper’s) “Maniacal laugh, MANIACAL LAUGH!

  3. koshembos on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Couldn’t be stated any better from my perspective.

    My office slimmed down to hardly a bookcase, from three, the moment my mind has declared enough! The home collection is more complex. As you said, there are the fiction books, the non fiction and then there are my cookbooks, quite a few, and finally books in other languages I read.

    When a fiction book bores me, it’s given away. When a cookbook is stale, for me, it’s given away. Everything else is sent to a second hand bookstore.

    The collection is renewed constantly. It has, therefore, to slim down at least periodically. I am trying.

    Divorces help a lot.

  4. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Heh. I was thinking of using that old joke, “how do you lose 180 unsightly pounds? Get a divorce!” but Fratguy reads this blog, and he’s also contributing to the cleanout effort.

    It just seemed too aggressive, even for me, to joke about divorce.

  5. Bardiac on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I got rid of novels I’d read for classes but didn’t much like a couple of years ago, and it was freeing! But it takes a LOT to get me to get rid of a Shakespeare text (unless it’s an anthology of plays that’s old), still.

  6. Perpetua on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I had the opposite experience of moving too much – every time we moved, I would instigate an aggressive purge. Now I look at my bookshelf and think, I used to own that – did I get rid of it somewhere? We’ve definitely acquired more through the years, but I hate clutter. The more stressed out I get, the neater my house.

    My fiction rule is: will I read this again? If not, to the used bookstore it goes. Sadly, this means all the books on my shelves are ones I’ve read as many as 5-10 times, and then when I’m looking for something to read, I don’t have anything that interests me! We’re hanging on to a lot of kid stuff, but as soon as my bestie has a baby, off that stuff will go.

  7. History Maven on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:40 am #

    I’ve been pruning, too. Speaking as a person whose family did not own many books, I found it difficult to part with even my college textbooks–I didn’t even sell the books from my science courses. I also didn’t (and still don’t) write in books. They were too important as symbols, I think, to be personalized, except as a collection. I was appalled when a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Big-Time historian returned a lent book to me with underlining, commentary, etc. (Although it was, of course, fascinating to review, as much as possible, how he read the book.)

    But just this past Christmas I gathered into a big box all the books I no longer needed or desired and took it to my family’s annual Christmas Eve get-together. My aunts, uncles, and cousins were thrilled to select some worthy titles. I started a historical society in my small town several years ago, and once the group has a permanent home I’ll be donating a lot of books to the cause.

  8. Sisyphus on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Yes, I loved Chris Cooper’s performance! My nieces and nephews text “maniacal laugh” to me now since I’m not there to hear them do an evil laugh in person.

  9. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Underlining someone else’s book? That’s pretty ballsy. Smells pretty ballsy too.

    I underline and comment on books, but only on my own personal books. It took me a while to get to that place, History Maven, as I have a horrible childhood memory of a little boy contemporary of mine vandalizing my copy of Snow White with an orange crayon, and my mother’s comments afterwards about how trashy it is to write (or scribble) in books, especially in other people’s books.

  10. Tanya Roth on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I grew up in a family burdened by books – and I say this as someone who adores books (and continues to buy/borrow hard copies and e-copies and has a library of more than 1,000 books). When my grandfather died in the late 80s, my parents inherited his entire library, which we carted from Southern California back to Utah – and then from home to home around the country for nearly two decades. (It was a pity we couldn’t stay in the house in New Mexico that actually had a library where the books all fit.)

    I inherited my love of books and obsession with collecting them from all of this, but in recent years I’ve really begun my efforts to pare down. Most of this comes after watching my parents struggle. My dad’s health has gone downhill, and he holds on to books he’s never read simply because they belonged to his father. He let me take some first editions like Sandberg’s Life of Lincoln recently so that they wouldn’t mold in the garage.

    I want to have a collection of books, but I want it to be meaningful. All this by way of saying good for you! Time to renew my own efforts to streamline…

  11. Eileen on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:59 am #

    My partner and I just finished a long distance move which we agressively purged books for, so I’m still a little confused by my slimmed down and rearranged bookshelves. It didn’t help that the Post Office thought they would help us lose a few pounds and lost one box of personal books and one box of professional books. :/ I’m mourning my lost books a little because we agonizingly made a choice about whether each book would stay or go because it was a long move on a tiny budget.

