by Marti Rosenfield
How to Declutter Books
The heartbreaking process of purging books
I am not 60……yet. But within the year, I will cross into a new decade of my life, leaving my fifties, forties, etc.. behind.
I’ve gotten better. Four years ago, the date of my last huge purge, I could not stand to let any of my books go. I knew, though, I could not continue to move these volumes, and I foresaw at least a couple more moves in the next ten years or so. Of course, I could never say goodbye to first editions, rare finds, or autographed copies. Or the books I read aloud to my children, over and over, struggling to keep my eyes open ’til they fell asleep.
So last week, as I attempted to downsize yet once more to become less encumbered, I touched each bookshelf with my eyes, gazing at the hundreds of gems, each from a different time from another life, yet all memories from my past. Then, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the past few years, I physically touched each book. I held them firmly with both hands, searching the fronts, the backs, the bindings, and the paper flaps wrapped around the book, if they existed. Flipping through the pages, I found cherished annotations in a much younger, usually blue inked, loopy girl-lettered handwriting. I found various types of bookmarks, some real and so many others improvised: an envelope my grandmother used to send one of her two yearly letters from El Paso postmarked March 1972; a grade report from college showcasing my As and Bs; a roach, flattened with a burnt Zig Zag edge, some 40+ years old; and a single ply of toilet tissue, obviously when nothing else could be found to mark my spot. Other books, with no visible markers, simply displayed triangular fold-over corners indicating a special message or line of infinite wisdom could be found on that page.
These folded corners seemed to say “this page holds dear such sacred information that an ink-stained mark or bookmark would not suffice.”
My beloved books represent my search for the truth
What hallowed message spoke on each page? Why were these books still with me after all the previous purges? And, how could I finally let go of all this evidence, bound volumes, representing my search for truth; the correct versions of history; a balanced blend of social justice and injustice containing strategies for change; the ingredients of good writing; transformative, historical literature; an understanding of the “sameness” of comparative religion; a quest for spiritual purity; an all out determination to understand man’s inhumanity to man and to self; and a quest to find, define, and improve myself so to assist others along the way.
Alistair Cooke’s America survived that fateful fire in November 1976, and the charred pages and paper book flap reminded me of that night in November when I almost died. Where were all the other smoked-damaged books that survived that terror-filled night? Why was America the only reminder, with soot still on the binding, even though I cleaned it many times. Had I donated the other “smoky” books as a cleansing to forget the trauma of the fire, and if so, why did America not make the cut? More importantly, how could I let it go now after all we’ve been through together? Perhaps it lives on to remind me of a country changed, a country organic in nature, a social experiment in democracy that somehow ran amok at times over the years.
So, after agonizing for days, putting books into the “get rid of” box and then slowly returning to the box, rethinking each book, one by one, again deciding whether or not it was a keeper, I finally arrived at Half-Price Bookstore with my car filled with boxes and bags of books. In this purge, I also added in about 75 films on DVDs and several “keepsake” boxed VHS sets.
Letting go of movies and games was easier
My books, my dear familiar friends, survived all the previous purges, Yet here they were now, along with VHS tapes and DVDs I could no longer view because the VCR and DVD players quit working. And why would I ever consider repurchasing electronic plug-in devices when I’m now able to stream basically whatever I want to see through Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, or a multitude of other platforms available at a fraction of the cost of what we all used to pay to view movies at home.
Because of quickly changing technology, I understand why I should let go of all these movies and boxed sets of Seinfeld, Mad Men, The Andy Griffith Show, and I Love Lucy. I can even rationalize that I no longer need my kids’ video games, mostly sports games, due to changing platforms of gaming devices: Nintendo 64, Gamecube, X-Box, Wii, and X-Box 360. My boys, now away at college, took with them the devices and games they wished to keep, and now play mostly online with friends anyway,
So, getting rid of movies and games provided less of a challenge than saying goodbye to my books, the pages that represented eras of learning and growing and knowing. Unlike videos and e-games, old books remain holy. However, a dear friend, knowing the seriousness of my “too many books” dilemma, encouraged me to finally step into the 21st century with the purchase of an e-reader. “NO! It’s not the same. And, I have an i-pad, by the way, thank you very much.” It’s unlikely I will ever reread the books in the “get rid of” box anyway, but their mere presence on my shelves provided comfort for years. Now, they sit crammed in bags and boxes on the counter beneath the “SELL YOUR BOOKS HERE!” sign.
Throughout the store, what sounded like The Andrews Sisters covering Bowie’s “Changes” blared, so I just had to ask the name of the band.
“Oh wee! That’s off the Puppini’s Sisters new album “The High Life.” Don’t you just love it?”
PAUSE WITH ROLLED EYES
I deposited my cherished pages on the counter and onto the rolling carts next to the counter before scurrying off to look for new titles as the young man in the Where’s Waldo striped t-shirt and matching hat calculated my goods. I anticipated looting, but really?
The sad little value of cherished classics in today’s world…
“Well, so many of these titles are old and not worth anything.”
What? WHAT? Did this young clerk not know the agony of attachment and letting go of such priceless treasures? Did he not see Kerouac’s On the Road or Gail Sheehy’s original Passages? What about the classic, John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus? Rollo May’s Courage to Create?
“So, you want to bestow me with a $17.29 voucher for over 100 books, about 60 movies, and 10–12 video games? Is that what you said?”
“Well, yes. Your items aren’t worth much at all.”
Just about that time, still aghast from the pittance of his offer, I heard a young, meek voice ask, “Excuse me sir.” Oh my god. Waldo is not a sir!
“Yes, sorry to bother you, but have you ever heard of a book called Man’s Search for Meaning? Can you help me find it, please?”
Waldo, probably in his late twenties, replied,
“No. Not familiar with that title, but let me ask around.”
“No worries,” I quickly chimed in, thinking my rapid response might keep Viktor Frankl from bolting from his grave. “I have a copy here in my bags. You may have my copy.”
“But we have not yet processed that book, so she cannot purchase it tonight,” Waldo explained.
“Fine. Then I’ll give it to her. How about that?”
“Well,” Waldo argued, “you can’t do that either because that would change your offer, and I’d have to recalculate the entire bundle you brought in.”
Am I dreaming?
Dare I wake up and deal with the travesty before me, this injustice of a new age discrediting a perfectly fine portion of my cherished library?
I grab my Frankl, holding him tightly in my hand, throwing all the other books back in my bags, leaving the videos and video games on the counter. Ashamed and apologetic (but not to Waldo), I search to make sense of all this, knowing that some things demand meaning; others do not. By this time, Dylan’s mumbling overhead,
“Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown….”
As I push the bags back into my car and push the start button to begin the journey back home, a place filled with marked, sage wisdom on pages, I ponder the camps, the desperation, the death, and his optimism; then, my own situation. I flip through the pages and stop on a random page:
“It is not the physical pain which hurts the most; it is the mental agony caused by the injustice, the unreasonableness of it all.”
Thank you, Viktor. I’ll never abandon you again.
About the author
Marti Miles-Rosenfield is an experienced professional with demonstrated experience in higher education, program assessment, curriculum development, & team building. She is skilled in teaching collegiate writing, developmental writing, integrated reading/writing, and college success. Marti designs strengths-based curriculum focusing on inclusion, creativity, brain-based research, neuroplasticity, positivity, happiness, mindfulness, & social-emotional learning.
In her free time, Marti loves to write, travel, spend time with her family, and of course, read.
originally published 1/29/2019 in Medium
updated 4.18.2022 to add to 50Plus-Today.com