I gave Away Most of My Books and Now I Read More than Ever

IMG_0430I have relocated every year for the past 4 years. And once a year, for the past 4 years, I have packed all my books into boxes, and dragged, tugged, and heaved them along with me.  Classics, modern novels, textbooks, self help books, reference books, cookbooks, biographies, political books, relationship books and more- all of them have been packed, unpacked, and repacked four times!  I kept some books because I wanted to read them or thought I might need to read them someday, I kept some because I thought I should read them someday,  and I kept some because I had already read them, and used to love them.   Curiously, the one thing I rarely did is actually read any of my books! Can anyone relate to this?!

When I got married, my husband’s books were added to the mix as well, but thankfully he has a fraction of the books I own. All combined, we owned enough books to fill two tacky “Room Essentials” bookshelves from Target with a few extra  books shoved in random places around the house.

This past move, I decided I was sick and tired of moving all those books! They had become a drag, literally and metaphorically. Each time I thought I might like to read a book, I would get overwhelmed by looking at all the options, or feel a sense of obligation to read books I wasn’t interested in anymore.   I felt like I should read the books I had, before buying or borrowing any new books. Silly, I know, but that’s the way my brain worked.

I had gone through our books before and thinned them out, but this time I was ruthless. I don’t remember using any “criteria” to determine which books to keep and which to get rid of, but generally, if a book could easily be found at the library, it was donated. If a book had been sitting on my shelf for the past 5 years without me actually reading it, I got rid of it. If I wasn’t interested in the topic anymore, I got rid of it. I realized that there’s no reason to keep books that don’t fit into my interests or life stage.

All told, my husband and I donated over half of our books to the Good Will, which also allowed us to get rid of one of our bookcases. I expected to enjoy the extra space we gained by getting rid of the books, but I didn’t expect that I would start reading so much more as well!

Letting go of all those books freed me to start pursuing current interests by reading new books. If I hear of a book I want to read, I look for it at the library, or in our library’s e-book collection.  I’ve also bought some e-books on amazon and some hard copies from thrift stores. The wonderful thing about borrowing books from the library, is that you have a reason to start reading because you have “deadline” for finishing the book.  Also, if you start reading something and then realize you don’t like it, it’s not a big deal to stop reading it. I also keep a journal with a running list of all the books I’ve read since 2000. So if I really want to re-read a book, I can always look it up on my list and borrow it from the library, rather than owning it.

So how did getting rid of all those books impact my reading level? Well, last year, I read 7 books. (Pathetic, I know!) This year, I’ve read 12 books, and it’s only April! If I keep up the pace, I’ll have read 36 books by the end of the year, that’s 5 times more books than I read last year!

One thing I have learned from this experiment, is that books don’t have to stay in your life forever in order for you to enjoy them or get value from them. You don’t even have to read a book all the way through to get something out of it. Read it, take what you want, and then let it go. If you really need that book again in the future, it will come back to you. The true value of a book comes from what you take from it, not from what you put back on the shelf.

What about you? Do you have shelves full of books that aren’t being read? Are you in a reading rut? Maybe it’s time to let your books have a chance to inspire others, and make room in your life for new books!

Simplifying Part 3: Mental Clutter

 

There’s physical clutter and then there’s mental clutter. Henry David Thoreau, in his essay, “Life without Principle,” wrote, “I believe that the mind can be permanently profaned by the habit of attending to trivial things, so that all our thoughts shall be tinged with triviality.”  “We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenious children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention.”

If Thoreau thought it was bad back in the days of telegraphs and newspapers, I can only imagine what he would think now. I doubt, if even he, would be able to tear himself away from society and live in the woods for 2 years if he was connected to the internet like we are. He probably would never have made it to Walden Pond.

Every day we are bombarded with ads, memes, sarcastic quips, angry tirades, “good” ideas, must haves, inflammatory statements, gossip, and general ridiculousness.  We zone out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, TV shows, the “news,” mind-numbing games, etc. At least with newspapers, the amount of information was finite. In contrast, the internet has allowed us to fill our minds with an infinite stream of information. It’s an amazing tool, but like most tools, also quite  dangerous if used improperly.

Another great quote from Thoreau, “It is so hard to forget, what is worth than useless to remember.”

It’s truly frightening and depressing how much of our most valuable assets, time and energy, get sucked up by shifting through useless information, or absorbed with mindless entertainment and trivial news stories.  Social media especially has turned us all into one big virtual gossiping, squabbling, narcissist family. Hooray!

I’m not going to lie, I find clearing out “mental clutter” and filtering the inputs to my brain, much more difficult than getting rid of stuff.  The steady stream of information is addicting and soothing, and most days I just can’t say “no.”  Just as much as anybody else, I need to go on an information diet.

Is it really so bad though to “live” on the internet?  Aren’t we going on there, because we are tired and we just want to relax?  Maybe so, but I don’t want to look back on my life and realize that I spent most of my free time sitting in front of a screen.  Think about your fondest memories. Did any of them involve sitting by yourself in front of the TV or internet? What feeds your soul?  What dreams or passions have you given up on? Are there healthy habits you are trying to start, but just can’t seem to stick with?  When is the last time you had time to self reflect and think deeply about something?

We have a limited number of hours we can truly call our own. Most of our time is spent sleeping, at work, or taking care of necessary tasks like cooking, cleaning and eating. The few hours left is all we have to truly decide what to do with. But that’s the issue, we aren’t consciously deciding to what to do with our time and our mental energy. We just let it slip away slowly, one Youtube video, TV show, or social media feed at a time.