  12. Lady Historian on 12 Jan 2012 at 11:11 am #

    When I left the Crappiest.Job.Ever, I left behind a full ceiling-to-floor bookshelf of books that I bought/stole/traded/otherwise procured as a women’s history library to the department. In my name. I even had a small plaque engraved, and to my knowledge, it sits in the department’s library with donated books. Fitting because these “showers of power” (aka, douches) HATED women’s history, and women. Best weight I ever lost! And it’s nice to have fewer books, to boot. I love having a personal and meaningful library I actually use instead of a wall full of books I never read or reference. If I need something, I’m but a few miles to a number of wonderful academic libraries and a terrific public library.

  13. Indyanna on 12 Jan 2012 at 11:27 am #

    I use the story of moving boxes of books every eighteen months in graduate school, and having to assemble all (eight) of my friends to help–and thereby become bound to do the same for them–as a totally-ineffective ploy to persuade my students NOT to sell their college books back to the bookstore two weeks before finals, or even two weeks after finals. Makes you seem more educated than you are yet, I say, forges tribal bonds, instills discipline, etc. etc. The fact that I keep using this tired old morality tale knowing that it isn’t working shows, I guess, that I’m not on this particular memo. I have shed books in bulk on various occasions, but never with real intentionality. Like when I moved out of the suddenly-psycho house of six in grad. school, left town for three months, and then didn’t have the stomach to go back to retrieve the books hostaged in the attic. (When I was TA’ing if you could get department stationery you could get almost literally any book published in- discipline, free, simply by writing to the publishers and asking for it. Those were the books lost in that particular meltdown). When I decommissioned my parents’ house a few years ago most of the undergraduate books that I hadn’t sold back to the bookstore (i.e., all of them) went to dumpster, because for the first time ever I didn’t have acres of free familial attic to hold them. As it is, I have yards of wallspace covered with cheap folding bookshelves, and boxes of extra books in closets and behind strategically-placed Japanese paneled screens. After the last post on hoarding I looked at my cheerfully cluttered home office space and thought, hmm, maybe there’s a “Collyer episode” slowly unfolding here, but I hope not. Maybe I’ll change, but not soon.

    By contrast, I do a merciless sweep of my desktop at the end of each semester and ditch all sorts of deadlined administrivia that came in from the dean’s office three months before and quickly disappeared under a plateful of donuts. I’ll never go paperless, but I do have an outflow protocol that makes room for more inflow. The other thing I can’t get rid of is Staples boxes of paper files collected for old research projects, because I know I can mine them for materials for ongoing work. This situation fuels my real estate fantasies…

  14. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Lady Historian: I didn’t know you were my successor! (JK. Love your revenge story–that’s heaping burning coals on their heads, in style!)

    Indyanna, I don’t think you’re a Collyer in the making, but don’t pile the book boxes up more than 3 high, okay?

  15. Kathie on 12 Jan 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    I’m about to start a remodel of my study, and I’m boxing books to temporarily store them until my new built-in shelves are done. But I’ve been trying to get rid of books for years, often donating bags of them to my local library (which has a bookstore run by Friends of the Library), my university library (only what they don’t already own of course), and another deserving library that is building up its Portuguese-language collection.

    And I’ve been selling books on Amazon; that requires me to pack and mail the books that are bought, but since I started in 2006 I’ve sold almost 400 books and earned nearly $3000.00. Plus a lot of them have gone to graduate students and faculty, and I like getting books to people who will use them! But it does not get the books out of the house very quickly.

    A friend who recently retired and moved across the country held a book sale, with books at $3 each, but a 10-book minimum purchase. Grad students at her (former) university were pleased to add to their own collections with a lot of great books that often aren’t even in print any more.

    The accumulation and organization of books is a dilemma for everyone I know. I keep thinking I won’t buy any new ones until I read what I have, but that is nearly impossible for me to adhere to, I wish you much luck in sticking to that plan, Historiann!

  16. Lady Historian on 12 Jan 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Yes, I still love the “Women’s History Library of the Crappiest.Job.Ever Department of Craptasticness, gift of Lady Historian” plaque. Graduate students emailed me three and four years later to thank me for it. For me, leaving behind the department and those quote/unquote colleagues was the best thing I ever did. Je ne regrette rien. Being “Historiann’s Successor” is the only thing that would ever top it! Look forward to meeting IRL soon!

