Books – Can You Have Too Many?

From the emails and comments I’ve been receiving in response to our renovation, it is clear to me that so many of us are on a journey with our things and our spaces. Of course this makes sense. We creatives are sensitive to our environments, we have needs that are a little outside the norm and we value expressing ourselves in every aspect of our lives.

No wonder “home” is no small thing!

As we move forward in our renovation journey, my big progress this week has been with books. Oh, we do love books in our family! I had no idea that perhaps our love was a little intense until a mover came in to give us an estimate: “You sure have a lot of books, don’t you?”

Do we?

I really had no perspective. I mean, on my second birthday, my mom took me to the library to get my first library card.* Growing up, I had a spot on the side of my dresser for library books to be read and we had a spot on the top of the piano for library books that were to be returned. One of my first ‘businesses’ (I only put it in quotes because it was more like a non-profit) was setting up my own local library for neighbourhood kids.

Now, thanks to the mover’s off-the-cuff remark, I notice that we have bookcases in almost every room: the studio, 2 bookcases; Justin’s den, 3 bookcases, the bedroom, 2 bookcases; the living room, 2 bookcases; the kitchen, 1 bookcase; the guest room, 1 bookcase; the storage room, 1 bookcase – and every one of them full.

Okay, yes. We have a lot of books.

At a family get-together this past weekend I had the chance to ask my dad and my aunt how they downsized their collections. My Aunt Beth, a retired librarian, gave an answer that startled me, “Cutting is in a librarian’s DNA.”

What? Cutting? Not collecting?

As my aunt continued, it became clear that cutting is crucial to curating a great collection. A library only has the space that it has and so a part of the librarian’s job is to make sure that the space isn’t simply filled but that it is filled well.

Oh, now, there’s a thought. If the public library works within its spacial limitations when it comes to books, maybe it’s reasonable that I should too. What if instead of trying to make a home for ‘all the books’ (aka every book I have ever read, purchased or received), I made a home for…. well… now I’m stuck again. Which books should I make a home for?

I asked Aunt Beth what criteria libraries use to make their choices and was inspired by the clarity of her answer:

Condition: Is the book still in good shape? Is it damaged, dusty or otherwise shabby?
Content: Is the content still useful and relevant?
Circulation: Are people reading it?
So helpful! Even if these aren’t your criteria (for example, my dad said he wasn’t overly concerned about condition), the key here is having criteria.

As I considered these new ideas, curating my books started to appeal to me more and more. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling pressed and pressured to find a home for every single book. I also wasn’t feeling the need to declutter for the sake of decluttering. This wasn’t about being ruthlessly practical and austere.

Instead choosing which books to keep became an opportunity to create my own personal library. What would that look like? What subjects would I specalize in? What authors? What would I find most useful, inspiring and memorable? Is that my criteria? If not, what is? I’m still working that out and it feels like an act of creation, identity and love.

I also realize that this isn’t a one-and-done activity. Just like at the public library, the curation of my own collection of books will be an ongoing activity. This new-found approach is more like tending a garden than laying the stones of a building. I love that. Instead of building a dusty old collection of memories, my library can come alive and that’s just the kind of magic I loved in the books I read as a girl. Perfect.

What approach do you take with your books?
What criteria do you or would you use to curate your library?