I have been reading about minimalism for a while now, but I have never found a good article or book on minimalism that directly addresses the kind of book lovers that we are in my family.
We love books. They are not merely entertainment for us. We homeschool, not using textbooks, but real, living books. We already have many books, but with our oldest child only in grade three we still have many future years of homeschooling to collect books for. It is quite possible we will never be quite done. When the kids leave home, we'll have more time for reading ourselves, right?
However. All these books must have a home.
Our home is not large. We have eleven bookcases, each with four shelves: four in the boys' room (categories: children's fiction, children's nonfiction, adult fiction, biographies, poetry), four in our bedroom (categories: theology, other nonfiction), and three downstairs (categories: school books up to grade 5, current school books, Canadian books, music and art books). That doesn't include the picture books in plastic bins for the little children's easy reach. We already have too many books for our shelves, and are keeping some in boxes.
I am attracted to minimalism, and working towards it in the areas of my home that I have control over. At the same time, I know that our book collection will continue to grow. Books are what spark joy around here. They are also the tools of my trade (homeschooling), and will be for some time to come.
Here are some ideas if you are like me.
1. Only keep books that spark joy.
This concept is borrowed from Marie Kondo. I know, I know, the section of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up dealing with books probably horrified you to your core, and no wonder.
And yet... it has been very helpful for me to ask of every book on my shelves, "Does this particular book spark joy?" Since I am quite selective about books anyway, most of the books on my shelves did indeed spark joy. Still, by removing the few that didn't, I really concentrated the joy. My bookshelves really, really make me happy now.
If, like me, you are into Charlotte Mason's philosophy and methods, you could also ask, "Is this a living book?" If it is not, it generally can go. There is no need to keep mediocre books when there are so many excellent ones out there!
This also means getting rid of the "What if I will need it some day?" books. For example, I had some books on great artists. They were not living books. They were not even beautiful (a lot of black and white prints of paintings). I thought I wanted to keep them as references for when we did picture study in our homeschool. And yet, when we studied one of the artists in those books, I did not pull it out. I got a variety of books from the library instead. I realized that this was likely to be a pattern, and I truly did not need these books. It took me a long time, but eventually I did let them go. I have other art books that I am keeping because they are beautiful and bring me joy. If you are saying to yourself, "It's not a living book, but what if I need it some day?" Let it go and make space in your life for more living books.
2. Get rid of duplicates.
We have a lot of classic children's literature. That kind of literature is the very kind that people like us "don't mind having more than one of." However, that kind of literature is often easily replaceable (even used, cheap) if you ever do need another copy. In the meantime, where space is finite, getting rid of duplicates frees up space for more titles. Of course, there will be exceptions, such as different translations to compare, or favourite vintage titles that are hard to get and must be passed down to several children.
3. Organize your books.
Until your books are organized, you will not realize how many duplicates you have, and you will not be able to find what you need when you need it. My books are organized by category, and by author within each category. If I accidentally buy a duplicate, I notice immediately when I am putting it away. I am working on putting our books into libib, a lovely cataloguing website and app, but I'm not sure I will ever be done... this takes time!
4. Accept that some books have their seasons.
There will be a time when I will no longer need my early reading books. I will probably keep a few of my favourites (Frog and Toad!), but at some point most of them will be passed on to someone who needs them. Some day I will be finished homeschooling, and while it is probable that by then many of our school books will be such favourites that I will never part with them, others will be able to be culled.
5. Keep only the books that reflect the kind of "book person" you actually are, not the one you want to see yourself as.
This is one I'm struggling with. I have several vintage books. I have had them for ten years now, have never read them, and never will. I might like to think of myself as a collector of vintage books, but really, I'm not. I buy and will continue to buy vintage books that we will actually read. I personally do not keep books just to look pretty on my shelf. That's not the kind of "book person" I am. Realizing this might help me to let these books go. We'll see... they're not gone yet!
Be careful, though. If I had been following this principle two years ago, I could have gotten rid of a lot of my adult literature (hypothetically speaking, in case my husband is reading this...). I could have thought to myself that my husband and I don't really read anymore. It was true, there were several years when we didn't read much. But now I'm back into reading again. It was just a really busy time of babies and diapers and beginning homeschooling. If this is you, ask yourself, "Am I really not a book person, or am I just in a stage of life that makes it difficult to read?"
6. Always have enough shelves for your books, and keep no more books than fit on your shelves.
This is a rule I aspire to, but do not follow right now. I have three large boxes of books that do not fit on my shelves. But it's what I'm working towards. In this case, the solution will have to be to build more shelves.
7. Accept the process.
To quote Sarah MacKenzie, I have made the decision to "build [my] family culture around books." In doing so, I am accepting the work it takes to curate and maintain a collection that reflects what we love and who we are as a family. I am accepting the tension created by limited space, and that books we like will have to make their way out to make room for books we love. This is hard work, but it's work that I must accept if I want to have and keep the books we love. If ever I am not willing to accept responsibility for taking care of these books, it will be time to let them go.
What about you? Do you see minimalism and book collecting as competing goals? What ideas have helped you as your book collection grows?
Edited to add some pictures of my "children's fiction" section, because I know you like looking at other peoples' bookshelves. :) You're welcome.