  17. ej on 12 Jan 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    I need to do the same thing with shoes. But I just can’t bring myself to accept the fact that I will never again wear those patent leather boots with the 3 1/4 inch heel, so I just move them to the back of the closet instead. But that space is getting crowded.

    Maybe in 2013?

  18. quixote on 12 Jan 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Well, thank you very much. De-bookifying my place has been on my list for five (six?) years now. And Historiann just makes a Resolution and a week later she’s done it? I now feel totally inadequate.

    Can stacks of book boxes be only three deep? I didn’t know that.

  19. Dr. Crazy on 12 Jan 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    My first big book purge was when I got my t-t job in 2003, at which time I finally felt secure that nobody would make me teach 19th century American novels like The Last of the Mohicans, etc. And I’ve always been good about getting rid of random airport books, etc. (selling them to used book stores about once a year, or donating them to the public library for their book sales) I still have too many books – WAY more books than “normal” people, but the books that I have are books that I’m committed to (including my collection of the Judith Krantz oeuvre, which survives in spite of all the purging, for I’m convinced that the moment I get rid of my battered copy of I’ll Take Manhattan that surely I’ll want to reread it, because I am a lover of trash in spite of my better instincts).

    Anyway, congratulations! It *is* liberating to purge the books!

  20. LadyProf on 12 Jan 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    My bookshelves and I reached an armistice a few years ago: The current quantity may remain but there will be no expansion, no new space. When one book arrives, another book must decamp.

    Purging would be great for the reasons Historiann gives, but (I admit) I worry about what visitors would think if I were to go too bare. As a teen babysitter I would occasionally enter a home that had ZERO books. In one bookfree house I couldn’t find a magazine … or even a pen. It freaked me out. Even though in theory I know the difference between 0 and, say, 200.

  21. Bridgett on 12 Jan 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    I came across this quote earlier in the week that relates to your observations about perhaps needing the extra books at another point in your life:

    “We cherish books even if unread. Their mere presence extends comfort, their ready access, reassurance.” — A.E. Newton

  22. Dame Eleanor Hull on 12 Jan 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Like Dr Crazy, I like junk, and when I prune my fiction/fun reading shelves, I give away the classics, because those will always be available at the public library, and keep the junk, because there are fashions in junk, and libraries may get rid of Judith Krantz or weird fantasy novels—that is, if they acquired them in the first place. Also I get cravings to read my favorite trash late at night when the library isn’t open, but I never crave classic fiction. Sorry, but it’s true. I keep giving away books and yet it’s not at all obvious that I have done so, alas.

  23. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Bridgett–thanks! That’s a lovely quotation.

    Dame Eleanor and Dr. Crazy: As a historian, I especially appreciate your dedication to what those in the trade might call “ephemera,” or “junk” as you term it. I think you’re exactly right, Dame Eleanor, about always being able to find classic fiction at the library, but fearing for the future availability of paperback trashy novels.

    How many 20th C comic books and “trashy” paperbacks were tossed or recycled because they were cheaply produced and/or read to death? Yet I know that the library that inherits Dr. Crazy’s and your collections will be much better trafficked and appreciated by historians of the future, precisely because you chose to save what everyone else threw away.

    (I never really got into genre fiction, and I’m not tossing anything that that’s not widely available elsewhere, fer sure.)

  24. Indyanna on 12 Jan 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Historiann, the stack that shifted the other day giving me my brief “Collyer moment” of distress was *exactly* three boxes high and it isn’t even full of books, but rather papers, which I’d want to triage while I was ejecting them, but there’s no time for that. One of the reasons I resist “weeding” the collection is that I actually *do* use even old books that I haven’t read for years, or ever, to extract nuggets of stuff, using their spine titles as a sort of faux-google keyword prompter. And for me, the half-life of a research insight is measured in nanoseconds, while the inertial gravity of even checking online is fearfully strong. This relates to the reasons why I froth at libraries sending books to “remote.”

