Minimalist takes a measure of books

Bill Clinton’s “My Life” is not *my* life: minimizing books


I’ve always had a library of some sort. When I was a kid it was a few boxes on their sides. Now it’s proper bookshelves, but full of books that I may never read again.

Seriously, I had Bill Clinton’s autobiography. A good read, but at 957 pages it hasn’t exactly been at the top of my to-read pile at any time in the nearly 15 years since I read it the first time.

Add to this that I’ve mostly switched to digital books. I probably read three or five hard copy books a year, so why do I own hundreds? At this rate, I’ll have enough to do me for several generations after my normal life expectancy.

My 900 Things project cut at least half of my accumulation, if not more. The rest were writer-specific collections that I couldn’t see getting rid of at the time. My Hunter Thompson, Bob Woodward, Jack Kerouac, or Spalding Gray collections.

It is probably not a surprise that when I started down this minimalist path five years later, those would be the first to go. Not one of those Woodward books has been opened in the past five years, and only a few of the others.

I pulled my Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy off the shelf. I thought of how the next time I read it will likely be digital, and then realizing the previous time I read it was also digital.

Putting all the Douglas Adams’ books in a stack, I picked it up and held it. Feeling the weight. Remembering all the times I’ve shifted this from shelf to shelf. House to house. Province to Province. All without ever opening them.

As for the rest of my books, can one honestly call it a library when you don’t loan anything?

At the time, I asked myself where to stop cutting? Was I going to regret in a year that I got rid of my Red Dwarf novels? Or my not-worn-out-from-reading-at-all copy of Stuff White People Like?

The truth was that I did not rebuy Red Dwarf digitally. And I forgot that Stuff White People Like was a thing I ever owned.

I am down to about one shelf of books, most of which are not available digitally at all. I still question how much risk there is to let go of this dozen-or-so. Will there be a ‘reading emergency’ down the road?

My shelves are opening up. It looks like I’m moving into (or out of) in my man cave right now. Stacks of books, and empty boxes awaiting shipping to far away lands through the magic of eBay.

The sudden switch from ‘treasured item’ to ‘what is the resale value?’ is as brief as the trip from one side of the room to the other.


Ω An earlier version of this post appeared at