I’m not saying we should all disconnect from the Internet, or never allow ourselves to zone out in front of the TV, but I think we all need some boundaries, and some criteria to evaluate the mental clutter confronting us every day.

Every time we say “yes” to mindless information consumption, we are saying “no” to something else. You wouldn’t believe how many times I sat down to work on this blog, and got, allowed myself to get distracted by something else on the internet. Just the other night, I told myself I would go for a walk right away when I got home. Instead, I went on Facebook for “just a couple minutes,” and ended up sitting there until after it got dark out. So much for my walk!

I know that if I don’t consciously say “NO” or “NOT RIGHT NOW” to the internet/social media/TV, then I will be saying “NO” to working on my goals, forming healthy habits, and spending quality time by myself or with others.

Some ways to create boundaries that I have been trying are listed below.

  • Avoid social media and email before 12pm.
  •  Keep the TV off until after 8pm.
  • Delete Facebook from phone.
  • Don’t go on the computer at night until all 10,000 steps are done for the day.

Have you tried setting boundaries on the internet/TV? What works for  you? What would you do if you had more time and energy to work with?

 

 

Simplifying Part 2: Keeping stuff out

Every time I move, it seems there is suddenly a long list of upgrades and additional items that I find myself needing, wanting.  Another lamp, more storage shelves, a mirror, a set of mixing bowls… etc.  We could actually use a few things, but none of them are urgent needs. Despite that fact, the need to buy them seems urgent. There is a thought in my head that says,” If we just have THAT, then we will have everything we need.”

This time, I wrote down every item that popped into my head as a “need” and made a running list entitled “wants.” Every time I have an impulse to buy something, I write it down on the list.

After keeping the list for a few weeks, and reviewing it on a regular basis, something strange happened. Over time, most of the things I thought I needed, actually seemed optional.

Writing down everything I wanted to buy on a physical list, created space for me to think clearly about those items.  A list took away the urgency to buy, and gave my brain time to think critically about each buying decision. It also helped me put all those small items into context of my bigger financial picture. Each purchase wouldn’t have had a huge impact on my finances, but if I bought all of them, it would impact my ability to save for larger financial goals.

It’s time to start questioning our “needs.” We need air, water, food, shelter, medical care, and relationships. We don’t need decorative pillows, side tables and stoneware pots and pans. There’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, but we don’t need them.

Every day we are bombarded with advertisements trying to convince us that we NEED their products. All the coupons, special offers, and “ending soon” sales have one purpose: to create a sense of urgency to buy their products. They want you to make a decision based on the fear of missing out.  Trust me, they are not trying to help you save money out of the goodness of their hearts. They are trying to convince us we need their products so that we will buy them on autopilot.

Now, that being said, there’s nothing wrong with buying something just because you want it. So why not just buy everything you want? Well, think about your future self. Would your future self rather have more stuff or a positive bank balance? If you’re like me and most millennials, you are saddled with student loan debt, and probably thinking about starting a family, traveling or working on your retirement savings. Those are four reasons why I would rather save my money than spend it on items I don’t really need.

What’s on your “to buy” list? Do you really need it? Do you really want it? What are your long term goals and dreams.  Can saying “no” now, help you say “yes” later?

 

 

 

Simplifying Part 1: Kicking Stuff Out

My husband and I just relocated to a city an hour west of Baltimore. This is the fourth consecutive year that I have changed living situations! Each time I move I try to get rid of excess stuff. Stacks of school papers and old books to the recycling bin, clothes, jewelry, furniture, kitchen wares, knick knacks and home decorations, even unopened toiletries and make up- all donated or sent to the trash.

Here is the conundrum though. No matter how much stuff I get rid off, there’s still so much stuff left!

This time, my husband and I were ruthless about getting rid of stuff. Right before we moved, we loaded up a truck full of furniture, clothes and other household items and drove it over to Good Will.  Since then, we have taken two more loads of clothes, furniture, books and other items over to Good Will. Lucky for us the GW is 5 minutes away from our apartment!

Pictures of the stuff we got rid of after the move- clothes, books, furniture and household items. We got rid of even more stuff before the move, but I don’t have pictures of it. This is about half of what we actually got rid of.

 

Have you ever held onto something because you felt like you might be losing a little bit of your identity if you gave it away? Maybe a dress that you don’t really feel comfortable wearing anymore, or a book that you used to love but are never going to read again? Have you ever felt like you had to keep something forever because of the person who gave it to you, even though you didn’t really like it? Have you ever held onto something “just in case” you might need it?

Packing and unpacking the same items over and over again has forced me to question the value of holding on to each book, piece of clothing, gadget, “keepsake” etc. What is the point of dragging anything around if it doesn’t add value to your life? If you’re not using or enjoying something, why keep it?

I’ve found that the more I let go and get rid of stuff, the more I enjoy the things I decide to keep. I got rid of three quarters of my jewelry and about half my clothes. I truly enjoy and am grateful for the clothing and jewelry I kept.

We used to have two bookshelves full of books. Now we have one bookshelf that is 2/3 full. The crazy thing is that, since we got rid of most of our books, I find myself actually reading more!

This time around, I decided to leave a bunch of unessential boxes unpacked in our second bedroom. This past weekend, my husband and I went through the room together.  Rather than dispersing the items throughout the rest of the apartment, we recycled or donated most of them.

Our second bedroom in the new apartment before the clean out….

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And After the clean out…

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I can honestly say, I don’t miss any of the stuff we gave away. Instead, I feel more grateful for what I have.

To be continued…