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Ask MeFi on sane solutions for book clutter

Advice for clearing literary clutter | Ask MetaFilter

There's a thread on Ask Metafilter about book-centric clutter that's getting lots of good comments right now. It started when matildaben asked for "practical and creative systems for reducing the number of books I own," saying:

The vast majority of my possessions by weight and volume consists of books. I would like to develop a system for getting rid of them that will have a very practical, behavioral, methodical approach to the emotions that compel me to keep them...

The solutions people offer are thoughtful and suggest that many of the better ideas are coming from fellow bibliophiles who've struggled with The Book Problem.

Like several folks in the thread, I think this comment from occhiblu gets to the heart of what makes clutter such an emotionally complex problem:


On kind of a meta note: To some extent, I think de-cluttering involves recognizing that regret is part of life, and being OK with that. Yes, I've given away books that I now often wish I still owned. But I've also screwed up relationships, made iffy career choices, etc. -- you suck it up and move on. If you try to cling to every single thing (material, spiritual, or emotional) that you might need one day in the totally hypothetical future, you're going to end up bogged down in a lot of stuff.

Yep, that pretty much nails the problem and the cause for me.

Recap: Merlin's "War on Clutter"

As it happens, I'm about to begin the next phase of My War on Clutter. If you're in the same boat, here's links to my articles from that series.

perfectionist's picture

Applying GTD

Surely the problem isn't the books, rather the psychic RAM that they take up?

I carry a lot of books around, and I move home about every year, and every 3-4 years I move country. So I've paid again and again for these books. And I've spent many an hour pondering why I have so many, and what I could do to lessen the weight I carry, and I've come to some conclusions.

First, books can have an emotional significance, as can movies and music. Hence we're attached to them, and can't get rid of them without de-valuing the attached emotion. Second, a lot of my books are reference in nature, or rather I want them around for some fact or set of facts therein that I feel I might want in the future. Fair enough. Third, books generally take a lot more time to process than films or music, and it is a solitary affair. Sharing a reading room with a partner just doesn't work. Their sighs, gasps and laughter interrupt, and we want to elicit their attention with our emotive ejaculations.

So what to do? Well, I figured that a lot of reference books are defunct now. They are almost immediately out-of-date when they roll off the printing press, and querying a search engine is so much easier, and pervasive now, what with data phones. So out they go, unless there is some valid useful reason to keep them. Seriously, if you're still holding onto that computer book because you spent your hard earned cash on it, well, when's the last time you turned to it? So my advice is to dump all your reference books, unless you use them on a regular basis.

Then there's the question of the books which are not simply reference books, but which have hidden actions and projects embedded within them. We tell ourselves that we'll read the book again, and next time make the summary, extract the wisdom, or capture the action. But no, it never happens. Ever hungry for fresh food, our brains march ever onwards devouring new words and trampling our intentions.

So have a look through your books. How many of them have you said that you'll read again, that you'll summarise, etc. That is the real clutter. I get this feeling sometimes when I look at my filing cabinet, because I know I've just filed some things there without stripping them of their actions.

If you think hard about it, you'll probably come to the same conclusion that I have, which is that we've led sloppy lives, committing ourselves to hundreds of projects and actions which we've never completed. That's the source of our angst. Time to go through your wardrobe and look at the clothes with actions embedded in them, or the shoes that you never wear because they were bought for some specific purpose which you never engaged.

And then you'll have to sit down and re-evaluate your thoughts about those actions and projects that you mentally conjured up but which fell out of your system.

The stuff you have is not clutter. The bed isn't clutter. The TV isn't clutter. The hi-fi isn't clutter. They take up space, but they don't take up psychic RAM because they fulfil their purpose.

Dave Allen is a genius, and that angst you feel is due to the creeping inbox syndrome.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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