Minimalist Library

by Tammy Strobel on November 22, 2009

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. Every book I read changes my life for the better by shifting my perspective and challenging my belief system.

For example, I’m reading No Impact Man and have started thinking about eliminating plastic from my life and changing my consumption patterns. The book talks about conserving and sharing resources. I want to share these ideas with others and will pass the book onto the local library.

A few years ago I probably would have kept No Impact Man on my library shelf. Before downsizing, we had a huge book library. After a lot of thought and consideration we decided to donate the majority of our books to the local library.

Below are some of the questions I considered when downsizing my personal library…

  1. Does the pride of having my own library outweigh the burden of moving my books to a new apartment?
  2. Have I re-read or referred to any of these books within the last year?
  3. If I’m not going to re-read any books, why keep them? Wouldn’t it be better to share?
  4. Why buy more books when I can easily check them out of the local library?

If you’re thinking about downsizing your personal library, consider asking yourself similar questions.

I still buy books (usually when the library doesn’t have them on the shelf or the waiting list is super long). After I’m done reading my new or used book, I donate them to the library.

Please leave a comment and tell me about your personal library.

1 Fox November 22, 2009

I used to buy everything I read and then kept it. I’ve slowly moved to keeping only those things I know I’ll read again. Now I get almost all my books from the library. Even if there’s a book I know I’ll read again, if I know I can find it easily at any library I’ll go ahead and re-home it. I’m down to one bookshelf from three, and that one bookshelf holds all my DVDs and video games, too. I treat them the same way…unless I can’t easily find it at a blockbuster, I don’t buy it or I re-home it.

2 Jesse November 22, 2009

I just tallied up my library, and even after moving I’ve got just shy of 50 books! Wow…I need to cull again…I want to get it down to one reasonable sized box for my next move.

I’ll probably end up selling most of what I want to get rid of as English books go for a premium here and there’s no library to give them to!

3 Tammy November 22, 2009

@Jesse – sounds like a good plan. Moving books is such a pain. It’s nice to have a tiny library and makes moving so much easier. Thanks for reading the blog. :)

4 danielle November 22, 2009

although my fantasy is to have an entire wall of bookshelves full of books – even in my tiny dreamhouse – my general policy is to own nothing that isn’t either useful or beautiful. so i too have very few books for a book lover. i usually buy used on the rare occasion that i buy rather than borrow. my collection includes all sorts of magical items, including tiny handmade books, an antique dictionary, and a couple of decorative tomes rescued from a dump….

5 Tammy November 22, 2009

@Danielle – I love your policy. :)

The books in my tiny library (I have 6 books right now) aren’t pretty, but they are all useful. I use them for reference and to find fun knitting patterns.

6 Michael November 22, 2009

This is very relevant to what we are thinking about right now! I do love to use the library but they often don’t have what I’m looking for… Also, I struggle with the idea of not properly supporting the writers that write books I enjoy. We are considering purchasing a Kindle because it can kill both birds with one stone. Of course, then there is the whole idea of buying yet another gadget?! What to do!?! : )

7 Tammy November 22, 2009

@Michael – what about purchasing books that you enjoy and then donating them to the library? I’m sure other folks who use the library search for similar material and might not have the resources to buy a new book. So you could support a writer and make a donation to the local library at the same time.

We’ve thought about purchasing a Kindle too, but I don’t want another gadget to carry around. Plus, I enjoy reading real books. I spend so much time on the computer already that the thought of buying another gadget isn’t appealing. :)

8 Jim November 22, 2009

Tammy, That’s a great idea, purchasing books and donating them to the library after reading them. My bride is a retired librarian and for all of her working years her biggest problem was an insufficient book budget. Also, topics such voluntary simplicity are often not even on the radar of the person who purchases books for your local library. What better way to introduce them to ideas that are important to you than by donating a relevant book!

Michael, Ask your library if they participate in an interlibrary loan program. If they do, they will search other area libraries for the title that your seeking and have it shipped to your local facility. Our’s even calls us when the book arrives.

9 Tammy November 22, 2009

@Jim and Michael – Another great resource is WorldCat.org. It’s a fantastic site. :)

10 Michael November 22, 2009

Very cool! Thanks Jim and Tammy for the tips!

11 Katie November 22, 2009

Facing the prospect of a move myself, I took a hard look at my books to determine which I’d keep vs. give away. I’d rather give them new homes than move them! God I hate moving. I had some friends sort through them today and they took a bunch off my hands. It was strangely liberating. I love books, but I love reading more. I’m looking forward to a life less encumbered with stuff.

