Purging and De-cringing a Bookshelf

To make more space in the house and regain some long lost focus, I’m working on paring down, removing clutter, and committing to moving on from old projects that have a lot of physical objects tied to them. Today I’m working on books. As I go through an overgrown bookshelf, it struck me how many collections of things I had started, all of which made more sense before digital publishing and storage and the near-limitless Web of information. Collecting and keeping books, other than those that are truly most meaningful to me for their enduring and relevant value, is no longer something I want to do. Here are some of the things I was collecting, thinking I’d want them later. Note, when I say “out,” I mean to donate, give away, or recycle:

  • Crafting magazines – The O’Reilly magazines are beautiful, well produced, and probably useful. But I don’t craft much any more, and any time I miss it I have no trouble finding a project to do without the aid of old magazines and books. Out.

  • Hardcover books on how to sketch – At one point I wanted to explore whether or not I could become someone who really draws. I wanted sketching to be one of the ways I could explore and communicate ideas. It was a noble pursuit, but it didn’t take. They’re great books, but as clay to be molded into someone who can sketch aesthetically pleasing things, I leave a lot to be desired. I may keep practicing, but I don’t need these books. Out.

  • Vintage marriage manuals – I lived in Austin, TX for a very brief slice of a summer in college. I lived dangerously close to a Half-Price Books, which was just a joy to visit in so many ways. Everything was cheap and the selection was plentiful. At one point, perhaps in part because I was involved in an epistolary relationship of quite some time, I decided it might be interesting to collect vintage marriage manuals. I even thought I might develop a project around examining how the advice changed over time. Yeah, never happened. Out.

  • Hardcover gardening books – I like to garden from time to time. But I don’t do it with enough fervor or consistency to have problems that need a book lookup to solve. Out.

  • Novels I love and/or annotated – They stay.

  • Lesser Graham Greene books that I didn’t love – Out.

  • Books I picked up while researching topics for HowStuffWorks articles – Sorry, Ilustrated History of Rifles and Shotguns. Out.

  • Sam Henderson graphic novels/comics – Please stay.

  • Outdated business books – I never liked you in the first place. Who needs two copies of Naked Conversations? Out.

  • Outdated computer programming and computer reference books – I have no lingering, nostalgic affection for you. Out.

  • Gifted books that never took – Out.

It’ll be much harder to sift through and purge the books up in my attic, as many of those are college and grad school books and/or rare and only of interest to an academic studying a particular tiny niche. Although it’s unlikely I’ll be delving into the political history of the Confucian world, 20th century cultural analysis and theory, or the architecture of Bhutan again in this lifetime, it’s still hard to get rid of books that were so tough to find and are no doubt now unavailable.


  1. I am willing to take those O’Reilly mags off your hands if you haven’t thrown them away! And I can pick them up since I live down the street.

  2. Sure thing! You’re too late to save my collection of ReadyMades, but I’ve got a few Craft and Make mags. I’ll bundle them up in some paper for you, and will email you to make arrangements. Glad for them to find a good home.

  3. That’s always an empowering exercise. Are the sketchin’ books spoken for / donated already? I’m intrigued. (Your progress is my relapse.)

  4. Did the same thing in late December, for a combination of reasons tilted heavily toward the material — upping my tally of items donated to charity for the tax write-off. I had many, many old textbooks that I’d been holding onto from undergrad, grad, and law schools, as well as several collected over the years owing to a strange interest in industrial writing or textbooks, some on uncommon topics. As well as several insurance-industry textbooks written by me or published by the trade association for which I’d worked. Except for a few truly old or interesting, the call was “out” when I found that good-condition textbooks were worth $35 per on ItsDeductible.

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