How to Create a Minimalist Library

by Tammy Strobel on March 11, 2011

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, I post a Simple Living News Update that includes links to some of my favorite articles of the week. In addition to the update, I answer a reader question via video.

Anne sent me an email earlier this week and asked:

How can I pair down my very large library?

Here’s my response . . .

For those of you who can’t watch the video, read: How to Create a Minimalist Library. Last year, I wrote the article for AOL.

Now onto the news . . .

The Very Rich Indie Writer

“Amanda Hocking is 26 years old. She has 9 self-published books to her name, and sells 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. She has never been traditionally published. This is her blog. And it’s no stretch to say – at $3 per book1/70% per sale for the Kindle store – that she makes a lot of money from her monthly book sales. (Perhaps more importantly: a publisher on the private Reading2.0 mailing list has said, to effect: there is no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own.)”

The Anti-Social Network

“The human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new, of course . . . But social networking may be making this tendency worse. Jordan’s research doesn’t look at Facebook explicitly, but if his conclusions are correct, it follows that the site would have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature.”

Living small becoming a big trend

“The average size of the American home expanded from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,340 square feet in 2004, up 140 percent. This boom was largely driven by a belief that living big meant living well, and that real estate was a great investment so the bigger the house the better the investment.”

A Simple Guide for a Mindful Digital Life

“When I focus on creating an improved digital version of me, I find those qualities actually start to carry over into my physical self.

This is so important for relationships, too. The people you surround yourself with online and offline are who you will end up like. Don’t leave this to chance; be mindful of the friends you keep.”

Cool Stuff

  • Dr. Simon Ussher, from The Simplicity Institute, is working on a cool research project about simple living. He wrote me last week and said:

“The Simplicity Institute’s current research project is to undertake a multi-national sociological examination of those individuals and communities around the world who are voluntarily embracing ‘post-consumerist’ lifestyles of reduced or restrained income and consumption. In other words, we are examining the lifestyles sometimes labeled ‘voluntary simplicity,’ ‘simple living,’ ‘downshifting,’ ‘post-materialist,’ etc.”

Help Dr. Ussher and take his survey.

***

Become a micro-patron and get the letter.

1 Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate March 11, 2011

I too went through getting rid of the hundreds of books that I had accumulated through the years. I kept books by friends and family, a few childhood favorites, (Little House, Beverly Cleary, etc.) and a few miscellaneous extra.

I love books and have room for more than I have, but now I actually have need for my cool vintage bookends!

For people who may want to sell their books, local used bookstores are a good source. Powells.com also has a service where you input the ISBN of your books and they’ll send you everything you need to mail them in for money.

This is reminding me that it’s probably time for another sweep through the shelves.

Thanks, and we missed you last night!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

2 Tammy March 11, 2011

@Katy – Thanks for adding in the information about selling books. I forgot about that option. :)

Missed you too! I hope the party was fun.

3 voxnewman July 26, 2011

Even better than getting rid of the books is passing them onto nephews and nieces. That’s what I did with books I didn’t plan reading again.

The Amanda Hocking phenomenon is interesting because I just recently got into the eBook game. Now I just need to find a way to tap into the same zeitgeist…

4 SillySimple March 11, 2011

Thanks for sharing, I loved the article on the profit model for self published E-books. I would have never dreamed that authors could drive so much volume outside of the traditional publishing house marketing machine. Really fascinating!

5 emma March 11, 2011

I’m facing the book downsizing issues, too, having left them for last. Argh. My problem is less the number of books or the type, but rather the emotional attachment to them! I’m a book freak. I’ve always collected old books as well as kept text books (mostly my English books, since that was my major), but I’ve always had the questionable habit of buying every copy of Great Gatsby or The Egg and I (a childhood favorite!), etc., that I found! I just couldn’t leave them on a shelf anywhere, had to bring them home….like stray kittens! Besides, everyone needs 11 copies of their favorite book! Pathetic, I know, but, in general, I find that emotional attachment makes downsizing hardest. For anything.

6 Justin Lukasavige March 11, 2011

Great tips. This is exactly where I am now that we’re moving. I have at least 30 books in a pile that I’m giving away. I’ve been finding ways to create contests for my blog readers to give them away. It’s been a blast to do!

Thanks for coming on the show and sharing the link, by the way. You’re inspiring me to get rid of my big office and build out an existing shed in the backyard of our new home in Colorado.

7 Wanda March 11, 2011

This will be the first time I’ve commented on your blog. I’ve been reading for awhile and finally have a comment for the blog. When I decided to par down my massive book collection I started with anything I hadn’t read in more than 1 year and that I wasn’t planning on reading again. That cut the collection to half. Then I further went through with books I bought that I hadn’t liked at all or had been gifts. There was another half cut there. The last and most important way that I got rid of the final books I owned;I received a kindle for christmas. All the books that I had planned on keeping are now on the kindle and the physical books are at the library for all to enjoy.