12 Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell November 23, 2009

I love this idea, Tammy. As a writer/author, whose livelihood depends on people buying what professional writers are penning, as well as someone who lives in very tiny digs, buying new and then donating to the library serves both the writers and the need to keep our inventory to a minimum.
Public libraries do usually have woefully inadequate budgets and donations helps them a great deal.

13 Hayden Tompkins November 23, 2009

I also keep in mind the “legacy” factor.

What books specifically do I want my kids to fall in love with? So it doesn’t mean every book on the list of “Top 100 Books Ever” but the ones that I have a deep emotional connection with. So instead of all of the Chronicles of Narnia, I’ll keep “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”.

I know it’s rough when it comes to books but I think having a very clear purpose as to which books you decide to keep helps. :)

14 Emily November 24, 2009

Thanks for this! My hubby sent it to me with a note that he was going to use these questions as we continue to try to pare down our library. With baby number two on the way, the room that currently houses our books will be his/her nursery. And we have very little extra space to move our books into.

At this point, I think I have the hardest time with getting rid of the books that belonged to my great grandmother and great grandfather. My great grandmother didn’t give them to me directly; I got them when it was my turn to look through her belongings for items I might want. I felt like their books should not be wasted and snatched up a bunch of them. I guess I should just remember that someone else might be able to use them more than I ever will.

Also, we really like getting/passing along books through paperbackswap.com. If we can’t get something at the library (or the wait is ridiculously long), we get it on that site and then pass it along again when we’re done. Although we’d love to be able to purchase books to help further support the writers, it’s just not financially feasible for us right now.

15 Tammy November 24, 2009

Hey Emily – Thanks for reading the article and congratulations on baby number 2!

We do our best to support writers. That’s why I still buy some of my books and then donate them back to the library. At times we haven’t been able to afford a new book because of financial constraints. That’s part of the reason I’m such a huge fan of the library and sharing. :)

I’m sure the library will take really good care of the books if you go that route. It’s always hard giving away items that have been in a family.

With that in mind, do you think anyone else in your family would want your great grandparent’s books? Giving them to another family member might make parting with the books a little easier. Also, you might consider keeping the books that you treasure the most and writing down a family history about the library.

Thanks for letting me know about paperbackswap.com. I’ll check the site out. It sounds like an amazing resource.

Hugs to you and keep me posted on your progress. :)

16 The Everyday Minimalist November 25, 2009

My personal library is now e-books!

I cannot believe I was dumb enough to wait all this time, thinking I needed an e-reader to read e-books.

Now, I just get the books for free from The Gutenberg Project, open up Stanza on my other laptop (A Mac), and I spend HOURS reading classics I swore I’d get around to, but never did.

I am still going to get an e-reader later, but once the price drops. It’s kind of hard to keep holding up a laptop to read a book, but it’s still better than having a thick book with no lighted background to help the words show up in dim light

17 Gypsy March 14, 2010

I am loving reading through your old posts … so inspiring. I have seriously downsized my ‘library’, from a very large 12xcube bookshelf that took an entire wall, to now only what fits in the bottom of my bedside cabinet – about 20 books. I use the public library extensively so I certainly don’t miss out. And now, I have put the large bookshelf on TradeMe (the NZ version of Craigslist) … liberating!

18 Tammy March 14, 2010

@Gypsy – thanks for reading through the achieves! I appreciate it. :)

19 Ross Hill April 26, 2010

I stumbled across bookmooch.com recently and it seems like a really awesome idea – I think it can be an easy way to downsize the connection and let your books find new readers. Then if you want to read it again, you can always request it through the site again.

20 Paula August 10, 2010

I just came upon the NYT article on “But will it make you happy”. Have to say it came at the perfect time! I’ve been trying to downsize my library and it’s been so hard. I love my books and like you said, although i know that there is no a small chance i will read any of them again, i’m so attached to the idea of having them exposed for the world to see. I’m already a minimalist when it comes to other things (clothing, furniture, personal possessions) but for some reason, i can’t let go of my book. I’ve made a decision and starting today, i’ll either donate, exchange or sell (if i’m lucky) 10 of my books per week (was gonna write day but that will be too hard:)).
Anyways, love your website and will start reading it daily to hear more about your simply living lifestyle.
Thanks!
Paula

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