Books… Is This Clutter?

I don’t care much for stuff, never have really. And, while I’d like to tell you that it’s because I’m all zen or I try to have less and live more… that would be a lie. The truth is I have something just this side of a phobia about stuff. It’s not all stuff actually, it’s unused stuff that makes me crazy.

For example, I’d be quite pleased to have this drum kit in my kitchen, if someone would play the damned thing.

No seriously. I would. It would thrill me. But, despite my certainty that the boy who’s been drumming since before he could walk would love, love, love to have drums when I scored them at a yard sale two summers ago, he does not, in fact, play these drums. The wife was excited about the drums too but she’s up to her eyeballs in her senior year of college (at 43!) and headed to law school after this. Nobody is drumming here, not even occasionally, and for now, at least, that makes the drums unused.

When you have a two bedroom condominium with four people and four cats, drums in the kitchen are either an indication that a well-supported passionate musician lives here… or they’re clutter.

At least that’s where the line is for me: Use it or lose it.

It’s a hard line, I know. The people I live with don’t care much for it either. So much so, in fact, that I occasionally pause to check in about it. I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I don’t have more affection for things, that I’m not more attached. Searching for shells is truly one of our most treasured vacation activities. It’s so meditative and peaceful, a sacred insight into the beauty and magic this planet has to offer. And then, we have the shells. Each visit to the ocean leaves us more and more particular about what we bring home. The loot from our last trip, only the tiniest and most perfectly unique shells, could fit in a soap dish. We were very conservative.

Still, we’ve done nothing with them and so, we have three vacations worth of shells in one of those beach buckets in our game cabinet in the kitchen (like I said, it’s a small place and we have to be creative). There are a few ideas, good ideas even, but we haven’t D.O.N.E. anything with them.

I could pull out the tiny ones and make something artsy to hang on the wall but we already have art on the walls, and some tucked away in the closet that doesn’t fit on the walls. Plus, there’s the fact that I’ve been in a Goodwill or two in my day and I can’t seem to forget that there is always at least one of those it-was-a great-idea-but-then-a-couple-of-the-shells-fell-off-and-so-we-donated-it-to-Goodwill souvenirs from some other family’s beach vacation.

Sure, I could pull them out and put some in a bowl to display. For some people, that might just be the perfect visual reminder to take them back to the heavenly time spent at the beach, to help them reconnect to that blissed out, I’m at one with the earth feeling. Perfect.

That’s called anchoring and when used well, it’s a powerful tool that can help us pull the way we felt in a powerful moment forward into our everyday lives. Please note the “when used well” part of that last statement on anchoring. Everything in our space is anchored in our bodies and our minds. Everything. Look around you. Do you want all of that anchored for you?

So, the bowl of perfect shells would be anchoring something for me. And, I know me well enough to know that a bowl of shells will soon be a bowl of dusty shells and that is NOT going to remind me of the Zen Christy who sat on the beach a year ago. It will anchor, literally every single time I see it or think about it, that I need to dust.

Now, if the only thing sitting about in my house was this bowl of shells and say two or three other inspirational anchors, I would get the intended message. I also would have time to stop once a week and rid the shells of their dusty coating in a sink full of soapy water. Then, I could rinse them and spread them out on a clean, white, linen towel (perfectly ironed, of course) to air dry, before ceremoniously returning them to the bowl. Probably, I would even come to find that weekly ritual to be pleasurable and cathartic. It sounds lovely… but it’s not my truth.

That’s not my house, my life, or my reality… at least for now. So, no shells will be collecting dust in the bowl. Period.

Honestly, it’s a self defensive move. It’s an act of self love to resell the yard sale drum kit. It’s an act of self love to go to the beach to spend time collecting/admiring the shells. And, it’s also loving to take pictures of our treasures, to anchor the memory of that sacred time together so I can revisit them any time I want, and then return them to the ocean. That’s what we’ll be doing when we go back, returning these shells, as I’ve come to realize that they do not serve us more than the space would serve us.

Does this item serve me more than the space would serve me?

That’s the question that we must ask about every single item we own during the clutter clearing adventure that I’m hosting during the month of September. I’ve written a few articles recently about clutter and there’s been a lot of chatter about what exactly clutter is. I got this in response to Is Your Clutter Clinical?:

I have a difficult time getting rid of books, even in this new era of internet. there’s something comforting about having shelves of books…which i’ll NEVER reread nor go to for reference, despite being the rationale for holding on to them. Please help! They’re like wonderful old friends who are filled with positive memories. - Mary M.

