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On books…

We are in Oxford, in the Thames Valley, UK.  Oxford homes I have worked in typically have a lot of moth, and a lot of books. Moth, because the Thames Valley is a favourite place for them, and books, because we are in an academic environment whether we are a member of the University or not and these things rub off on you. We have learned to relate to a city with abundant books in it, and without them life would be unthinkable. You can set off a moth bomb relatively easily. Books, however…

Before I began decluttering work, I worked in a variety of retail environments selling books – new books, remainder books, second hand books, hard to find books, online sales… I’ve done the lot. There is no shortage of people who want to acquire books. These are my people… and there is an irony that having spent years telling people to buy books, I should now be telling people to let them go. But it’s not as simple as that. I get that you love your books. I love mine too. Books are potentially life-giving. They are part of the story of our lives.

I have only questions for you, to explore the shape of your situation. Rest assured, you don’t need to let them all go.

Is it at all possible that a handful of your living, lovely books could leave your life, and have a life after you? Some people will find it hard to accept that a book could leave their life, and the book would be OK, and they would be OK. It’s close to a contemplation of our own mortality. But this is where we must start. Slow, gentle, baby steps, remember.

I can imagine that many of your books were acquired in the spirit of curiosity, personal aspiration, are appreciation of the world around us. I have Michelle Obama’s autobiography on my bookcase which I am pretty sure I won’t ever read. I want her to know when she looks at the sales figures that somewhere out there is a little soul who thinks she’s fab. (I confess – I have a lot of unread books.) Is it possible that we could reign in the experience of collecting books we know we won’t read, and steer our collections towards books that we really do think we will? Can we courageously face what that says about our own intellect? Yes, ouch. Be very slow, very gentle. Rome was not built in a  day. This step alone could take years. Having a very limited amount of physical shelf space does help here because you can blame your choices on that.

Our ‘library’ is not a public place, but an intimate one. It’s unlikely there’s going to be an advert in Daily Info any time soon saying ‘Catriona’s bookshelves are open for viewing today, please pop in and take a good old look and read whatever you like’. I’ll admit that my secrets are writ large on the spines of my books.  On one level, I’ll agree that books are the story of my soul. But also, I’d like to challenge you. Is your every thought sacred?  *Some* of this stuff could go.

I’m not making an invitation to a minimalist book collection. But I would encourage a vigourous flow of reading material. Books you release into the wild (and yes, you can trust the God of the written word that they will find new lovers) can free up space on your bookshelves for more books. The person you are becoming now, the person who is sharing their small Oxford home with others… can have new fresh air to breathe. New blood…

Go gently, my friend. if you only parted with 5% of your stuff you’d be doing well. I’m not mean. Trees shed leaves in Autumn, in a gust of wind. That is how your books could leave your collection. In their place, new buds can form.

Absorb these ideas, and you may find that your collection shrinks, is more energised, and helps you use your existing space better. It is never going to be a complete or perfect process. Bon courage!

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