I was unwell and bed bound over Christmas and did a lot of thinking. I realised my huge collection of poetry books was actually crowding me out of my small study and I was spending my desk time cramped into a small alcove. I had amassed this poetry hoard over many years, perhaps in the mistaken belief that I would be a better poet for owning them. That does not work because I wasn’t reading them properly: I was just collecting them. The sheer amount of them was too intimidating.
I had often thought I needed to go through them, and I was intending to read them, and make each one earn its place. But somehow I never started that project… I didn’t have the time! Since I started collecting, the internet happened, and there are so many of these poems online to read when I need them. I also had tons of poetry magazines, especially Poetry Review, which as a member I can now access on line.
Charity shops locally struggle to sell poetry books. I actually suspect I am the only one who buys them. There are Oxfam bookshops but not all that local and I can’t manage heavy bags on the train. Fortunately for me, my friend Deborah Alma has opened a premises in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, to run her wonderful Poetry Pharmacy, and in the large upstairs room, where she hosts workshops and readings, she is building a poetry library. It’s purely reference, not a lending library, but I am overjoyed my unnecessary books will be where many people can access them and use them, and I can even visit them if I miss anything and want to re-read. The hardest thing is deciding which ones I can let go and which ones keep. Some are precious and will be kept, others have sat on shelves for years and have gone unread, so I doubt I will read them now.
I also had a large collection of early 19th century books with calf binding and gold tooling, that I wasn’t reading but enjoyed looking at. I have started passing those on to good friends who run a second-hand bookshop and bindery, so any books that might be worth anything can be rebound. I am of course keeping the ones I love to see and handle and dip into, but so glad I can pass the unwanted ones to these friends. I’ve also given novels to book swap libraries, my niece, local school libraries. It’s a responsibility to do the best I can to find the right new owners. But the poetry was the biggest section I had left. I am still working on it and my aim is to get a wall bookcase completely empty, so it can come down. Book wallpaper can then replace the books I had that I liked to see on the wall but never opened. Less dust for me to breathe in, which sets off my allergies , and more space in this cramped room. That brown desk is going to charity soon too, so I can put my computer desk there and the books I still want in the alcove, which is going to have a built-in cupboard instead of a cramped writer who can’t even pull her chair in properly.
Ten Tips for Book Decluttering
- Do take books off the shelves to dust and clean them, but this also helps you find books you’d forgotten you had.
- If you haven’t touched a book that’s been on your shelf for more than 3 years, or not since you bought it, maybe you are never going to read it.
- if a book is covered with dust on the top, then it’s not been used for a long time and can be let go.
- Books are friends to many, including me, but a book that’s being ignored is not adding to your life, like a friend you lost touch with years ago.
- You don’t need a lot of books to prove you’re clever. People who know you already know that.
- Work out why you were hoarding books and see if that still applies to you.
- A kindle is great for novels and has really helped me part with hundreds of mine. I’ve pretty much stopped buying novels now, apart from some I need hard copies for, for my literary work.
- By keeping books in your hoard that could be loved and used by someone else, you are keeping birds in cages instead of letting them fly free to new owners who will appreciate their song.
- Once you have decided to let a book go, let it leave the house as soon as possible, or store out of sight until you are able to take them to their destination.
- You are not responsible for what happens to the book after you have moved it on.