Decluttering Your Books With The Box Project

Let me start with this...minimalism is about taking out the clutter in your life so you can promote the things that are important to you. One of the things that is very important to me are my books. So needless to say, this will be one of the most difficult and largest categories for me. 

Sometimes when we are faced with a difficult category we need to ask ourselves why this category so difficult for us. We need to do some introspective detective work so that we have a chance to work through our emotions while decluttering. I know this category is going to be hard, painfully hard. I am not going to lie to you and tell you that decluttering is always a walk in the park because...well it's not. You have to face a lot of emotions and for me, this category was one of my emotional roadblocks. I had been dreading this category (along with clothing) because I knew it would be hard...but then again if it was easy, well easy things often aren't worth having. Growing pains is what I call this and I know I will come out better for having faced it.

Dealing with emotional BAGGAGE 

I want to share with you my internal struggles and dialogue with this category in hopes that it can help you face your most difficult category. So there are three points that I have figured out over time. One of clues that tipped me off that something could be out of balance is the realization that I have a huge attachment to my books BUT I don't LOVE to read. I do enjoy reading but the love of books for me isn't in the act of reading, it is in my actual physical books. Think about that for a second. If minimalism is as Joshua Becker says "The intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from the..." then why am I valuing the books and not the activity...logically shouldn't it match up as in I value what I enjoy? Now don't get me wrong there are some of these books that I read every year but I don't read as much as my collection suggests that I do. This is what brought me to realize it was an emotional attachment not a promotion of thing I value. So why do I have this attachment emotionally? Why have I (or more accurately my husband) dragged these books with me all around the country? I have given up space in our moving truck to lose valuable things because I valued these books more. But why...especially if I don't love reading?

Well after much thought during decluttering the previous categories I have narrowed it down to two reasons. The first is simple but difficult for me to admit and put it out there in the world but here it is. I have memory issues. Always have. In college my roommate (lovingly of course) took a Disney roommate personality quiz with me and we were Merlin and Dory from Finding Nemo. I was Dory. For those of you that don't know, Dory can never remember things for more then about 5 seconds. It was laughingly accurate.

I have always had memory issues and I have found ways to cope with it. For example, I may not know the answer to a psychology question right off the top of my head but I can tell you that the answer is in my abnormal psychology book from college, chapter 4 on the right page in the bottom left hand corner underneath a picture. See I can remember things spatially. If I were not to have those books to refer back to that would be terrifying to me because I will never be able to find the answer. It would be as if I never learned it. My books also have notes all over them so its not just the book i'm afraid to lose its also the notes where a light bulb clicked for me.

Not all my books are text books (but a good chunk are) so what is my hang up of the other books? Well my husband helped me figure that out one day when we were unpacking from another move. I have a lot of kids books that I cherish but some of my big books (like the Harry Potter series for example) I have never opened a second time...yet I guarded it with my life? Again things were not lining up just like my love of my books without the love of reading. I said this notion out loud because at the time I was also feeling guilty for Patrick having to move everything by himself (because honestly I couldn't lift them there were so many) and Patrick quickly came back with 'its ok I know why you love these books so much.' Shocked and pleased I asked him why and he said something I will never forget, "well, these books represent your dad." Oh my goodness. I was floored. Of course he was right. All the books I kept were the ones that I can REMEMBER (remember...memory issues) my dad reading to me when I was little. Now don't get me wrong. When I write this it sounds like my dad has passed but he is alive and well. He used to travel a lot for work but when he came home he always read me nighttime stories often until his voice became horse. It was our daddy daughter time. (Now for those of you that love Harry Potter please don't kill me...) It wasn't even about the books it was about dad reading them to me. I didn't really like Harry Potter (and I don't think my dad did either...I was young and had way to much ADD for that many details) but he would read me that whenever we came home and we had a blast and joked about how you pronounced dad got it right but still its those memories that I loved. These kids books were also the only things that I had kept to pass on to my children. These books represented so much to me. The past and the future. Saying that I wish I could put all my books in a fireproof safe is an understatment for sure.

