The Minimalist’s Guide to Books


I love books. There’s a good chance you love books.

I love actually holding a book in my hands, seeing the cover design and flipping through the pages. No eBook reader will ever be able to replicate that feeling for me. And yet, I am a minimalist. How do I reconcile that with my love (lust?) for books.

For the previous five years, my entire employment history has been spent selling books in some capacity. It was very easy to find myself bringing loads of books home, many of which I knew I had no intention of reading, let alone the time in which to do so. The amount of books I had soon reached a point where there would be no way I would ever be able to read them all based on the time I had available and the rate at which I was bringing even more books home.

Finally I had enough and slowly forced myself to part with the vast majority. Here is how I reduced my collection and how I currently sustain my reading habit.

Books I already owned.

  • Culling my collection. I went through each and every book I had. For those that I had already read, I asked myself the chances of rereading that particular book. This eliminated nearly all of my fiction. After all, there are thousands and thousands of fiction novels being released each and every year. No matter how good the book was, isn’t it better to expose yourself to new things than just rehashing old stories? For all the non-fiction I owned, there had to be a very good reason for me to keep the book for reference. In addition, it had to be information I couldn’t easily find with a ten second Google search or that I didn’t already have bookmarked in some capacity. For those of you in the I did keep a lot of the books I had that I hadn’t read yet, but I’ve been getting rid of those as I read them.
  • What to do with the books. You can try selling them to your local bookstore or online, but there is a pretty good chance you will barely cover the time investment to do so. If you local bookstore allows you to trade books in, I recommend doing that. It usually works out to about a 2:1 trade, which helps you to reduce your collection by 50%, while benefiting the local store also. Alternately, just give them to the bookstore or library. Those places have a hard enough time making money as it is (trust me on this one, I know all too well) and appreciate any good-quality donations. Remember, the amount of money you would make from selling them is probably not proportionate to the work required.

Books to read.

  • Libraries. I get a ridiculous amount of books from my local library. I highly encourage you to find your local library and check-out books from there instead of paying full price at a chain bookstore. Everything from business topics, personal development, health and nutrition and, of course, all the fiction you could possibly want. Depending on the book and your library, there might be a wait for the newest books, but you can even mitigate this by getting on the waiting list as soon as you know you will be wanting a particular book. And with the thousands and thousands of others available, it shouldn’t be too big of deal if that one book isn’t currently there to be checked out.
  • Project Gutenberg. A great site to check out if you love classic literature. It has over 30,000 free, legal eBooks for download in a variety of formats (iPhone, eBook reader, etc). A quick glance of the top 100 shows everything from Franz Kafka to the Iliad to the Kama Sutra.

Honorable mention: PaperbackSwap. A great service which has been mentioned before at all the big sites, but deserves all the praise it has been given. I highly support what they are doing, but since my goal has been reducing my collection, a service which is essentially a 1:1 swap of books really doesn’t help me too much. Check it out here.

I think it all comes down to accepting that most books really don’t need to be kept after reading. There are obviously a few exceptions, like highly technical reference books, but even these are becoming increasingly available online and/or in eBook format. Keep this option in mind as it makes it even more convenient for this type of book, as they then become highly searchable.

These are just the methods I use and recommend to tame an out of control book collection. How do you keep books from overwhelming you?

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