    The other reason I think is that none of my own books have any relation whatsoever to anything I remotely studied in graduate school, other than being in English and about history. Nothing that I do now connects to anything I expected to be doing back then. I made a tectonic field shift between learning to be a historian and getting to be a historian, so the books I cart around now and don’t dispose of are different from the ones I carted around years ago and did lose track of. So none of them were sitting there implicitly mocking or oppressing me as I studied for comprehensive exams.

  25. Comrade PhysioProf on 12 Jan 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    I was wondering, aside from the household clutter angle, why now? Why get rid of the excess books now, instead of sometime during the 1990s, when I moved ten times in as many years and was always packing and moving and unpacking those damn boxes of books. It’s perverse, no?

    HAHAHAHAHAH! You’re inside my head!!!!!

  26. Historiann on 12 Jan 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    How do you juggle all of that big-time professory $hit that you do while sparking up so often, man? I’m envious. I can’t have a glass of wine with dinner without falling asleep at 8:30 p.

  27. Comrade PhysioProf on 12 Jan 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Sadly, the only sparking uppe I’ve done in years is in the stories I tell in blogge comments.

  28. Z on 12 Jan 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    It’s files I should get rid of, although I do go through them periodically and cull. On books, I could cut down too but since I moved here I only allow myself to have those which fit vertically and non crowdedly on office bookshelves and bookshelves in house. I do acquire new books sometimes but I do not acquire new shelves, so I have to reduce collection elsewhere to fit in new ones.

  29. rustonite on 13 Jan 2012 at 7:21 am #

    I do this about once a year, not just with books, but everything. My apartment is 320 square feet, so there is no room for anything that doesn’t have an immediate use. I also require myself to never have out more than a dozen library books, or they very quickly take over. When I was studying for comps, every flat surface in the place was covered with books, including the bed.

  30. Historiann on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:08 am #

    That’s pretty compact living, rustonite.

  31. yoAdrienne on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:43 am #

    At the start of 2011 I was two years out of a long relationship that had been frought with book-hoarding issues, and decided to finally rope my own books into an order that works for me. I have two tall bookcases with 6 shelves each, one holds fiction and the other non-fiction. I have two short cases, one holding science fiction and one art history and practice books that are normal sizes. Finally I have two cases with tall deep shelves that hold the oversized art books, keeper magazines and comics. The space between those cases is the limiter of my vinyl collection (which stays alphabetical dammit!). This is all the space I have, and in coming to terms with that I now actually do pretty well about only acquiring new books that are important enough to displace something I already have, ideally within the same bookshelf category. What helps is that the space isn’t too restrictive – a whole bookshelf for each type of books! A whole room pretty much devoted to books and records, with a TV on a rolling cart so it doesn’t block off any one shelf permanently. Sweet. It helps that I live with a student who’d here only temporarily and a relative non-reader, so there aren’t fights for shelf space.

    After I amassed a pile of books that didn’t make the cut, I joined paperbackswap.com. It’s pretty fun, and while it has the same packing and shipping downside as Amazon or eBay selling, I find it less stressful since money’s not really involved. Also I can ship easily from my workplace so it doesn’t involve extra errands. I do bring bags full to library sales etc, but something about sending a book off to a specific recipient seems like an act of love and makes the parting easier. Plus I can use the credits I earn to order other books, and I’ve gotten a number of things I had been coveting for years. The site makes it really easy to send on a book I received from a swap too, so I’ve re-swapped at least half of what I’ve acquired that way which helps keep the shelves in equilibrium.

  32. squadratomagico on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:28 am #

    I recently realized, with horror, that on the long-awaited, sweet sweet day when I retire, I suddenly will have to find a home for the hundreds of books in my campus office. I won’t have room for them at home, even though I currently am planning a new shelving plan in my home office. (Having gotten to know a wonderful carpenter, we are planning on having him create a new set of library shelves for us, and installing them on rolling tracks that can stack two deep. That’s next summer’s project…) I guess I’ll have to get rid of most of them, but I think I’ll be up to the challenge.

    Now, Historiann, you should *paint* your study — since you confessed (on another thread) that you never have. A fresh, bright room will inspire you!

  33. Historiann on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:53 am #

    You are right, Sq. That’s what I’ve been thinking too, but I may wait a few months until it’s warmer so that I can open the windows and air the room out while painting.