So armed with this knowledge and the experience of decluttering the other categories  I started on the hardest part for me which was books.

We often have to deal with our dream self as we are faced with parting with some of our favorite items. Do you ever buy something that seems out of character for example you buy a low top but then when it comes time to it you just cant wear it because you aren't comfortable in it showing that much skin because you never wear something like that? Well you bought that for your dream self. That is how we get into the situation where our closet is packed full of things that we wont wear. See have to be true to ourselves and let go of our dream selves. If we do that I know there is so much clutter that will leave with that dream self. Now applying this to my current predicament See this is what I imagined my values were as my dream self...

Beauty and the Beast where Beast gives her the castle library...this is what I always thought I wanted

Beauty and the Beast where Beast gives her the castle library...this is what I always thought I wanted

...but that is just not the case. Now when I look at this it is a bit overwhelming and that dream wouldn't bring me any joy. If I was being more accurate with my dreams its that all my books and the family books would be in one place in the office filling up the wall behind my desk. Instead of a castle library if I were to be more accurate I would love it to look more like this picture.


The above picture more reflects my life and priorities. This would make me very happy where the library in Beauty and the Beast just overwhelms me. That is not where my values are (unless of course they are textbooks).

My hope in sharing these emotional hang ups is that it will help you during your decluttering journey either standing up to them or just gaining better insight to yourself. You will see how this knowledge affects the order of how I declutter.

the decluttering of books

The first step is to gather all the books together and here is the picture. You might be surprised that I still call myself a minimalist but remember its not about how many things you own its about owning only the things that you love. So that is what I am going to do...only keep the books that I love. I give you my book collection. It has been driven across the country three times and moved a total of 6 times and boy are they heavy. I mean of course I find minimalism after moving all those times but oh well. At least I found it because continuing down this path of consumerism. I was on an overwhelming path. 


Thats a lot of books.

Step 2 is to pick what size box I want this to take up in my life. I easily have over 250 books. My goal is to make sure that I get all books here into those two boxes which were filled at the time of this picture. So another way to think about is it that at a minimum I want to get rid of the excess that you see outside the box (or about a fourth at the MINIMUM). The box is 18 in x 18 x 16.


So these are the books out. I want you to see how things go down as I start separating things out. With this box project since there are so many different kind of books I looked at it in a different way. Step 3 take out the ones that you actually want to get rid of. You know off the top of your head that there are some books that you just don't know why you have, how you got them, or that make you remember bad memories (Moby Dick for me). I don't know why I have them in my life and it will not pain me at all to get rid of. So do the easy stuff first and get rid of those.


See what that simple cut did and how much of a difference it makes? I just got rid of enough to fill an entire column. (or about 35 books to be exact).

Now we look at things from the other perspective. Step 4 is to line all books up and take out the ones that you would never part with in a million years. These are the books that you would be devastated if you were to ever lose them.

This is the little group that I would be devastated...not just love but the books that I would actually morn if something happened to them.


That also made a big impact and subtracted about another column.


So those steps were easy right? And look how quick that was to separate a big chunk out so you dont have to hemm and haw over when making the upcoming decisions. I mean compare these pictures side by side and look at the difference.

All book

All book

Books after taking out favorites and easy to get rid of books

Books after taking out favorites and easy to get rid of books

Ok now is when its decision time. Grab a glass of wine or bottle of water, put on some music (or for me I like putting on The Minimalist podcast, and audio book about minimalism, or the minimalism documentary for extra inspiration and a constant reminder of what my true goals are), and light the candle that makes you happy because its time to get to work. 

Step 5 is where we take everything remaining and lay the rest of the books out in order of favorite to least favorite. I have done that here.


