Less, please

posted by Joshua on April 12, 2009 in Awareness, Blog, Education, Tips
7 responses

I used to view books like most people seem to. Books reflected who I was, they added to my home, let people know more about me, were good to have for quick reference, etc.

I went through an experience that changed that. It started innocently enough. I decided to get rid of only the most useless books I had. The ones I would never miss and had for no good reason in the first place. Looking at my shelves it was easy to figure out those from the ones worth keeping. Actually there were some borderline ones. I decided to be conservative so I kept all the borderline ones. I still got rid of a good portion of my books.

Some time later I found, as expected, I didn’t miss any of the books I got rid of. Unexpectedly I realized that without the disposed-of books, the formerly borderline books didn’t seem so worth keeping as before. I decided I had been too conservative and got rid of some of the previously borderline books. As I got rid of them I found some previous keepers were on the border. Staying conservative, I kept all the new borderline books.

Some time later I found, as expected, I didn’t miss any of the books I got rid of. Unexpectedly I realized that without the disposed-of books, the formerly borderline books didn’t seem so worth keeping as before. I decided I had been too conservative and got rid of some of the previously borderline books. As I got rid of them I found some previous keepers were on the border. Staying conservative, I kept all the new borderline books.

In case you didn’t notice, I repeated the last paragraph. In real life I iterated several times over the course of a couple years, always selling the books to Strand. I now have a few books, mostly reference books like a dictionary, thesaurus, Strunk and White, and the Feynman Lectures on Physics.

The experience led me to many unexpected discoveries

  • I missed the gotten-rid-of books less than I expected, if at all
  • My attachments to many other things decreased from the experience
  • I used the library a lot more. No matter how many books I had, the library always has more
  • I came to understand my attachments to books, especially specific books I thought I couldn’t part with
  • I continued to read as much as ever
  • My apartment has more space for other things
  • I found differences I had been unaware of between a physical book and the concepts the book communicates

The more important a book was to me, the more I learned about myself in letting go of my attachment to it. Which leads me to the biggest thing I learned from the experience: I had earlier viewed getting rid of books only as losing something; I now see the flip side, which is what I gained: freedom, both physical and mental.

Not that this is supposed to be deep or anything. It’s the same freedom I get from letting go of attachments to anything, but books were so important to me it was a lot of freedom. Expressions like Brandon’s and Mette’s, as much as I remember having them and with all due respect, would be backwards and counterproductive to my life. I understand and respect their views, of course, and I’m sure their books contribute to their lives. My father, a history professor, continues to amass books and I recognize people look at things differently. I’ve just never written up this experience, and I wanted to share an alternative perspective.

Come to think of it, having heard my experience, my brother-in-law is starting to give me his books to sell to Strand too. We call the process “putting the books back into circulation.”

Learn to make Meaningful Connections

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Including

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7 responses on “Less, please

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