I also have started work on my massive dvd collection as well. I did that a little differently when I parred down. I watched each movie and then decided from there if I really truly liked the movie and would watch it again within the next year. I got rid of about a quarter of my movies that way. Others were the same as the books,what was I thinking when I bought them. So another quarter went away. What is left is what I enjoy and would watch repeatedly.

8 Maria Almaguer March 11, 2011

As a librarian for twenty years now, I no longer buy books, DVDs, or music and, except for my own library which I am rapidly donating to my public library–my goal is no own no more than 12– I get everything through the public library. My tax dollars are paying for it already so why not take advantage of the great stuff they have to offer? Whenever I’ve needed or wanted something, the library has come through for me, even sharing with other libraries around the country! That’s what libraries are for; let them take care and store the items. Just enjoy them when you want to!

9 Tammy March 11, 2011

@Maria – I agree! Libraries are amazing. I still buy books because I love supporting fellow authors. But when I’m all done reading, I donate my books to the library or give them away to a friend. :)

10 Lorna March 11, 2011

I guess I’m the odd one because I only own a Bible and a couple of old cookbooks. I used to have quite a few books, but I mostly use the internet for reference these days. My DH donates his paperback books to Goodwill after he reads each one.

11 et March 11, 2011

The link you post here is broken:
Dr. Simon Ussher, from The Simplicity Institute,

12 Tammy March 11, 2011

Thanks for letting me know. It’s fixed now. :)

13 Joshua Johnson March 11, 2011

I feel libraries are so underused. How do you feel about purchasing only digital books to simplfy and save space?

14 Tammy March 11, 2011

@Joshua – It’s a great option to save space. I love reading on my iTouch. The Kindle app is awesome. However, I adore print books. I’m online so much that it’s nice to read something that’s not on a screen. :)

15 Tiffany March 11, 2011

I’ve been donating books I no longer need to Better World Books. It’s an online, for-profit company but they support several literacy organizations. The downside is they have a ton of books at inexpensive prices, so it’s tempting to buy more (or maybe I just have a book problem!).

16 Karyn March 11, 2011

Hi Tammy. I found your website about 2 weeks ago, and since then, I have devoured whatever I can of it. I’ve always wanted to live the simple life and now, Im really getting things in prespective. During the last 2 weeks, we have gotten rid of our TV (my addiction) and DP’s Wii. We have donated boxes of stuff, placed books online to sell, throwing out junk and are generally looking at our house with new eyes. We live in a 3 bm, 2 bath house (with SIL) and she is moving out. We were going to take on the lease for at least another year here, but since finding your website, we now know we only need a studio apartment. We have so much “stuff” but we are finally getting through it.

We are also starting to ride places (1 car 1 motorbike) and generally slowing down. All of this information is just what we needed, Thank YOU!

My one question is, we too have 2 kitty’s and I am a little concerned that when we down size, we will be in such a smaller space than what we are now, but our kitty’s love to get into moods and run and play. How can you make the best invironment for indoor cats in such small places?

Thank you for all of your time, effort and experience, this website is a goldmine!

17 Tammy March 11, 2011

Hey Karyn – Thanks for leaving a comment! And congratulations on all your progress. That’s awesome!

We have two cats as well and they have done fine in small spaces. They sleep 90% of the time. But when they are up, we play with them a lot. Check out this article I wrote for AOL. It might give you a few ideas.

18 Judy March 11, 2011

Be debt-free, too. There is much freedom in the path you have begun. You’ll find it a wonderful lifestyle and it’s rewards will further your contentment.

19 Sally Renee March 11, 2011

Hi, I too have a large book collection that I am slowly downsizing. I find that giving away one book at a time and not making any dramatic cuts is easier. To start with I got rid of a lot of Penguin Classics, as these can be repurchased cheaply but chances are the local library will stock a copy of these books if I want to read it again. I’ve also gotten rid of my old uni textbooks as now that I’m a full-time mum I have no need for these. Harry Potter is on my get rid of pile as they will be easy to borrow from the library if I feel the urge to re-read them and the Twilight books will be once I finish reading them for the second time around. At the moment I still own a full bookcase of books but dream of whittling that down to a shelf. It will be a rarer books that I keep like my favourite childhood book “Winter of Fire” by Sherryl Jordon which seems to be out of print at the moment.
I think that if I can find a focus for my book collection it will be a lot easier to discard topics rather than thinking about the individual books. For instance, I have several bonsai books and have yet to have a bonsai survive more than a few months in my care, so perhaps it’s time to give these to someone who will benefit more from them.