As I look at these photos I can see as I go from right to left as we were reading I can start to see where my heart starts to fade and I would be less and less sad as I go on if those were not to make the cut. So as you step back and start to try to figure out where that tipping point is pick up each book and flip through it. Do you have good memories of it? Did you enjoy reading it? As I scan the lineup in the first picture I try to pinpoint my emotions and where they start petering off which is around the start of the 4th line. Let me remind you there are a little over five rows after that point or about 56 books after that line that I am not completely in love with.

But CAUTION! Don't be to hasty. Just because I don't have crazy emotions for them doesn't automatically mean that everything after it goes. You see that I drew that first line of where my total love stops but I really do like some of the books after it.

Now its time for step 6. You have to figure out what divider place is the place that marks that everything to follow that point you will be parting with. So start from the end of the line (the least favorites) and work you way back up towards the favorites until you feel something. Do you see the line I drew in the second picture above? Everything after the line in the second picture I will be letting go but the books between the line in the first picture and the line in the second picture is where I know some decisions will need to be made. 

So you get rid of everything after the second line you made because you are ok shedding those extra books that are no longer serving their purpose and bringing you happiness. Now its time to make decisions about those books that are in between the two lines. In this case in the example above there are 24 books I have to contemplate and put into one of three categories or more of a spectrum if you will from would like to keep, undecided, and getting rid of. 

Step 7 is where the box part of the box project comes in. Think of it like a measuring spoon except you are measuring your the ingredients of books and how much they make up in your house recipe. As you start to put your books in of course you start with those books that you would be devastated to lose then you move on to the line up that you created from favorite to least favorite (except remember you already pulled your definte least favorites out so they cant even be boxed up). 

As you continue putting books in book by book if you change your mind and want to get rid of it do it! Just because it was in your lineup doesn't mean you have to keep it. This second look is like editing your work again or proofreading it before you turn it in to the teacher. 

So you continue packing up the books until 1 you either run out of room or 2 feel that you can stop where you are in the line up (which is the more preferred option).

So this is what I am keeping. Here are the finalists and remember minimalism is a journey. I am sure that i will be visiting this again. Often we have to do a few different purges because we learn and grow. We also start to see the benefits of minimalism which starts to make purging the second round easier. 


If you look at this picture it goes from my favorite to least favorite even of the books that I love from left to right. I take this picture so that when I revisit my books in a year or so I can look back to see what I was thinking and hopefully speed up the process.

Of all these books I would like to share with you my kids book collection that I spoke of above. The kids books (which are away until I can pass them on to my children) take up about two columns of above. So I have a lot less books out then it looks like because these are packed away and the others all fit on the bookshelf.


Another thing that I want to bring up is for that awkward in the middle category of books that we were having to decide about. The breakdown is of the 24 I am only keeping 3, I got rid of nine, these 12 pictured are going into the purgatory box with the date of December 1st to either keep or get rid of because I wasn't ready to part with them yet. I have labeled them that I have to decide on them by December 1st (about three months) and if I haven't read the unread ones or really wanted to move them over then out they go. Most likely I will be getting rid of all but a couple of these books but because I haven't read them yet my tune may change if I do read them before December and if it doesn't it wasn't meant to be.

I am very pleased with this picture. These are all the books that will be leaving our house.
This is about a third of the books and my goal was to get rid of at least a fourth so that was accomplished. 


Now lets take a look at the boxes to see how I did in regards to my boxes.


I accomplished my goal of getting all books to fit in those two boxes and I have a lot of room to spare which is exciting. All of these books will fit on my bookshelf except the kid books that I am keeping packed for the time being.

I just want to leave you with this remember. Everyone is a different so we should not judge any one else on their path to minimalist. Let me give you a quick example.This picture is my book collection after being paired down and I consider myself a minimalist. The picture on the left  is of my husbands book collection and he would not call himself a minimalist. So you just do you and I guess it is true what they say. You really can't judge a book by its cover can you?

Juliauna's book collection (the minimalist)

Juliauna's book collection (the minimalist)

Pat's book collection (the nonminimalist)

Pat's book collection (the nonminimalist)