Why I Stopped Collecting Books

Is your giant book collection getting in the way of you actually reading?

As long as I’ve been alive, my parents have always owned thousands of books. Room after room of their home contains bookshelves filled to the brim.

My grandparents’ homes were the same way. Books overflowed from shelves and even ended up stacked along the floor.

Growing up, I never questioned why they collected so many books. My family was full of voracious readers, so having a large book collection made complete sense to me.

By the time I reached high school, my own giant stockpile of books had already begun to grow.

I spent nearly as much time in used bookstores as I did actually reading the books. I’d buy up anything that looked remotely interesting, and add it to a collection that had already filled several full-size bookshelves.

Paring Down My Collection

It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I started to see the downside of having so many books.

I moved around the country a lot in my early twenties, and it was very difficult to bring the books with me. Many of them ended up staying in my childhood room at my parents’ house.

I’d swap out books when I visited them, but most of the books ended up doing nothing more than decorating the shelves of an otherwise empty room.

In addition to being a pain to transport as I moved from apartment to apartment, I also realized that I was holding onto most of the books for no practical reason.

The vast majority of my books fell into two categories: books I had read, and would probably never reread; and books that I had owned for years without reading.

I was holding onto the books I’d read simply because I liked them, without really thinking about what further purpose they served.

As for the books I hadn’t read, I always told myself I’d get around to them, but the truth was that after years of putting it off, I probably wouldn’t. I’d buy books for cheap at used bookstores because they looked marginally interesting, but when push came to shove, they weren’t interesting enough for me to invest the time in reading.

After finally accepting how impractical my collection had become, I sold nearly all of them off to local used bookstores, donating the ones that the stores weren’t interested in.

I ended up only holding onto about one hundred or so books; mostly reference materials that I actually used.

Owning Fewer Books Helped Me Read More

Now that I’ve given up most of my collection, I will never go back to hoarding books.

One of the reasons that I had gathered so many books in the first place is that I thought it would help encourage me to read more often.

My reasoning was that if I had plenty of books on hand to choose from, I’d be more likely to find something I was in the mood to read.

The truth is that having such a large collection actually had the opposite effect.

I’d end up feeling like I had to read something that I had at home. Since I had so many books it felt silly to just go to the library or buy a new-release.

But, the books I had at home were all ones I’d already read or had lost interest in. So, I’d be less likely to read at all.

Now that I don’t have many books at home, I go to the library almost every week. I have more books to choose from than ever before. (And with an inter-library loan, I can get pretty much any book ever published.)

Having such a huge selection has made me start reading more than ever. Instead of feeling pressure to work through my collection, I can just choose whatever I’m in the mood for. If I change my mind, I can stop reading guilt-free and change it out with something else.

Having a big book collection make work for some readers, but it was just holding me back. The best thing I ever did for my reading habit was to give my books up and become a regular at the library.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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