“How many bookshelf feet do you need?”
This was my husband’s question after I requested some more bookshelves. My response: “I can fill whatever you give me.”
Limits are useful, aren’t they? Unless they’re curtailing my book collection. I have books stacked on top of each other, books perched precariously on nightstands, books in my purse, library books piled in a milk crate (my local library has a special crate just for my hold requests), ….
My family is about to move back across the country. Seven years ago, when we moved from Tennessee to Washington, I purged lots of books. Movers charge by the pound, and books are relatively heavy.
As we face this next opportunity to re-evaluate our possessions before movers come to box it all up, I’m once again evaluating my books. After all, we started homeschooling when we moved to Washington; homeschoolers just might be the biggest book buyers on the planet. I’ve also had to face some uncomfortable truths about myself.
I idolize books. Do you?
We might not think we do, but why is it so hard to get rid of books if we don’t idolize them (or idolize what they mean to us)?
I’ll venture that in many cases, it isn’t the sticker price on an individual book. Nor is it that we actually re-read a particular book multiple times. Instead perhaps one of the following is true for you for some of the books you’ve been holding on to (all of them have been true for me at one time or another):
I loved that book as a child (or, my husband or children did).That book was my grandmother’s, and she gave it to me before she died.I paid good money for that book!This book is signed by the author (and/or illustrator).I found this book buried in a used book store in London.This book is out of print now, and it’s hard to find.I want people to see how diverse my reading tastes are.I enjoy loaning books out to people, especially those hard to find titles. After all, my young friends call me “the good book lady.”I might need to reference that book again.What if I want to read it again, and my library does’t have it?But I have the entire collection of this series!Books are my preferred choice for decorating. What else are shelves for?People will know I’m well-read.With all the book cancelling going on, what if my children (or grandchildren) won’t have access to this book except through my personal collection?Sure I have 8 versions of this story, but each one is illustrated uniquely, and I love them all.This version is my old copy from high school with all my notes, and that version is the updated one that’s easier on my old eyes.Fill in your own reason(s) here.
Did you notice anything about my reasons? Nearly all of them are self-serving. Even my desire to loan out books is based on my reputation, isn’t it? Pride, fear of loss or deprivation, selfishness, greed. It’s not pretty, folks. Books are great blessings, but owning too many books can become a burden: books need space (which translates into money), require time for arranging/upkeep, and can even reveal my own sin.
My friends-who-have-large-home-libraries-like-me, we know that not only can we survive with fewer books, we can have a robust relationship with the Lord with fewer books. Even the “spiritual” titles. Are those books valuable or helpful? Yes! But do we need to own them all ourselves? Perhaps not. Remember: many people loved and served the Lord well before the printing press. And many loved and served the Lord before the first novel. And before Charlotte’s Web was published. Or Narnia. Or The Lord of the Rings. Am I suggesting you purge those titles? Of course not. And the number of Bibles in our homes is a testament to how blessed we are by that printing press invention!
But it’s worth remembering when the time comes to pare our collection: we benefit from books, yes, but the Lord is not dependent on our home library collection for His work in our lives
Turning Book Burdens into Blessings
So, how am I turning my book burdens into book blessings? I’ve gone from easiest to hardest. Baby steps, people. And remember, it’s not wrong to keep books. I’m keeping plenty! But I’m looking hard at my collection and my heart first.
STEP 1: FORGOTTEN BOOKS
If I forgot I had a particular title, especially if a friend is bringing it back now that we’re moving, I’ve moved it out (or let the friend keep it).
STEP 2: TEXTBOOKS OR SCHOOL BOOKS (Homeschool and Other)
It’s so much easier to let go of something we’ve enjoyed and cherished if we know other people need it! I passed nearly 100 titles on to my local homeschool friends whose children are younger than mine. Some of those books are expensive and/or now out of print; think of the blessing those books will be to the families who genuinely need them this coming school year!
Textbooks are an interesting case. Most textbooks are now in digital format, but many readers (at least in my generation) prefer print. I plan to keep the textbooks from college/graduate school that have content directly relevant to my current interests and vocation (such as my children’s literature textbooks), but I’ve removed others that are not as helpful and/or will be out of date if/when I ever re-enter a particular vocation (such as my cataloging books from my library degree). The only textbooks I’m keeping for my children are ones I know we actually still need to use for a specific course. Although most donation places don’t take textbooks, organizations like Better World Books DO take textbooks, and they also donate part of their proceeds to literacy efforts.
