Saying Good-bye to Favourite Books

To date, saying good-bye to favourite books has been the most painful aspect of the de-cluttering and purging experience as we prepare to sell our house.

Readers know that my husband and I are in the midst of a ‘basement bootcamp’. We are purging   One long wall of the finished area of the basement plus two large bookcases in my husband’s den contain a library of professional books.  Some of these are text books, some are reference books, some are bound journals, some are collections of writings by people who influenced our careers. My best-loved books including some 300 cookbooks are in upstairs rooms — mostly in over-flowing bookcases.

With easy digital access to any information we need, we decided to eliminate most of these books as part of the purge before moving. Since retirement I’ve had time to use the public library where I can borrow everything I want including ebooks.  I stopped buying bestsellers and other popular books but never disposed any books.

The decision to eliminate most of our books brings more difficulties than  anticipated. The books represent cherished memories. They have been companions during times of success, happiness, travel, stress, relaxation, learning, and loneliness.  They are reminders of degrees earned, professional certifications, and career benchmarks. They have brought comfort and affirmation. In short, books are part of the intimacy of our lives.

Books opened my world

Growing up on a remote Saskatchewan farm meant little access to books except for the few tomes that my parents owned, many of which were in languages other than English.  I remember receiving books by mail from the Saskatchewan lending library.  Borrowing was limited to two books selected by a children’s librarian. The library books arrived by mail, were read, and, once returned, another two books were mailed to me.  There was no UPS or expedited delivery so the two-week  stretches of time between returning the books and receiving the next shipment seemed interminable.

With this history, its little wonder that I loved owning books once I was in a position to do so.  Every textbook, atlas, dictionary, and thesaurus was practical and precious.  By reading books of general information the world opened. Books were my teachers.  They helped to  feel that I belonged somewhere. I loved every book I owned; and, I kept most of them.

Relationships with Books

As my husband and I sorted the books, we realized that almost every book represented a memory or an emotional connection . Perhaps  an admired colleague or teacher authored it.  Perhaps it represented a theory that shaped and guided how we worked. Perhaps it was a journal that contained a cornerstone reference article.

We had relationships with these books. Some were well-thumbed.  Some are in pristine condition.  Pages in most of the paper-backs had yellowed. Our books represented learning experiences during years of study.  They represented career accomplishments, interests, and hobbies. They represented hours of relaxation.

Access to professional materials on our library shelves provided security. Before the internet, these books contained references and information for helping interventions.  Each of us used our books in different ways — for writing, research, teaching, guidance, and inspiration.

Some books reminded us of special times in our lives including  books on Suzuki music instruction, on Montessori education, on child development, on parenting an adolescent, on dealing with grief, and on managing a career. The Do-it-Yourself books, gardening books, and hobby books sparked memories of phases of life when various interests prevailed.  Books of poetry were reminders of how we explored the complexities of our lives.

Saying Good-bye to Favourite Books

We decided that most of these books represented the past.  It was time to discard most of them.  We filled box after box of books and hauled them to the re-cycling depot.

Filling the first few boxes was difficult, but as we purged, it became easier and easier.  Books that we had kept because we might re-read them or use them for reference were discarded.  We decided that if we need that information again, we could find it. We also knew that if a book sat un-used for years, it would not be missed.

Many books were new.  Good intentions sparked the purchase but they were never read. Discarding these felt like throwing money away.  We used the same logic as with the books that had been kept for re-reading.  If the book sat on the shelf for years without being read, it would not be missed.

Each of us kept a few special books or classics.  These represent a bit of a safety valve.  They are books that make us happy or bring comfort,  A few of the keepers were signed first editions.

In future, we’ll know the true impact of this radical culling.  Yes, we might miss some of the books, but I somehow doubt this.  Life moves on and trying to drag the past along is an unnecessary burden.


4 Replies to “Saying Good-bye to Favourite Books”

  1. I feel your pain Jeanette as I also went through this when we downsized to a condo. I organized my books into groups and donated most of them to places where they could continue to inspire. Boxes of writing books to my niece who was a high school teacher. She set up a special library in her school for students interested in creative writing. Being a children’s author, I had collected shelves and shelves of children’s books by various authors. I donated several boxes of these to a Ronald McDonald House for the children to enjoy. For general reading books, I placed boxes on the end of my driveway with a sign that read “Free Books…enjoy!” They were gone in a couple hours. I feel better knowing they are still creating magic for someone out there. Be well and hang in there. It’s all good.

    1. Hello Pat,
      Your encouragement helped us to finish purging all the books from the basement! The old textbooks and professional reference books went to the re-cycling depot. Most of the novels were donated; some were given to friends. My husband has almost finished purging the books in his den but I’ve fallen behind with the books I keep in my writing room/office; my deadline is the end of this months. I’m scheduling a couple of days to eliminate the books I no longer use. Once started, it seems that throwing things out becomes easier and easier. I hope to see ‘end of job’ by mid March as March 31 is the target date for listing the house.
      Be well,

  2. All you say about parting with books is true. I felt quite bereft when my collection was first pared down, then it was reduced again. Somehow the bookshelves have a tendency to fill up. In spite of good intentions you’ll find they multiply once more.

    1. I’m sure we will collect another stash of books although I do hope there won’t be textbooks among them! Books have a way of finding readers and reader have a way of finding books!
      Be well,

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