20 Tonja March 11, 2011

I too had about 400 books and it was so freeing to let many of them go! I am down to about 80 books now. I am impressed that you were able to get it down to 10-15–maybe I’ll get close to that. I’ve purged my books in stages. After the initial purge and thinking that I just couldn’t get rid of any more, I lived with my remaining books for a while and realized that I could get rid of even more. This has happened a few times.

Some of my books hold a little bit of information that I refer to, but I don’t need the whole book, so I am typing out the important info to keep on my computer so that it takes no space! But I have to be careful about that, too, because there’s a such thing as digital clutter! We are just in information overload today. I am learning to let information change me and then let it go; It’s okay if I don’t remember all of the details.

21 Judy March 11, 2011

I really like my Kindle for three reasons: no backlighting and therefore much easier on the eyes; I have moved many pdf white papers onto it; and it easily goes into my purse . I still have many books as I read and reread mostly in certain niches. However, I always leave a note through amazon.com to tell the publisher I’d like to read a particular book on my Kindle. Libraries are wonderful, too.

22 Rian March 12, 2011

Liked that posting very much ! Keep up the good work !

23 Lori March 12, 2011

Hi Tammy,
I actually happened upon an article on you in USA TODAY, issue 2/3/2011. . .because I was cleaning my bird cages. This brings me to my first problem, I have four parrots, a cat and a Beagle…and an 18 yo son so when I got divorced three yrs ago I couldn’t rent, I had to buy a house. I realize my house is becoming too big for me, especially when I my son eventually moves out, and being unemployed and going to college ft I can’t even refinance to bring down the expense. I would love to downsize my house but w/the market I won’t be able to sell my house and find an appt which would take my animals so I am trying to minimalize wherever I can but there’s only so much you can do in a two story, three br, 1-1/2 bath house w/garage and garden shed. I’ve been reading books for the last two years about simplifying my life but it just isn’t working. Back to the main topic, I have pared down my books but be aware that certain libraries, such as my local one, will only take books 5-7 years old and newer so one is forced to donate elsewhere. I don’t have many options around here.
I am going to read all that I can from your site and others but I’m having a hard time getting rid of my “stuff” and being an ex-emotionally attached packrat it is a double edged sword. I want to get rid of things but also want to keep certain things to pass down to my son.
Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!
Thanks,
Lori

24 Tammy March 15, 2011

Lori – Thanks for leaving a comment. That’s a big question. I would say read my latest post about overcoming obstacles. Maybe that will help?

Also, I wrote an article for AOL about letting go of sentimental items.

25 Holli March 12, 2011

Wonderful information!
Anti-Social network: I totally see the breeding ground for comparison of lives/happiness, etc.
Indie-Writer: really fascinating.

Pairing down the Library:
We recently downsized our library collection too – About 3 years ago, we purchased a large book self from Ikea (one that literally covered one wall) after buying our Townhouse. It sat in our entry-way and at first was about 3/4 full. Then, it started to collect stuff. Pretty soon it was stuffed, and the top of the shelf was covered too.

Last August, we decided to pair down. So, we moved the massive book shelf onto our main floor (it’s one large space that holds the kitchen and living room) as a divider between the two spaces, creating a wall and walk way. After deciding that we wanted to use it to house our library AND children’s toys AND host a landing place for some electronics, we culled it down. First, we offered the stacks of books to friends and family. Then, we donated about 30 books to Goodwill, and have sold about 20 on Half.com. We now use the local library to check out books, DVD’s and audio books. This is fantastic for our children as we only have so much space and want to teach them to live without the need to own everything they want. Frankly, young children change what they LOVE (be it books, movies, stuffed animals) about every few weeks, so it would be ridiculous to keep up.
Important Note: with a 3 and 1.5 year old at the time of the library change, we didn’t accomplish it in a day. First, we moved the shelf, then we picked out the top 50 books we could live without. Then, over 4 months time, I would take 5 or 10 min a week to pick out more, or re-arrange stuff creating more space for the stuff we needed easy access to on a daily basis.

I am happy to have found your blog as it continues to provide inspiration for our lives!
Thanks:)

26 Tammy March 15, 2011

@Holli – Awesome story! Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing what you can accomplish, over the long-run, by doing just a little bit everyday.

I didn’t know about half.com. Fantastic resource! :) Best of luck!

