Catch and release: a new philosophy on books

There’s nothing like moving house to bring home the full horror of how much you own.

I’m on a down-sizing kick at the moment following the realisation that things can’t, and don’t, make me happy, and all I do is spend far too long cleaning them and far too much money on a house big enough to store them. That, and the knowledge that an accumulation of stuff can greatly reduce your chances of getting out of a house fire (flashover in a house full of stuff can be in as little as 6 minutes), has prompted me to declutter, minimise, life-audit. Whatever you want to call it – I’m getting rid of some of the stuff.

Perhaps we have, as Ikea boss Steve Howard says, reached peak stuff. I certainly feel that way. It’s not that I don’t want to get new things, ever, but I have always wanted to buy things that lasted, could be repaired, and were not designed for obsolescence, – now I find myself wanting to be surrounded by fewer of these things.

The most obvious place to begin was my collection of books. I worked in a bookshop in my early twenties, and I probably spent most of my earnings in there. I’ve loved books since forever and I had accumulated a ridiculous number of them. Seven large bookcases, full, and a stack next to my bed. I have never counted them, but I would guess that each book case was holding around 200 books. I am now rehoming them to charities, friends, and my local secondhand book store for others to enjoy. But it’s not an easy task. Because books are a big thing to me. Some of them are huge reminders of the time I read them, some of them were journeys that changed me. And getting rid of those is an impossible task. I can KonMari the rest of my stuff, but when it comes to books, I am not abandoning sentiment.

What I am doing it reserving a certain amount of space for those books which are special. And the rest are on catch and release. That is to say, I have a to-read shelf (which isn’t allowed to expand beyond that area) and once a book is read it must be released, rehomed, regifted. This way I will try to avoid being inundated by thousands of books in the future.

The biggest single concept which helped me to reduce down my book collection was the idea that a lot of my books provided joy at point of purchase and, in doing so, have fulfilled their role. If I haven’t read them yet, or if I have started but not finished them (oh, so many of those) then I am unlikely to finish. Ever. And I should let them go. If I miss them, I can always replace them. But, let’s face it, it’s unlikely that I will want to replace every single book I get rid of and, if I do, I have to apply the catch and release principle.

A certain number of books might gain the lofty status of a keep-forever book, and these will be considered carefully. By limiting my storage space for books, I hope to force myself to keep a carefully curated collection of only my most favourite and treasured volumes.