Twelve years ago, I started downsizing from my 1500-square-foot house into the 84-square-foot house that I had designed and built myself. I had to make some hard choices about what I was going to keep, and what I was going to let go.
For me, books were among the hardest choices, and I chronicled just how horrible this experience was in my built-it-myself memoir, The Big Tiny. Some people have a whole room for their home “library.” I was going to have a 10-inch-long shelf in the “kitchen,” plus whatever I was reading at the moment that might live by my bed in the sleeping loft I climbed into via a ladder. I made my choices, and pared down.
Now I’m moving again. And downsizing, again – squeezing into a 56-square-foot house, a space 30% smaller than my already-small space! I’m going through the paring down process all over again, and books present a challenge once more.
How do you decide which books belong in your life when space for books is in tight supply? Whether you’re moving from a big house to a less-big-house, or from a tiny house to a tinier house, here are my tips based on twelve years of tiny house living, and the process I’m going through right now.
Why We Want to Keep Books
I love books, not only for the innate way some authors can articulate human existence, but for the way they can pinpoint a unique time in my life. Just looking at a book can remind me of when I was in love, when I was struggling with grief, or when I was infatuated with architecture, climbing, wilderness survival, or edible landscapes.
Years ago, my brother gave me Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I highlighted portions of it and scribbled in the margins. It became an annotation of what I was experiencing as a full-of-myself twenty-something-year-old, and of what I thought about as a humbled kid when I hiked and camped in the Cascade Mountains. It also became a chronicle of my puppy’s early chewing phase, as she essentially devoured the cover of it. As Sir Francis Bacon, the scientist said: “some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.”
Books That Made The “Tinier House” Cut
The books I’ve kept over the years include that chewed up copy of Walt’s work, plus the following three great reads:
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast—A graphic memoir about taking care of aging parents. I kept this one because I love the artwork, and also because I have aging parents. Roz’s work helps me see that I am not crazy when my parents drive me nuts.
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande—A surgeon’s take on why the Western world struggles with mortality. This book has been very helpful as I witness my friend’s final days, and as I deal with my own limited understanding of life, death and how we need each of these to complete our human experience.
Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe—I’ve had several friends say that the monkey in this children’s book reminds them of me. I know they’re right, and I’m still examining our similarities.
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Letting Go Can Be Giving
I’ve held onto these and a few other select books over the years, but do you want to know the real secret of how a book nerd lives in a tiny house? The local library is where I get my fix. They have great selections for fans of architecture, travel, memoir, and monkeys with tool belts.
My workplace also has a free library, where you can grab a great beach book and return it later when you’re back from vacation. That’s the best way to minimize book clutter: assume that books are moving through your life, and that it’s the memories and experiences they evoke in you that will stay with you for the long haul.
If you need to downsize your book collection, whether you’re moving into a 56-square-foot house or not, start by picking out the books that are truly sentimental, or that you can keep growing with over years to come. For the rest, take a page from Marie Kondo: thank the book for what it offered you, whether it was a novel you loved but will never return to, or a pretty shelf decoration you never opened or read. Then donate it to your local library or used bookstore, where someone else can find it and love it too.
Featured image photo credit: Tammy Strobel