    I’m considering either navy blue or hot pink. (The room is broken up with windows, 3 doors, and an entire wall of bookshelves, so strong colors are OK I think.) But the couch in my office is blue, so if I choose pink I’d have to have it recovered. (I think the dark blue would go better with the wall stuff I have, too. It’s really kind of a neutral.)

  34. squadratomagico on 13 Jan 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Spllt the difference and go purple!

  35. Comrade PhysioProf on 13 Jan 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    “frought with book-hoarding issues”

    STORIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Dame Eleanor Hull on 13 Jan 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Ooh—either navy or pink walls would look great with a pink-and-navy paisley couch! IMHO. I have to have bright colors, though; some winter days the only thing that helps me work is the orange wall in my study.

  37. Z on 13 Jan 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    “A relationship fraught with book-hoarding issues” – I love the phrase.

  38. Janice on 13 Jan 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    I often buy fabulous secondhand books to donate to our library since the book-buying budget has been eviscerated. The same thing with any useful academic book that I don’t need for my teaching or research but is still reasonably up-to-date.

    We purged our home library extensively last fall when we repainted the living room, dining room and huge hallway. Now it’s time to prune again, I’m afraid!

    Navy blue gets my vote by the way for a a wall-colour. It’s what I was debating painting the long wall of our open-concept living room/dining room before we opted for “Peanut Butter” instead.

  39. Susan on 13 Jan 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    I keep a library in my office because our library is so bad, and will often not even accept donations (I’ve been told that because we’ve outsourced cataloging, each book donated costs $100 to process>) But I’ve been thinking that a good purge of books is needed, and also figuring out what are teaching books, what are core research books, etc. The purge of fiction is more difficult, though I think I’m probably ready to ditch a bunch of classics that I haven’t read for many years, and probably won’t re-read until I retire.

    Files, now: am about to start digitizing all my copies and offprints of articles, and entering into Zotero. If I can get rid of one of my 4 drawer lateral files I will be very happy.

  40. yoAdrienne on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    I vote navy, I love navy walls and rarely see them except in bathrooms. Though speaking of bathrooms, I was recently at Mass MoCA and one set of bathrooms there has some walls painted in a kind of metallic navy- like navy mixed liberally with iridescent silver. It was great in combination with the worn-out matte industrial white of the rest of the space.

    As for the “frought with book-hoarding issues” thing: I had typed out a whole explanation of that but it was long and off topic so I condensed it to that phrase. Since youse guys ask though…

    We were mere babies (teenagers) when we got together, and a lot of our ten-year relationship was about books. On one of our early quasi-dates he reunited me with the mythical used book shop of my childhood – he having lived his whole life in the area I only visited as a youngster – the shop where at 6 or 7 years old I had used my allowance one vacation to buy an antique (at the time 105 year old) primer. It was cheap and I was amazed that such a thing was within my grasp. Getting together with a dreamy hunk who shared that awe with me was wonderful at the time, and I do have many ford memories of our relationship despite all the bile I unload below. Our realationship basically outlived itself because neither of us knew what breaking up felt like so we didn’t recognize it until about 18 months too late.

    Around the year 2000, a few years into our relationship, he/we started selling books on eBay, gleaned from our constant garage and library sale scrounging. I was intermittently involved, mostly helping with shipping and photographing as his interests lay more in the researching and creative listing parts and he could would often neglect to actually send the books out to the poor buyers. It was fun and extremely educational. The issues that I alluded to in my previous post developed during the approx eight years we lived together – seven apartments in three states. They fell into two categories: The physical presence and organization of books, and the tension between ownership and commerce.

    We didn’t have money for bookshelves for many years, spending it instead on more books and other things like food and kitty vet bills and pants, so for about the first years our homes were littered with cardboard boxes of book. Frustrating for me, many of these boxes were not appropriate book-size boxes, but instead egg boxes, which are really big reinforced boxes that eggs come to grocery stores in. As a strapping farm lad whose mother ran a grocery store, my ex felt these were ideal. After all, HE could lift and move them, so what was the problem?