27 Laura March 12, 2011

I’ve yet to face the book downsize. Just because I love them so much. But you’re right, I necessarily don’t NEED my Speech & Communications 101 textbook from my freshman year in college. I’m thinking about making a list of the ones I donate too. That way if I’m thinking of a book I once read, but can’t quite put my finger on it, I’ll have a list to resort back to. A digital list, of course :)

28 Tammy March 15, 2011

@Laura – A digital list is a fantastic idea. I’ve been keeping track of all the books I read and it’s turned into an awesome reference list for me and rowdy readers. :)

29 Maggie - Maggie's Nest March 12, 2011

It’s a bit overwhelming to consider…I would guess that my fiancé and I have a couple thousand books between the two of us! Of course it’s more than we need. I regularly cull through my collection and sell or donate books I don’t need anymore, but it has been harder for him because he loves his books. Getting a Kindle for Christmas seems to be a good stepping stone for him, as he recently donated all the paper books he had been able to get royalty-free on Kindle. We take what we can get, eh? :)

30 Tammy March 15, 2011

@Maggie – Totally. Logan just went through his book collection and decided to donate a few to the library. We’re trying to pair down again. The little house isn’t going to have much space. :)

31 emma March 13, 2011

Another thing I’ve discovered that makes reading easier these days is http://www.paperbackswap.com where books are yours for the price of media mail. I prefer reading paperbacks to hardbacks because they are just easier to carry around and this makes it super easy.

32 Elli D. March 13, 2011

Thanks for the info! Personally, though, I would never get rid of my books. I like my bookcase (well, bookcases) too much to do that – and honestly, I think they are quite stylish as well. E-books are practical, yes, but books are books.

33 emma March 14, 2011

“Books are books.” And, that says it all!

34 Aden March 15, 2011

Personally, I’ve found book catalogue sites an invaluable asset in my book downsizing – sites like Librarything.com and Goodreads.com allow me to keep a digital bookshelf that gives me more physical space at home, but allows me to keep a persistent record of all that I’ve read.

35 Tanja March 16, 2011

I loooove not having books. I went from over-flowing bookshelves everywhere down to none. I thought it would be like living without, but it’s broadened my life! I’m not re-reading the same old stuff, I’m trying new authors and new categories constantly. So anyways, just my 2 cents, if you’re thinking of downsizing your books, read the article Tammy wrote and get started. You will feel light and free.

Tammy, thanks so much for linking to Amanda Hockings story. That is absolutely amazing and inspirational. I bookmarked her blog and I don’t bookmark many! My honey’s been doing a touch of zombie fiction and I keep telling him he’s really good at it (and should pursue it). When he gets home today I’m pointing him straight to that article about Amanda and Kindle.

Cheers,
Tanja

36 Tammy March 16, 2011

@Tanja – Sweet! I’m so happy the Amanda Hockings story was helpful. Self-publishing is so powerful. I hope your husband decides to publish his zombie fiction. I love that stuff.

I just finished up Amanda’s series called Trylle and started My Blood Approves. If you’re looking for escape reading, her books are fun. :)

37 James March 21, 2011

Regarding Wanda’s comment,

During my amicable separation with my wife last year, I found myself with my collection of DVDs and VHS tapes. Okay, DVDs are easy to get rid of these days, but VHS?

Simple solution – I ran each tape or disc through Netflix, found out that I could rent them from there (or stream them from elsewhere on the internet), and donated some 80 movies in all to my local library. I saved about 10% of them, as I really liked them and/or knew I would see them in the near future, but I can always donate those at a later time. I feel much lighter, as I know that I won’t have to cart around yet another box if I move again.

I’m planning the same with books in the near future, though a bit slower! :)

38 ThirteenCats March 22, 2011

Tammy, as always, you give me goodness when I come to check in with your site. Reducing the library…ugh. Definitely a task to tackle sometime in the next year or so. And my especial favorite from this post…the novelr site. I had no idea that existed, and have spent the last thirty minutes reading happily away. As always, thanks for the stuff you share!

Hugs!

~~Dawn (aka stlcatlady)

39 Tom March 24, 2011

Tammy,

How would you handle a collection of books (300 or so) we used in a homeschool setting? Our children are grown, and we hope they will have children of their own one day and will want to homeschool them. These books would save them thousands of dollars. However, being a minimalist
at heart, I would like to clear these away along with another 600 books that now sit on our 8’x9′ bookcase.

Thanks,

Tom

40 Tammy March 24, 2011

@Tom – That’s a hard question. Personally, I would take a step back and inventory your library. Ask yourself questions like: Will this book be relevant in 20 years? How often is the book refereed to? Will my kids even have kids?

Remember the sorting process takes time. You don’t have to do everything at once. :)

41 Frank September 22, 2011

I’ve been a bibliophile my entire life. At one point my library was pushing 1,000. These days, I find that after I finish a book, Its likely I will sell it or give it to someone I think will benefit from or enjoy it. (There is a sizable portion that I will be keeping and probably expanding. My Library of America collection seems to be growing all the time for example, but if I’m certain I won’t be reading the book again it goes.) I would go the donate route, except I’m just out of college, jobless and being supported by my parents, so I can use every cent I can scrape together. Though most of what I make off books seems to go towards buying more books or spent on friends when they come to visit.

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