The other day I happened upon a New York Times op-ed in which writer Laura Miller talks about culling books. When I read it, I simultaneously thought: “How wonderful!” and “How horrible!”

Now you have to understand, I am a compulsive cleaner. I constantly pick up after Andy, who is too concerned with efficiency to bother with things like aiming at the laundry basket or scraping food off plates before putting them in the dishwasher. But me? I fantasize about throwing things away. I revel in dropping off bags at Goodwill, or cleaning out a box by dumping its contents in a trash can and then folding IT up and dropping it in the recycle bin. I burn with desire to get rid of about 75% of the things in my parents’ home — half of which is junk I accumulated growing up, the other half is stuff my dad can’t bear to let go of even though he hasn’t even SEEN it in two years or more. You know, “just in case” he needs it someday.

(He was born towards the end of the Great Depression, so maybe he has some excuse…)

Anyway, being “streamlined” and tidy is a compulsion for me. But it does NOT apply to books.

I love books. The feel, the smell, the pages that turn, and have words on them, and form stories! How could I throw them away? We even have doubles of a few titles on our bookshelf, since we took a couple of the same courses (with the awesome Scott Sandage).

So, since I am too weak-willed and nostalgic when it comes to literature, I must resign myself to the fact that I will probably always have some form of “junk” in my house. I can weed out old clothes that don’t fit, recycle papers I don’t need, even delete music files that I never listen to, but books… books are just too hard to part with.

What do your shelves and drawers look like? Are you a pack rat, or a purger? How do you decide what to keep and what to toss?

16 responses to “To pack or to purge, that is the question”

  1. kasie Avatar

    Hey, just read your paragraph over at Nathan Bransford’s and wanted to tell you I really liked it. I was intrigued. :)

    I am a purger, so much so that a year or less after I have thrown something away, I will think, ‘I wish I didn’t throw such and such away, I could really use it.’ I’m the same with my writing, sometimes I cut too much and I think, ‘hmm, people probably needed to know that.’ I hate spoon feeding readers though, so I’m always of the philosophy that ‘less is more’ or ‘show don’t tell.’ Oh well, I’m sure I’ll find the balance someday at home and in writing. :)

    — kasie’s last blog post: In My Dreams

  2. Kristan Avatar


    Ooo, applying it to writing. I hadn’t thought about this issue like that, at least not in this post…

    I’m NOT really a purger in my writing, but I’m working on it. As Stephen King said, “Kill your darlings.” (Or something like that.) And as editor Chuck Adams said, he wants a story, not a bon bon. :P

    Btw, my friend Erin is a fantasy writer too! (I saw that you were on your blog.)

  3. kasie Avatar

    I apply everything to writing, it’s an unhealthy habit. :) lol. I just noticed in your bio that you are half Taiwanese. My husband lived in Taiwan for two years. We are going to go back and visit next year, I’m excited.

    — kasie’s last blog post: In My Dreams

  4. Kristan Avatar

    Ooo, take me with you! I miss it. I might fit in a (large) suitcase!

  5. Angela Avatar

    You sound (scarily) a LOT like me, and Andy’s habits seem to mirror Adam’s. As for books, I likewise cannot bear to let them go. My current method is to keep (forever!) the ones that I cherish. The ones that are so-so, I either trade or just mail to friends. Hopefully the book will find a new home and a reader who appreciates it more than I do.

  6. Kristan Avatar

    Hehe, opposites attract, eh?

    I’ve only given one of my own books to a friend (a graduation present) and you know what, that felt really great! Maybe you’re right, maybe that’s how I should clean my shelves up a bit.

  7. Mary Avatar

    I hate getting rid of books, too. What really did wonders for pruning my book collection was moving halfway across the country. I had to figure out first, what books can I not live without. I didn’t have room to take all that many with me initially, so I had to really pick and choose.

    Then I had to figure out which books were worth shipping. Then which books were worth hanging onto until I could bring them with me in a suitcase or something. Which left a big stack of books that weren’t worth all that much to me at all.

    I told my parents that they should sell them to Half Price Books, but I don’t think they’ve gotten around to it yet. They’re probably still sitting in my bedroom at home, actually. :) But I have relinquished ownership, and it feels pretty nice.

