My book collection has become a situation. Shortly after I started doing library work professionally, I decided I wanted a personal library. I’m privileged to have always owned books, but I wanted more than a few books on a shelf. I wanted a collection, something I’d build slowly over time. I have that now, and it could be going better.
For one thing, I’ve outgrown my bookshelves. When that used to happen, I’d just buy another bookshelf from Target and call it good. But now there’s no room for more bookshelves. Hence, the situation.
One of my favorite people on the internet is Kendra Adachi, a.k.a the Lazy Genius. I never miss her podcast, and I love her book, The Lazy Genius Way. Her work always helps me clarify my thinking, so I re-listened to a recent episode of her podcast called What to Do Before Reorganizing Your Home. In true Kendra fashion, she said something that resonates deeply: start by naming what matters.
- What matters to me about having a well-organized home library?
- What matters about having a collection where I can find the book I want without moving a gigantic, wobbly tower to get to it?
- What matters to me about having a home library at all?
These are some of the questions I’ll be thinking about in this post as I design a plan to conquer my bookish clutter. (I wrote about this in 2018 too but have apparently ignored my own advice.) I was going to make a Word doc and work through this project privately, but I thought this post might help those of you who are facing bodily harm due to the stack of hardbacks on your nightstand that looks more like a Jenga tower than literature. Let’s dive in.
Problem #1: I don’t have enough space for the books I have
Solution: Get rid of some books.
Question: What matters about the books I choose to own?
Here’s what I came up with as I thought about what books and types of books I want to own rather than borrow:
- I want to own books by authors whose work I value deeply
- I want to own books I know I’ll want to write in or underline
- I want to own books I know I’ll return to over and over again
- I want to own books that are part of special series I collect
- I want to own books that are pretty because aesthetics matter to me
- I want to own books that I’m excited to read right now
That last bullet point is probably the most important one for me as I embark on getting rid of books. I’ve had some titles on my shelves for years that I haven’t picked up yet. When I run into those books at one of my school libraries, I have no hesitation discarding them because books that don’t circulate don’t provide much value to a library. I need to take that approach with my own collection, too.
Problem #2: My books are disorganized.
Solution: Organize my books in a way that makes sense to me.
Question: What matters to you about an organization structure?
Because I’ve been doing library work for nearly sixteen years, I can’t help but want my home library to have a strict structure. I like my fiction shelved alphabetically, and I like my nonfiction divided by subject. Have I briefly considered putting Dewey decimal numbers on my nonfiction books? Maybe, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Organization matters because it saves me time finding books and putting them away.
(Dear People Who Shelve Books By Color,
Your shelves look so pretty, but I just cannot.
Problem #3: I buy books a lot faster than I can read them.
Solution: Buy fewer books. (Maybe stop checking out 17 library books at a time, too.)
Question: What matters about how I spend my money?
Of the three main issues I have with my home library, this issue bothers me the least. I don’t mind having many unread books on my shelves, but I know I need to be more thoughtful about spending my money. Years ago, I’d often visit thrift stores and pick up any cheap books that looked even mildly interesting. I’ve become choosier over the years, but I still have work to do in this area. After thinking about it for a bit, here is what matters to me about the books I choose to purchase:
- I want to financially support authors whose work means something to me, especially if that author is a person of color
- I want to purchase books I want to read, not books I think I should read
- I want to purchase books I intend on keeping in my collection for a long time
- I want to focus more on quality than quantity, like buying one new book at my local indie instead of six at a thrift store just because they were cheap
Having a home library matters to me because I love books and I like having them around me. It’s that simple. They’re exciting, comforting, beautiful, and stimulating. My collection brings me joy, but only when it’s contained and not piled up everywhere.
Working through these three main problems has helped me clarify what my next steps to need to be in order to go from a situation to an enjoyable part of my home. I should probably go get started.