[minimalism] How I Chose Which Books To Get Rid Of, And Holding a Book Sale

How I chose which books to get rid of and holding a book sale.

So I worked out (between starting a new full time job and running a house and falling asleep in Italian class) how to assess the books.

I took a set of about five books (I started with one bookshelf and just picked up 5 books which were side-by-side). I took them downstairs and poured a cup of tea. I opened one and started reading. If the book was a real page turner, right from the beginning, it was in with a good chance of staying. However, it also had to not be cliched. For example, there was one whose opening chapters appeared reasonably written but it was chucked out because the author was up his own arse about how he’d had the idea to write about a major outbreak of a deadly disease BEFORE IT HAPPENED!!! Only, he was published in 1996, which was clearly slap bang in the middle of the BSE outbreak when everyone in the UK was terrified to eat beef because there had already been cases of CJD, which was the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (literally translates to cow sponge brain, which was what it did to them, became known in the common press as Mad Cow Disease). People’s brains were turning to sponge and farmers had to kill entire herds of cows and British Beef was banned around the world for years (even decades, e.g. in the USA). I was in Year 4 in primary school and it was the first time it occurred to me that being vegetarian was a great idea. Of course, there was also the first Ebola outbreak in 1972 (ish) and the first AIDS outbreak in 1980 (ish). Verdict: His book wasn’t original. Had the film Outbreak come out by then? Either way it annoyed me that he was all like “I’m so amazing and original” when he was nothing of the sort. Also his treatment of the subject matter was poor and his characters sucked.  I kept books that I lost track of time whilst reading, suddenly realised I’d done more than 10 pages, flowed well or made me feel happy to read.  I didn’t keep books that didn’t make sense or used stock turns of phrase, of the sort often used in “Ye Olde Fantassy Bookes (published 1994)” for example.  They always turn out to be rubbish.  Am I being judgemental?  Yes!  Otherwise we would end up, say, with 1500 books, some of which are damned awful, many won’t ever get read by us, because otherwise we’re being judgemental and critical of other people’s contributions to the arts!

As I worked through the piles, after thirty or forty books, all of which I’d never read before (but which included some which my husband had read, to check I was working accurately enough), I started to get an instinct within the first paragraph or so as to whether a book was worth keeping, or whether it was making me want to scream “who in their right mind published this?!” There were quite a few, since our library is significantly stacked with sci-fi and fantasy.

I have so far got rid of about five shopping bags full of books which have left the house and are in charity shops waiting for some other poor sucker to purchase them. Additionally, I have four stacking crates of books sitting in the living room waiting to be ejected from the premises, some with less force than others. My husband had the idea of doing a book sale.

I have so far earmarked 240 books for removal, some of which have already left the house, others are waiting in those boxes.  Out of over 1500 books, it’s a drop in the ocean but the shelves are looking VISIBLY emptier and since we had boxes of books on the floor that are now on the shelves, this is a pretty big difference.

The cons of a book sale are that we have to put up with huge boxes of displaced books between now and the day we sell them. Since we are waiting until half term (a small school holiday in the UK that lasts one week), I have to wait 12 days to shift these bad boys. Even this isn’t as much of a con as it could be. The obvious advantage of this is that it gives me 12 days to assess more books so there might be a fifth and sixth (and ideally a seventh) box of books to be relocated. That would mean so much more house space!! My books might actually make it onto the ceiling shelves (although they’re looking pretty tidy right now since I downsized them a lot). Then we could get rid of another bookcase and our boxroom’s door might actually be able to close (there’s currently a bookcase in the way).

The pros are that we a) get some money for our books and b) get to rehome our best unwanted books (especially duplicates, of which he had an entire box full and I had one book duplicate that turned out to be a false alarm because the compendium that should have contained it actually did not). This is good because we have a lot of first editions and out of print books ready to go to new homes and it would certainly be nice to get some financial return for having hefted them all the way to Bradford and back again. Also the money we have spent on bookshelves, a larger house to fit them in, extra petrol when transporting them (due to weight) etc.

I am still working on minimalising other areas of our life. This week I also downsized the cleaning products by removing one full carrier bag of unwanted cleaning products, many of which came with the house – the previous owners dealt with all their unwanted stuff by leaving it behind, which left us with loads of crap in the garden too. This is very illegal but we couldn’t be bothered with it at the time of purchase so we left it. Now that they’re using our address to sign up for junk mail (with their names on) I really wish we’d fought the junk at the time. I also took a load of that garden junk to my friend’s house, because she’s just had a new kitchen put in and had hired a giant skip to get rid of her old kitchen, then it turned out there was loads of room in it for other things, and she only lives on the next street to me.  I also took the defunct electricals to the tip (ours is a recycling centre) along with a car load of other stuff:

Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled.  At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop.  Multitasking!
Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled. At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop. Multitasking!

On Saturday, I plan to downsize my stuff some more by taking on my underwear bucket (I keep all my socks and smalls in one of those floppy plastic buckets that are for storage and archaeological trench bail-outs). In Saturday’s article, I will be attempting to address the question: “How much/many underwear and socks do you need, anyway?”

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How much are those first editions REALLY worth??