STEP 3: DISLIKES & DUPLICATES
Let’s be honest: we all have books on our shelves that we don’t like. Perhaps it was a book club title that we read, but didn’t love and won’t read again. Perhaps it was a gift from someone, and we felt bad about getting rid of it. You know what? It’s okay. If it’s a truly special book (fancy gift edition, rare book, etc.), but you personally don’t want it or like it, see below for some ideas. Otherwise, your local library happily takes books (they can sell them to benefit the library or add them to their collection).
Do you have duplicate copies lurking around? My family has LOTS of duplicates: my children each have their own copies of some books as a start to their personal libraries. We’re keeping those. When my husband and I got married, we ended up with many duplicate titles. We kept the copies with marginalia and gave the rest away. I have old and new copies of some books; if the old copy isn’t readable anymore, I’ve gotten rid of it (I’ve even recycled a few! Gasp!). If both copies are readable, I’ll give the newer one away.
STEP 4: BLESSINGS TO OTHERS
Now for the fun part. I found the first three steps to be relatively easy. But I needed to pare down my collection a little bit more. The books that are left on my shelves are copies that have sentimental value, books I genuinely enjoy/read/love/need, titles that are valuable, or some other “priceless” category. What’s a girl to do? Here’s what I personally have done over the years when I need to cull my home library:
*Note: when you decide which option best fits your situation, tell your friends and invite them to contribute. For instance, I announced, “Next week, I’m taking book donations to the Union Gospel Mission. If you’d like to send some, get them too me by Sunday.” Several took me up on it!
Donate books to my local Christian homeless shelter: What a blessing a lovely book would be to a child who is temporarily displaced! I picked some of my favorites that I thought would be especially meaningful to that community. After all, I am comparatively wealthy, I know where to find that book, and I can purchase it again if I really need it. What books fell into this category for me? Two of them are Bare Tree and Little Wind and Between Us and Abuela by Mitali Perkins because those would be particularly hopeful books for those children. I’m also sending my Tim Ladwig collection, extra copies I had of classics like The Best Nest by P. D. Eastman, a beautiful copy of The Wind in the Willows (one of my, um, three), and many similar titles. I pulled a few books for moms, too, that are interesting reads. Donate to a local Christian school: is there a Christian school in your town that has a library? Library funds are notoriously short, especially in small schools. Give the school a call and ask if they accept donations, especially if you have some titles that are overtly Christian and/or feature a Christian worldview. In addition, many teachers have to stock their classroom libraries on their own dime. If you know a teacher in a Christian (or public school), ask if they could use some of your books. Donate to the local public school: Whether or not your children attend the local public school, you can still donate books to them! After all, if you have lovely books, why not bless the children in your community with them? It’s easy to complain about book collections in local school and public libraries; donating books you think are excellent is one small positive step that beats complaining.Donate to a college or seminary: Do you have spiritual resources that you no longer use? Perhaps you’ve switched to digital resources for commentaries or other reference works. Or perhaps you, like my husband and me, ended up with duplicates when you merged households with your spouse. Call a Bible school or seminary to see if they could use them for their students.Donate to a church library: Does your church have a library? If not, call around to other area churches. Church libraries are terrific ways to bless God’s people! They will often take books for all ages. Little Free Libraries: We had a Little Free Library right by our pool, and I loved to see what new titles were there each week. A friend of mine even put one in front of her house! This is an easy way to offload a few great titles at a time and bless some unknown reader who might happen by. Simply pop in a few books (whether or not you take any out). Send books to grandma’s house: (Ask first!) Have some extra books that your children enjoy, but don’t read all the time? Send a few to the grandparents’ houses for enjoyment when you’re on vacation. Or stick some in your beach/pool bag. Thrift stores and other general donation places: Goodwill and other thrift store organizations often take book donations. This is a fine option, but I’ve found the options listed earlier to be more meaningful, thus making it easier to part with some of the “precious” titles.
Please note: don’t be offended if one of these organizations reserves the right to preview the books first. They know their audience best, and you don’t want your books to become burdens instead of blessings. Offer to pick up any that they don’t need, or give them permission to send the rejects to Goodwill or another local donation spot. This is especially true for faith-based or educational ministries and organizations.
I’m off to send more books off to be blessings, reminding myself that the Lord always provides (even the books) and that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Related Reading at Redeemed Reader:
Home Library Management: Heart Issues
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