How to Declutter for a Simpler Life – Part Two: Books

declutter books

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In the last post, I discussed how to declutter clothes. I shared with you how I cleaned out 75% of my clothes. I posted pictures of the before and after. And now I’m on part two – books.

I was excited and nervous to tackle this category. I felt like this would be easy and much faster than discarding and sorting clothes. And it was.

One afternoon I took all the books off the shelves and from various rooms in my apartment. It’s amazing where I keep things. I had books in my kitchen – on the counter and in the cabinets. I had books in my laundry room, in my closet, and on my nightstand. I gathered all the books I thought I had. And then I gathered more!

After I gathered them I spread them out on the living room floor, like Marie Kondo suggests. Then I took each one in hand and asked, “Does this spark joy?”. With this process, I discarded 85% of my books. I filled four extra-large reusable grocery bags. For a book lover, I found this astonishingly easy.

I’ve had most of these books for a long time. And it was time for most to go. They had served their purpose. I felt no qualms about putting each one in the sack. I knew I wouldn’t be reading them again. And I kept the ones I absolutely loved. I reduced my books to a few that I store at my bedside and a few that I store in the bookshelf beside my desk.

The day I discarded all my books I was ready to sell them, too! I hopped in my car and took them all to Half Price Books. I collected a small but welcomed amount of cash.

That was easy. Or so I thought…

I got home after selling my books and felt waves of emotion come over me. What was wrong? It had all gone so smoothly. And I knew that I was better off without the books. Yet my bookshelves were empty – and I felt sad.

I questioned my actions and started to wonder if I had made a mistake. Had I done that too quickly? What if I had sold books that I actually wanted to keep? What will I do with my bookshelves now?

I turned on some music and slowly walked to the kitchen to prepare dinner. It was too late. All I could do at that point was keep moving forward.

I sat with my actions and emotions over the weekend while I put back all of Evan’s books. But the shelves still looked empty. They didn’t feel as happy. And I didn’t feel as happy. Marie Kondo had yet to talk about this part of the process. I was grieving the loss of my books. I didn’t know what to do.

Eventually, I decided that all I could do was deal with what was in front of me – my empty bookshelves. I rearranged Evan’s books. And I ensured the remaining decorations looked good in their places.

From there, I started to contemplate the purpose of bookshelves in a minimalist’s life – in my life. I feared the potential feelings of “emptiness” and the other feelings that could follow. I didn’t know what those feelings were, but surely they would be bad. I wouldn’t know until I parted with my bookshelves – if and when I decide to do that.

Part two in the decluttering process, although at first easy, prompted deep, thought-provoking questions and reflections about myself and my space. One could say that I had found the “downside” of decluttering and minimalism. But is it a downside if it leads to expansion?

Yes – I finally had to face myself and my feelings about emptiness, space, and stuff. But my freedom expanded. If the price for freedom is prompt self-reflection and immense personal growth, then I think it’s a price worth paying.

Many questions came through – like… If I don’t have that many books, then do I even need these bookshelves? If I get rid of the bookshelves, then how will the empty space feel? Should I fill it with something? What would I fill it with?

As though that were the obvious solution. Yes – I’ll get rid of my bookshelves to then purchase something else to go in that spot. No! That is not the solution.

That is the consumer mind running rampant. That’s the inherited script of our society, “With more space comes greater responsibility to fill it with more, more, and more stuff!” That is the programmed mentality of the masses. That is consumerism at its finest.

Just because we have space doesn’t mean it’s meant to be filled. And it makes me wonder what life would be like for people if we all made it okay to have space in our homes, in our minds, and in our schedules. How much happier and healthier would we all be?

Too often we are told that if we aren’t constantly buying more stuff and filling our time with more obligations and responsibilities then somehow we are wrong. We buy into the belief that we are not enough as individuals unless we can prove that we are able to do as much or more than the next guy. We can work harder, earn more, and buy more. More, more, and more. But what about less?

What if less were the answer to all our problems? What if we no longer felt obligated to buy coffee at work every day but made conscious decisions to drink coffee at home? What if we stopped going shopping “for fun” and only bought what we actually needed?

What if we lived in smaller spaces because we had less stuff and no longer felt the urge to continually upgrade? What if we didn’t have to upgrade!? What if what we have now is enough?

What if we already have too much? What if we all started to see that our lives are overflowing with so much that we could donate 75% of our belongings and not just be happy – but happier than we’ve ever been?

My books – and the space they left behind – made me acutely aware of the role that space (or lack of it) plays in our lives. We are not a country of poverty, as so many politicians and TV ads would have you believe. We are country overstuffed with things and so devoid of meaning that we are starving for true joy and happiness. So we keep buying. Ads keep convincing us that happiness is in that next pair of shoes or iPhone. But what I’ve learned is that happiness can’t be bought.

I realize that is about as cliche as cliche can be. But for once it lands on the untouched ground within me. It sinks deep into my heart and belly. I feel the true value of these words. It’s a multidimensional truth that expands beyond simple cliches.

My clothes and books – and the remainder of this decluttering project – is showing me that I was not who I thought I was. In fact, I was the opposite. Now that I see myself for who I was and who I am today, I have flipped the script. I’ve re-written the rules and redefined what gives me value and meaning. I see now that more stuff will never fill the void. And I understand on a whole new level what it means to be a consumer and how to truly create a meaningful life.

Questions continued to come up as I moved on to part three of the decluttering project. It felt scary. And I doubted my actions and whether I should continue. But continue is what I did. And you can continue reading about my progress in the third blog post in this series. Until next time… <3

P.S. Who knew getting rid of books could be so profound? 🙂 I guess knowledge, wisdom, and insight can be found outside of the pages of a book just as much as within em’.