  8. Angie Avatar

    Seeing as I sort of have two places of residence and that I have a freaking paper and bag collection (say what?!), I think that qualifies me as a notorious packer. All that clothes I send your way, still doesn’t make a big enough dent!

    Actually I’m trying to be a purger over winter break. Like Mary, I’m going to move so I’m reminded that a lot of my stuff may not have a place at home…I can’t get rid my books though. They’re like gold, and I guess I’m more selective in what I purchase. As for textbooks, I sell back a few that I don’t find useful but (as my dad told me) they’re useful.

    — Angie’s last blog post: For the elite or the masses?

  9. Kristan Avatar

    Yeah, I feel like moving is always a really good excuse to cull. But since I probably won’t be doing that for years… :P

    And yeah, my parents never get rid of the stuff I tell them to! So I usually make GoodWill trips on my visits home. (Granted sometimes my mom brings in my old clothes or toys for the kids and grandkids of her employees.)

    Ooo, Mall of Angie! Best Xmas shop ever. ;)

  10. Erin Avatar

    I can’t bear to throw away books, but I also can’t stand moldering old books. I love crisp pages or at least crisp bindings. I can’t actually read dog-eared paperbacks from the library; I simply return them unread because I can’t read them. Weird, I know. I also need books to be consistent across series: if I buy one in paperback, I must buy them all in paperback.

    Regarding other types of packing/purging, I can be rather merciless about throwing things away because I grew up in a house where my parents keep everything. (It’s almost impossible to walk in some rooms because of all the hand-me-down furniture from deceased relatives everywhere.) My mom attributes nostalgia to things that really shouldn’t be thought of nostalgically, or at least need not be thought that way. I don’t like keeping all of the relics of lives past, just one or two (small) mementos. My mother keeps everything. A lot of it she can’t bear to give away to GoodWill, either, thinking one day she’ll successfully learn how to use eBay and make some money from it. I’m of the opinion, at this point, that the time and effort to do that (to even bother to find out an old item’s worth, sometimes) is probably not worth the effort of selling it. Just donate it. But then again, I’m pretty merciless. o.O

  11. Steve Axelrod Avatar

    Totally unrelated …
    But thanks! And did vote? Every vote counts (Ask Al Franken)


    — Steve Axelrod’s last blog post: Campaign ’08:The Unspoken Issue

  12. Kristan Avatar

    Yeah, my mom talks about selling old stuff instead of just donating it too — too much Antique Roadshow, honestly — but I agree, it’s not worth the time and effort in most cases. That’s something I’ve really been working at, actually: truly understanding and upholding the value of my TIME.

    Yes I did.

  13. Rebecca Avatar

    I’m generally a purger but married to an incorrigable pack rat. *sigh* yes, life can be simultaneously interesting with him and also very frustrating. But I’m with you on the books. Both hubbie and I are readers and crazy, wild people that we are, our idea of a perfect day is lunch, a good movie, and finish the day off at the bookstore. So, needless to say, our house is brimming with books on shelves, tabletops, end tables, hutch, every nook and cranny used. We spend loads on good books and take care of them well – as only another lover of books can understand. So, these, yeah, they don’t purged.

    — Rebecca’s last blog post: The Prince of Darkness or How I’ve Spent The Last Three Months

  14. Kristan Avatar

    Haha, sounds like a pretty good day to me too!

  15. Kristan Avatar

    Haha, yeah, I thought about putting a disclaimer on this post: “Aisha need not read. She’s the most minimalist person I know!”

    Yeah, I’m still nostalgic for stuff, but a lot of times I’ll even ask myself, “Will a picture of this suffice instead of the real thing?” Because pictures only take up virtual space!

    Sadly I don’t appear to be rubbing off on Andy…

  16. Aisha Avatar

    Haha your mom and Antiques Roadshow, so true… it probably didn’t help that I mentioned to her how I made quite a bit of money off of ebay these past few months.

    You know that I am a purger… I knew you way back in your hoarder days ;)

    Video games, books, and a few childhood things are hard to part with, but I’d like to think I’ll pass them down to my child if and when I have one.
    Claudio is a hoarder but I’m trying to rub off on him as best as I can (it’s working a little!)