    It took living apart from him when I went off to college after three years of cohabitation (I took some time off within my undergrad career if anyone’s trying to piece together the timeline) to realize the psychic toll that was being exacted on me by those boxes of books. I felt alienated not only from my living space but from the books themselves when they were living in those big junky boxes. I set aside some of my moving-in money for my college apartment and bought 4 bookshelves right away – a bit more space than I needed at the time but it proved ample for what I acquired during my degree. The ex did end up moving into that apartment after a year, but I was able to hold the line on the bookshelves – all of our keeper books plus th eparticularly high-value for-sale titles needed to stay on the shelves, and boxes of sales titles remained in one corner of the study, not strewn throughout the house. Though it didn’t always work out since we were both appalling slobs, just having a structure at all was a big step. Each move we made together was characterized by moving books, the last being a set of two moves within 3 months with over 1000 volumes plus hundreds of records and movies. That finally boke the farm boy’s metaphorical back, and though we’re not together anymore I hear he’s figured out a new system for book storage and moving that works for him much as I have for myself.

    Another recurring issue was “hey, that’s worth some money!” That phrase came to haunt me as he’d sometimes utter it in really awkward social situations, while looking at the collections of friends who may or may not have paid “good money” for the title in question themselves. Personally, it was very frustrating and sometimes damaging to have a book that I acquired for myself sold out from under me, either without warning or after wheedling and whining. He even tried to take back and sell birthday gifts he’d given me on two occasions! Our finances were hopelessly intermingled, and he refused to keep any kind of records of income or expenditures for the book sales, so every book in the house was seen as a potential listing. I was in general not bothered by this, but over time it made me resentful and insecure to feel that I had no say in the disposition of my property. One nice thing about being on paperbackswap is that I’ve been able to replace several different volumes that were sold out from under me, and in that way let go of a lot of hurt.

    The largest job of our breakup was of course to separate the books and other media. Once the ‘stuff’ was separated our emotional lives were disentangled as well and the legal stuff was easy. I stayed in our last shared apartment, and once the separation was clearly final I started sorting. He was unwilling to participate initially, so the scheme I set up was to box up everything I didn’t want (in boxes conveniently left from our last move!) for his perusal, to take or mark for disposal. After that was done I told him that once he dealt with those boxes he could come and see what he wanted from what I had left on the shelves – stuff I thought he might want too but didn’t want to risk throwing away if he didn’t want it. As it turned out, he took months and months to even come get the boxes I set aside for him, while intermittently angling to get a look at my shelves. Lame but utterly characteristic behavior and sticking to my plan was a big step for me in setting boundaries between us. Eventually he took the boxes and rented a storage space, where I think many still sit today though he has moved out of state. After that, I think he was overwhelmed by the volume of posessions now that he had to deal with them alone, and only ended up taking a dozen or so books from my shelves, and a handful of records. I was surprised at that since I had been steeling myself for a drawn-out negotiation process. He did come back a year later when he saw me advertise books, records and comics as part of a yard sale, and I let him have his pick again of what I was getting rid of.

    In retrospect, perhaps these issues aren’t hoarding at all, but I think they’re connected, especially all the tension over what gets kept, what gets sold and how objects/posessions exist in the living space. Being apart from him allowed me to organize my life as I please, and organize the books as I please too, and it’s fucken raddd! My currrent boyfriend reads comics mostly, and we’ve organized our collections together in a pleasing way. He’s been working his way through my Margaret Atwood, which the bookish ex refused to touch, so that’s fucken radd too.

  41. Geoff on 13 Jan 2012 at 10:55 pm #

    Don’t know if you’ve found a home for your books yet, but they might be welcome at Old Firehouse Books in oldtown Fort Collins, a place I try and support. -gh

  42. Digger on 14 Jan 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I’m in a similar-sized place as Rustonite. I culled and culled and culled (give-away, sales, and finally multi-boxes to the Friends of the Library) when I left my relationship/moved to grad school. It was pretty merciless but also really freeing! I kept only the most sentimental/loved non-discipline books (a set of Jane Rule’s work, Margaret Atwood, Winnie the Pooh from when I was wee, etc.). I ditched discipline-related books that were not in my area of interest (Mayan excavations? Gone. Historic churches of the southwest? Gone). Then I culled my artifact books and donated them to an archaeology lab. I’m still buying though (alas) and am guilty of piles of horizontals on top of verticals… My current area of study is my weakness (and also enormous). I stay clear away from used bookstores. And pleasure reading: I have a stack of sci-fi I’m reading, but then they’re being given away. After that: I was Kindlefied for Xmas.

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