Adventures in decluttering: the poetry books

Yesterday I finally began the project of getting rid of many of my poetry books.  Perhaps I’ve procrastinated for months because I knew how painful it would be to say goodbye to them.  As with so many of these decluttering projects, it’s not about the objects themselves, but what they symbolize:  these books represent who and what I thought I would be and do.  This is why I’ve been schlepping them around for years and decades, from rental house to apartment, always believing their contents would make me a better person:  learned, a more talented poet, someone unafraid of teaching.  Someone who could stand in front of a classroom or sit in a writing workshop and disseminate the knowledge I’d obtained from those books.

A lovely dream, and not out of reach.  But I never read them.  I purchased them, painstakingly over the course of years, from hundreds of library sales, thrift shops, yard sales, used book shops.  I dabbled in some, skimmed a few, began a number of volumes and then stopped in the middle, distracted by another book, an affair, a job, an obsession – or a poem I was writing – and I never returned.  Instead I returned the books to the shelf, assuming I’d pick them up later.

Later became a month, a year, a decade.  Now I’m past half a lifetime, and I’m tired.  Sick of pulling all these books off the shelves, packing them into cardboard cartons, labeling them – “Poetry – Anthologies – Office,” being told by movers half my age, “Wow, you’re really organized!”, opening the cartons with one slice of the box cutter, putting them into alphabetical order by author, and returning them to the shelves – only to do it again two or three or six years later.

Over the course of three decades, those quarters and dollars at used book sales added up, and I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve spent on these hundreds of paperbacks and a few hardcovers.  Besides assuming I’d read them, I’d always figured I’d resell them.  When I started buying them in my youth, the internet didn’t exist and all we kindled were romances.  I had no idea the market for used books sold in actual stores would dry up in my middle age, so that when I finally decided to let go of half my library, no merchants would be interested.

Like most collectors I know, I want to give my sort-of-treasured possessions to a good home.  I hope someone enjoys these books, and has the pleasure I never had of actually reading them.  I’m offering them to my friends, acquaintances, and political compañer@s, and what they don’t want will probably go to the League of Women Voters.  The Amherst branch holds their sale on the town common in the spring, under a giant tent.  I haven’t stopped shopping there.  But since participating in a support group for clutterer-hoarders at Smith College several years ago, I’ve learned to scrutinize my selections and ask myself, “Are you actually going to read this, or do you just think it would be a good thing to have?”

I’m not giving up all of my treasures.  The complete bilingual Federico García Lorca will probably go to the used bookstore after my death, if such a creature exists then.  But from now on, he’ll have much less company on my pared-down bookshelves.

About springbyker

See more at: springbyker.wordpress.com. Feminist QBLTG Left activist grammarian & general crank. Love grassroots political movements, literature, independent film, travel in Latin America, bicycling, & good vegetarian food. I plan to write about all of these, plus being a recovering clutterer, writing, and saving the planet from suburban sprawl.
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4 Responses to Adventures in decluttering: the poetry books

  1. Marlene Lillo-Smith says:

    Hi, I love books. I treasure them. I am happy when reading a book. I love learning, sharing my knowledge, finding out “something I didn’t know”. I dive in to reading with “gusto”, travel with the author word by word, sentence by sentence, flying by the pages until I “have to” come back to reality: go back home from the park; turn off the light on my night stand to go to sleep because my eyes are closing against my will; get up to cook, shop, clean, etc.; or being “interrupted” by a phone call.
    May I suggest to you and all of your blog followers to donate the books to a public library? I have done that for years because at some point I decided that, given the limited space in New York apartments, I would not buy any more books just to read them once. Instead I go to borrow a book from the public library once I finished reading it, I return it. It is a win-win-win situation as I learn soemthing new from the book, don’t add more books to my already cluttered apartment and I can read unlimited number of books whenever I want.
    Would you recommend a support group? for a cluttered woman ready to change, move on and leave the past where it belongs.
    May God bless U n ur loved ones.

    • springbyker says:

      Hi Marlene,
      Thanks for your comment! I’ve loved books since I was a young child. Many of the books I’m getting rid of aren’t in brand-new condition, and some libraries won’t take them. The local chapters of the League of Women Voters hold fundraising book sales in the spring and fall, so I plan to donate my books to them. Unfortunately, the libraries aren’t as well-funded in my part of New England as the library system was when I lived in Columbus, Ohio in the last decade.

      The only support group I know about is Clutterers Anonymous:
      http://www.the12steps.com/Clutterers-Anonymous-CLA.html

      I’ve been involved in peer support groups run by Randy Frost and his students at Smith College. For more information, see:
      http://www.science.smith.edu/departments/PSYCH/rfrost/help.htm

      If you click on the various categories on the right side of the page, you’ll see a bit about the work he’s been doing with clutterer/hoarders. I’m on the mild end of the scale, fortunately. I plan to write more about my experiences, but, to be honest, I find that I very often have to choose between writing and decluttering! Thank you, and blessings to you too!

  2. Terri says:

    “…these books represent who and what I thought I would be and do.” Ah, yes. Recenty, my sister and I had to sell of my parents things at a partial estate sale (they’re alive but both very ill/cancer). As I watched each treasure go, I felt a sense of loss, a tugging. After, I think I gained a greater understanding that we humans are not our things … because my folks had so much stuff… and the having of it had not spared them. Kudos for decluttering!

    • springbyker says:

      Hi Terri,
      I’m sorry to hear about your parents. I often wonder if I’ll end up doing the same with my parents’ things, and I recall my grandmother giving me some of her linens and jewelry as she got into her 80s. Accumulating and then getting rid of things is such a strange process — “First World problems,” as many people say!

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