How much are those first editions REALLY worth??
Or, how I decluttered some of my bookcases (because it’s DEFINITELY not been minimalised yet).

I wanted to leave this until last because it’s going to be the hardest part of the whole minimalism thing, but I have briefly forayed into it today. We have both brought books into this relationship (I came with two entire boxes – and now I have an actual bookcase of books, although it’s also filled with comics and so many sideways stacks wherever there is space. My husband had over 2000 books when I met him and has also acquired more over the course of our relationship). The mere mention of getting rid of the books is enough to put strain on our relationship. But over the last five years I have realised that most of these books don’t get read, and we will probably never read them.

A couple of years ago, we were living in a Gothic Mansion in Bradford. We moved into it from a 2-up-2-down (a Victorian terrace with 2 small downstairs rooms and 2 small upstairs rooms – when I parked my small hatchback out front, the car was longer than the house was wide), and moved out of the Mansion into our current, significantly smaller 3 bedroom house, so, I think the only name for the place in Bradford was Gothic Mansion. It had a sweeping staircase and everything, and cost the same in rent as the 2-up-2-down in York had done.

When we moved out of the Gothic Mansion, we realised just how many belongings we had accumulated over the previous 2 years of living in so much space. When it came time to pack the books, we got rid of about 100 of them – my future husband gave his to other people and I gave mine to charity shops. It was a drop in the ocean. Somehow, when we unpacked at our new house, we still had far too many books. It was shocking. I got my Significant Other to put ceiling shelves up around the top of the two largest bedrooms (we sleep in the smallest because it helps my night terrors significantly), and we filled them with books. We had two full bookcases of books left over, and that was after I got rid of an entire box of books. We gave our other bookcases away to someone who was setting up home and to a community furniture initiative.

The house is so cluttered that you can't actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.
The house is so cluttered that you can’t actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.

I was just about coping with the book situation because we had worked so hard designing and making the ceiling shelves (they look like a book border around each room, it’s awesome). Then my mum died, and I brought another box of books back, which were books I’d grown up with. I actually brought two boxes back but decided to let the second one go before it crossed the threshold of my house – it was all my Award Reprint Famous Five books, which I’ve by and large replaced with a beautiful collection of First Edition Famous Five books. I decided the Awards would be better served living with someone else where they would actually get read.

Suddenly, though, we are drowning under items, books especially, and I have to make some very hard decisions about books. The thing is, and the big reason that I haven’t addressed it, is because I feel it’s very unfair for me to have to get rid of some of my one bookcase of books when my OH has about five times that many books. Inherently, I am biased towards thinking that my books are better, because I chose quality over quantity. I’ve fallen into the trap of that excuse my pupils come out with sometimes: “Ben is setting his EYEBROWS on fire, why am I getting a detention for SMOKING??” Obviously, just because someone nearby is doing something worse than me, that doesn’t make my behaviour okay. Another problem is that I am keeping more than half of my books for children. If I have any, or if any close friends do, I’m going to be ready to give them books to read. Unfortunately, that time hasn’t come yet. The third problem is that I have a lot of first editions – I very carefully collected them all, and they’re all great books. Because it all seems so complicated, I am trying to be very deliberate and careful in my decisions.

So I decided to throw caution to the wind and do the following:
1. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for kids.
2. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for myself.
3. Fill a box with all the duplicates we’ve got that belong to me (then hash it out with my OH about whose copy of each duplicate we are keeping/getting rid of. This will be hard because we both have an entire collection of Terry Pratchetts each, and I think we’re both very reluctant to downsize because they mean so much to each of us and what if we both wanted to read them at the same time????). I can’t decide whether duplicates in a foreign language count, since they clearly serve a purpose beyond the story content of the original (I have a few duplicates in French and English because I find it a great way to help immersively learn a language).

One idea I particularly liked was “if I keep it, is it worth the two (or more) books that I must get rid of when I put this one on the shelf?” (https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/). It inspired me to take this further and order my books in a sort of preference. Kind of like book trumps. Which books would I never get rid of another book to keep? Which books would I get rid of any other book to keep? I think this could become a game. Once I’ve boxed all the books up, I am going to do this when I put them back on the shelves – starting with ten of the ones I know are least important, and every time I add a book to the shelf, taking another one off (if there comes a point where I can’t take any more books off the shelf, that’s ten books worth keeping, so I will start again with another set of ten books and do the same). To avoid sample bias, I will need to re-check the shelf afterwards.

90 Minutes Later
That was hard. There was a huge and ginormous problem with my method outlined above – it assumed I had some boxes to put books in. I didn’t. All our packing boxes left over from when we moved house? They’re all full of books from various times when we’ve had to move a set of books to do something or get at something else. All I could find was a shoebox and a box of crisps (now empty). I filled the shoebox with cast offs, until it got full, then I filled the crisp box, until it got full, then I filled the shoebox with the 10 books I would keep if the house was on fire or I was a refugee or something. The books I’d put in a campervan if I took one to places.

