13 March, 2017
Minimalism has been an exciting journey so far. The process has brought me joy, relief and focus.
But, I won’t lie, I faced setbacks over the last few weeks as I started to cull my stuffstarted to cull my stuff. At times my plan was too slow and I grew impatient. At times, I even grew a little anxious, second guessing myself: “Was getting rid of that a good idea? Will I need it later? Am I a bad person for throwing that gift from person x away?”
The Hardest Part
The main things I found hardest to part with were my old books. Books are not just sources of information; some are memories, some are portals to imaginary universes, some are the foundations of social and cultural movements, some are sources of encouragement when needed. Letting go of them was letting go of a part of me, that I had built over many years. So why part with them?
Well, many of these books had given me value – 3 years ago, 5 years ago, some 10 years ago or more. Since then, most of them hadn’t been touched. They were a museum of my life, defining who I was, or who I had been. Yet I knew that my identity didn’t come from my books. I was more than the accumulation of my stuff. So, they weren’t really providing me with any value, even if they had once upon a time. They were simply relics. So, if they no longer brought me any meaning, why keep them?
But it wasn’t always that simple. When I would run my eyes across my large bookshelf, I would not usually be thinking, “Ah, the memories.” I would think things like:
– “I spent money on that book, so I have to read it. But I don’t want to.”
– “I read that book x years ago, but I don’t really want to read it again.”
– “I should reread that book… some day.”
– “I don’t think I’ll ever read this whole thing, but maybe one day I’ll study a topic, have a question, etc. and I’ll need it.”
– “So and so gave me that book, I should read it, otherwise I’m a bad friend. But it’s been there for years.”
– “This book is so old, I don’t even want to pick it up.”
– “Those old university textbooks, I should sell them, but that’s another thing to do…”
– “I borrowed this book from a friend and never sent it back… another thing to do, aaah”
I then piled up all the books I hadn’t read, which took up nearly an entire shelf. It was overwhelming – there was no way I was going to read them all. Many of them I didn’t even want to read. It was all a bit ridiculous.
Then my old friend popped up in my head – Mr relentless self-criticism.
– “Why am I so lazy? Why can’t I just read it?”
– “I’m such an idiot, I can’t even get through the books that I own, let alone read any more.”
– “I’m a bad friend. They would be annoyed with me if they knew I hadn’t read their book.”
– “But you studied a literature degree, you’ve done it before, why not now?”
It was all becoming a bit of a burden. Then I had a lightbulb moment. I discovered an amazing alternative.
DON’T READ THEM! Let them go, give them to someone else. Or, recycle them! Throw them in the bin. Let them become someone’s toilet paper. Why own something that is going to cause you so much grief? Just let it go.
Then I became like:
This sounded great. I wanted to do it, but I still felt guilty. So then I had to ask myself:
Why should this seem so controversial?
Every time I listen to an audio book or podcast (on a daily or weekly basis), I finish it and delete it from my phone. Why? Because it’s taking up storage space that I will need for later when I ADD NEW CONTENT. I never even questioned it. Why don’t I hoard podcasts? Because the space is limited, and I will no longer gain value from old podcasts – unless they are extraordinarily good, then I will listen to them maybe once more. Otherwise, I know where to find them online or on my computer. If I am ruthless with storage space on my phone, why not in my life?
And why do I need to own a book to get value from it? I am a member of a library, and I also have access to this amazing thing called the internet that is full of information if I need it. I have a collection of audiobooks which I prefer anyway, which take up no space on the cloud.
Ironically, there have been two books that I’ve read in the last 18 months that brought me the most value of all, and I’ve recommended them to others a number of times… and I don’t own either of them! I borrowed one from a friend, and the other from the library. If you’re interested, here is one, and here is the other. (In another space, I should write a review for each).
I don’t own them because I can’t be bothered buying them. It’s so ironic. The books that brought me the most value I won’t even buy! Then why own other books that don’t bring me as much value?
Paying it forward
I made a small pile of books that I knew I wanted to keep, and they are now front and centre on my shelf. I’m genuinely looking forward to reading these few again.
As for the others, I gathered a few bags of books to give away. I took them to my church, put them on a table, and said they were free to take. Many of them were taken by people who will get more value out of them. They thanked me for it, and I felt pretty good for being “generous”! I returned most of the books I had borrowed from friends (years earlier), and I donated my old uni textbooks to the alumni bookshop. Some first year will one day thank their lucky stars for my “generosity”.
This might sound a little bit radical to book lovers. I studied an English lit degree, and I love books as much as the next man. But let’s be honest. Rather than hoarding a collection in the name of preservation, isn’t the best way to preserve their value to share that value with others? In the past, it was so much easier just to leave them on the shelf and let them keep gathering dust. Like many things in life, being complacent is easier than actually doing something.
Why bother with all of this? Because I don’t want my possessions to be what defines me. I want my relationship with God, my character, and my actions to be what define me. I want to enjoy the things that I own without having them become too important. And I am starting to think seriously about what Jesus said in Matthew 6, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy… but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
This won’t be an issue for everyone, but for me, being willing to part with these books means that they are no longer too important to me. And now, after a few weeks of minimising, I’m amazed now that I miss nothing. I feel calmer, happier, and more focussed on the things that really do matter to me.
Have you had a similar experience parting with some of your stuff?
Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info and here for more posts.