Receiving this inquiry thrilled me. Partly because lots of people who’ve signed up for Sick of Being Stuck September! have “book issues,” and we’re going to have to deal with them. Another part wanted to address the specific challenge of self-help books and materials because people who have issues often surround themselves with the stuff they think will help them make a change (aka, the stuff people like me promise will help them make a change). If you’re not using it, it’s clutter. Yes, even if it could help. If it’s not helping, it’s clutter. Yes, even if you “should” use them. If you’re not, it’s clutter.

The biggest part was excited because she asked about the one thing that I cling to… I LOVE BOOKS. In fact, I’ve written before about my love of books and I’ve only recently made peace with releasing my death grip on books (like a month ago!).

Books are for reading. If you’re not reading them, consider letting them go. Their purpose is to entertain, inform, amuse, inspire, support, etc., and if it is not serving you more than the space the books occupy would serve you, choose the space. Open space invites refreshing, new experiences into your life. Yes, books can do the same but only if you’re reading them.

Nothing refreshing and new comes to you through a closed book but it will rush into open, welcoming spaces. Let the books go.

There is something comforting about shelves of books. Yes, there is something comforting about it. There is also something comforting about a glass of wine but if we drink it a bottle at a time, it’s a problem. If you have more books than you have room to hold, it’s a problem. And, even if you have cases and cases to store them, is this really the way we want to be comforted? Again, holding them hostage isn’t actually serving us.

Use it or lose it.

They are like old friends filled with positive memories. Maybe so, but do you have your human friends tied up in the basement because they hold all of the memories of your fine times together? If you want to remember them, write about them in your journal or take their picture, but holding them hostage is no way to show our gratitude for the good times you’ve shared.

And, let’s talk about the positive memories. You loved something, so you want to keep something to make sure you remember, and that sounds so lovely and romantic, right? It is. Until we remember that every item we own is anchoring something for us. We want to have this and keep it forever to remember but guess what else I’m hearing from you?

I’m so tired. I’m so overwhelmed. Any questions? You might be… over anchored? The only way to reduce your chaos is to release the sources of that chaos.

This is about freeing yourself from the past so you can live in this moment, and enjoying life as it is today. We are too anchored to think straight. Our homes are full of things that remind us only of how full of things our homes are. That’s it. Let it go. Release these books so they can rock someone else’s world… and I promise, you’ll be freeing yourself.

(If clutter is your thing, if you are living beyond your physical means, then say yes to the SOBS experience and thenÖ freaking DO IT.)

So, I have a few ideas about what to do with the books that no longer serve us but I need more. Where do your books go when you release them?

Image Credit: Jrim via Flickr

129 comments

Fantina F.
Fantina f6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I am trying...

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Fantina F.
Fantina f6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I am trying...

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Fantina F.
Fantina f6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I am trying...

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Michelle K.
Michelle Krogman6 years ago

Thanks

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Anne F.
Anne F6 years ago

I take books to an exchange shelf at work, to the thrift store, to a used bookstore (that gives me credit or cash for the best ones), to the Friends of the Library store.
I send gently used, well loved books with a personal note (usually not wrapped) to relatives.

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jennifer curtis
jennifer curtis6 years ago

keep out the most important and used books out to be read and re read. the other books should be put up or given to people who would use the books.

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Tiffany L.
Tiffany L6 years ago

i don't think you should part with all of them mind you just paired down to a manageable ONE bookcase full.

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Tiffany L.
Tiffany L6 years ago

ditch the books and fill the space with love :)

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ae A.
ae A.6 years ago

The whole book thing is tricky. I identify with the author's (and letter writer's) love of books. I too love their mere presence in my house - the touch, sight, and smell of all things books. I do lend and give them away (and then replenish with more buying), but I could live without nearly any piece of physical accoutrement in my home - except books. Their physical presence brings me satisfaction - each one holds a world of imagination and information. I would rather devote a room to book shelves than other furnishings. I can't think of any better use of space than for books.

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ae A.
ae A.6 years ago

Well, Diane C., not everyone's life plan works out exactly as they scripted it at age 15. Hence, some women (who love and value education) do get married, have babies, raise them, and THEN go back to finish their educational goals in their 40s. AND SO WHAT? The average lifespan is now well into the 70s, so theoretically that gives these 40-somethings 2 or 3 decades of future career and goal fulfillment (while enjoying grandchildren from the babies they had in their 20s and 30s)! Not a bad deal actually. And a heck of a lot better than having babies in your 40s after doing the career track (IMHO)!

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