There was also a set of books I’d been keeping for their value. I decided to challenge myself on this in case I was holding them for flawed reasons. I looked them up on AbeBooks today to find out how much they’d grown in value:
Jo’s Boys (Louisa May Alcott) – 1886 edition. Worth about £5. Plenty of copies about. Passed down in my family for generations, just inherited from my mother, so not getting rid of it that easily!
School Friend Annual 1955 and Pets Annual 1959 – Worth £5 and 0.66p respectively. Still keeping because they were my grandmas (on my dads side) and again I inherited.
I think the School Friends and Jo’s Boys are my sentimental books. There were other books in both my mother’s and grandmother’s houses that I got, but these are the ones I would have great difficulty getting rid of. The School Friend annuals really sum up the culture and world my grandma lived in and grew up in, and Jo’s Boys is very reminiscent as a glossing-over of my own childhood, which could generously be described as “Old Fashioned” (and un-generously as Draconian).
Artemis Fowl – the Opal Deception. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl – the Arctic Incident. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and The Time Paradox. Worth £3.
Terry Pratchetts – worth £2 (very fine condition hardcover series books) to £8 (Hogfather Screenplay) to £10 (The Last Hero Hardcover) to £25-35 (The Art Of Discworld) to £35 (A Blink Of the Screen).
Anthony Horowitz: Necropolis. Worth 0.66p.
Anthony Horowitz: Snakehead. Worth £4.26.
Diana Wynne Jones: The Game. Worth about £10.
Diana Wynne Jones: Reflections. Worth about £10.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Worth £5 (children) to £6 (adult), I have one copy of each.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Worth £1. LOLOLOLOL. Seriously £1.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Worth £5 (children or adult). I have one copy of the children’s edition.
Agatha Christie: Around £2.50 each. As paperbacks that take up 1/3 of the space of the hardback first edition books, I am more willing to keep these on the shelves. Also I inherited them off my recently-deceased mum who inherited them from my grandma. That shizzle needs time to settle.
I valued my Famous Five red hardbacks at about 66p each. That is fine though – I am keeping my Enid Blytons for sentimental value.
**UPDATE (9pm same day): Tales of Beedle The Bard by JK Rowling?  Worth 0.66p.  It’s so getting ditched (the story wasn’t that great anyway).**

I should probably ditch the Artemis Fowl novels and the Harry Potter, since the Order Of The Phoenix was my second least favourite book and film and I think the Artemis Fowls have sadly had their day, been and gone. I guess they got over printed. The only Artemis Fowl worth over £3 is the only one I don’t have, because I couldn’t obtain a copy at the time and decided it would probably never be worth anything. Oh the irony. I guess this is the false economy of buying books – I always think getting the hardback first edition is better but I guess it really isn’t because they don’t hold their value as well as you would expect. HOWEVER, the value of the book cannot be judged by price alone, as I have demonstrated with the number of books I am keeping for sentimental reasons. Having said that, the prices are what they’re being sold at and I always think with anything under £3 that you have to work out how rapidly they’re actually selling at that price point, because that could just be what people hope to get for them, and there’s not a lot of price-slash wriggle room to get them shifted and it’s no indication about whether they would sell if I listed them on Amazon for that amount, taking up space in my house while I waited for them to be bought.

That’s my first round of book culling pretty much finished, just a few stragglers to round up from other parts of the house because they don’t fit in my bookcase. I will, of course, have more to do but not right now because I found it very difficult to get rid of a lot of books that I probably don’t need. Also I was very hindered by the rabbits, in whose room my books live, as the books must stay out of their reach otherwise the bunnies will nibble the books, which would be sad. I was comforted by the number of minimalists and de-clutterers who had encountered the same emotional difficulty when parting with their books. I know I can read them online, I know I can go to the library, but it’s not the same as seeing them on the shelf.

Before I try and cull them again I think I need to change strategy. Perhaps putting my “safe” books in a separate room, then sorting the remainder in order of… something. I don’t know. Some of them are useful but not essential. Some of them could be useful in the future. Some of them were 10p and the text might not be available at the same price again.

My OH’s books, by contrast, include a great deal of impersonal and generic sci-fi and fantasy (I love love LOVE sci fi and fantasy when it’s good – but you wouldn’t actually believe how much dross there is. Time Snake and Superclown? There’s a reason you haven’t heard of it), and I’ve got a plan to get rid of some of these – I’m going to read them. Yep. I’m going to open each book and try to read it. If it’s boring, unreadable, overly-pretentious or full of “Said He”-isms, it’s getting queued for removal from the house. No second chances. My OH has given me permission to do this as long as he gets veto power over the books I’ve discarded before they get chucked. I think of it as a secretarial service – I’m filtering the junk mail so the Boss can spend more time on the important letters.  I don’t think any of those are worth anything because they’re all a bit crap – he was given about 700 books about 15 years ago by a “friend” who was moving away and needed to get rid of his books.

Resources that I found helpful for book downsizing:
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/breaking-the-sentimental-attachment-to-books/
http://thejunkpyramid.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/how-to-decide-what-books-to-junk.html
https://unclutterer.com/2008/04/15/bringing-your-bookshelves-back-to-order/
https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/
http://www.quirkybookworm.com/2012/01/bookworms-debate-when-to-get-rid-of.html