Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Cleaning Tips from Maggie -- Books

Half of "Spring Cleaning" is getting old junk and trash thrown away or recycled, donating those "gently used" items to charitable organizations, and giving the house a good, detailed, all-around scrubbing -- more detailed than the weekly sweeping, vacuuming, dusting and mopping.

For example, at our house, dusting is my Number One Most Hated Chore Ever!  I vacuum weekly, sweep the kitchen and traffic areas almost every day, and mop every week.  But I hardly ever dust because I hate it.  This also applies to cleaning woodwork and baseboards, and shining windows.

Now, two things I have learned about dusting are:

The less stuff you have to dust, the less of a pain in the butt it is.

And also:

If you can think of a way to keep dust OFF your stuff, the less often you have to dust it.

I didn't come to these amazing realizations overnight.  And one of these realizations is that while both my cousin Julia and I don't have much in the way of knick-knacks (almost nothing, really), we both have a lot of books to dust off.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I did a major attack on our bookshelves after Julia and I were talking about our hoarding relatives.  My husband and I read a lot, like Julia and her husband, and she said that she had her "AHA!" moment when she asked her husband, "why do we keep so many books?  Just to prove that we can read?"  Their house is really tidy, even though they have several pets, but they have a lot more books than the average person.  All on shelves, but a lot of books -- it's one thing we have in common.

It made me laugh, but I understand.  Our grandparents, who were not hoarders, taught us to prize books, and take good care of them.  Books were much harder to come by when our grandparents were young, and better made than most books today, so most people took good care of them.  We've inherited some of their old books.  I have Grandma's copies of T.S. Eliot and Jack London's work, among others.  These antique classics make me happy to see on my shelves.  Julia has some of Grandma's old books, too.

But why do we save last year's paperback best-sellers that we bought to read on the beach or on our lunch breaks at work?  That makes no sense at all.  And why do we have yellowed, dog-eared copies of paperback books we read in college?

Although we both keep our books neatly shelved, and only have about five or six average-sized bookcases in each of our homes (not that much, really), we both realized that our bookcases were pretty much packed full, so we set out on a mission a few years ago.

Every spring, we clear our bookshelves of pop fiction and other "light reading."  You know, the books you'll read once, but probably never again.  We also take a long, hard look at old favorites, and at books many people have duplicates of -- for example, I am a Stephen King fan, and I married a Stephen King fan,  so we had a lot of duplicates.  And then family members who know we love Stephen King gave us even more, for birthdays and holidays.  So we had even more duplicates.  And we aren't even hoarders.  So every spring, part of spring cleaning goes to book organizing, looking for duplicates and keeping to our commitment to keep only one copy of each -- preferably the hardback, or if it's a choice between paperbacks, we keep the one that's in best condition.  We also take a hard look at the ones we probably won't ever read again.  For example, we thought "Cell" was not one of Stephen King's better offerings, and neither of us plan to re-read it ever again.  So out it went.

Julia is a Tolkien fan and last year she realized she had duplicate, ancient, tattered copies of various Tolkien books, so when her Mom asked what she wanted for Christmas, she asked for a hardbound set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  She threw out her falling-apart paperbacks.  Now she has one, good-quality, boxed hardback set that looks nice on the bookshelf.  And yes, she does re-read them now and then.  She's a science fiction fan in general, and she ends up with duplicate copies for the same reasons we do.

Anyway, we put our heads together, and we do this one weeekend every spring:

We empty all the bookshelves in our houses, dust, wipe down and polish the shelves, and dust off the books.  Before we re-shelve the books, we make piles by author or by type -- my husband and I reshelve most of ours in alphabetical order by author, she does hers by general category (science fiction, history, etc.)

And here is what we ask ourselves:

1.  "Last year I re-shelved this book because I thought I might read it again, or my husband might read it.  I didn't.  Neither did he."   Keep or discard?

If it's a classic, we keep it.  If not, out it goes.

2.  "Somebody gave us this, but neither of us read it and we aren't likely to read it."   This is often something like a cookbook or travel book.  Both Julia and I have very few cookbooks.  We both know how to cook very well.  The cookbooks we keep are for cooking styles we don't do very often at home, like Middle Eastern or Asian.  And Julia has a couple of historical cookbooks, really more of a history of local cooking.  That's all.  But for some reason, lots people love to give cookbooks -- I guess they make good, all-purpose gifts .  For us, these are easy decisions.  Keep what few we will actually use, and discard the rest.

 3.  Coffee table books -- also, usually gifts.  Really,  you leaf through it once or twice ..."Streets of San Francisco," or "Castles of Europe."  Okay, nice book.  But do you really need it?

Why not donate them to  a senior citizen's center or a nursing home, so people who can't travel anymore can enjoy them?

4.  Mulitple books about general things you're interested in.  Does my husband, who is into the paranormal, really need every single book ever written about ghosts?  Out of this pile of 30 ghost-hunting books, how many of them are good references and how many are just re-hashing old legends that are better documented in another book?  How many offered no new information, were poorly written, or just plain sucked?  Likewise with the horror novels -- "honey, you remember you said this book was awful?"  Out with it!

5.  Worn-out copies or multiple copies of classics.  Can't these be replaced with single-volume, hardback anthologies?  We did this with our big stack of worn-out Shakespeare books from various college classes.  Of course you should have Shakespeare in the house, but instead of a box full of individual paperback plays and sonnets, with yellow-highlighted parts and notes you scrawled in the margins in 1977, how about just one big, thick Shakespeare anthology instead?   Really, when we pulled out all of our Shakespeare paperback books, we had 37 little paperbacks from my college English classes and from his (more, because he majored in English).


Out they went.  I gave him a Shakespeare anthology for his birthday.

We set a goal to get rid of at least 15-20% of books every time we clean out.  Last year, when we downsized enough to have a whole empty bookcase -- YAY! --  we bought an IKEA bookcase with glass doors to replace our oldest, most worn-out bookshelf, and we put out best books in the new one.  With the glass doors, the books don't get dusty.  We've decided that we will do this every years until we only own three bookcases with glass doors, and then the rule will be that we can't have any more books than will fit in those bookshelves.

In the meantime, both Julia and I got our husbands an e-book for Christmas.  Both of us got the Nook from Barnes and Noble, mainly because it allows you to download books from your public library.  So now we will only but hard copies of books that have real meaning to us -- no more money spent on books that are just entertainment or light reading!

All of the books we discard are donated to charity if they are in fairly good shape.  If they are too worn out, we recycle them.

P.S. - My husband just reminded me that we recycle the old phone book the very minute the new one lands on our doorstep in the fall.  Not a "regular" sort of book, but a big one anyway!

Next time:  what we do with DVD's, records, tapes and movies.

Have a great spring, whatever you celebrate!



  1. Amen! I'm a librarian and I think I may be the only librarian on the planet who enjoys "weeding" a collection. Books are like anything else, if you get too many you can't find the important ones when you want them. Love your blog, glad to have found it!

  2. Replace all media with a handheld computer.

    Vertical storage is claustrophobic and cluttering. Store items in covered baskets beneath furniture.

    Bureaus, closets, shelving and cupboards may not be needed.

    Excessive tables may not be needed. Rather than a table lamp, try a floor lamp.

  3. Cancel your phone book and go to online for phone numbers.

  4. Tax payers could save a lot of money if libraries were no longer needed.

  5. Wait, you can download books from your public library??? How? Would love to know as we have a serious book problem in our house.