Bibliophilism? Or the first signs of bibliomania?

I confess: I am a book hoarder.

I have an emotional attachment to books that manifests itself by my searching out bookshops, acquiring books, carrying at least one book with me wherever I go, having a pile of books by the side of the bed, storing books on shelves all over the house. I instinctively believe in the adage “there is no such thing as too many books, only not enough shelves”.

But it can’t carry on.

First, the house is becoming untidy — you almost couldn’t see the walls for the books. Second, we’re planning a move and those overflowing shelves have to be thinned out for the hoped-for viewings. Why? Apparently received wisdom says that too many prospective buyers are intimidated by the sight of books or that they are unable to envision shelves filled with their own stuff if they’re already filled to overflowing with someone else’s stuff. And third — do I really need all those books? My late father-in-law couldn’t understand why I had so many — did I get them as job lots at auctions? Surely I didn’t choose each one of them individually?

Anyway, this downsizing exercise is down to Head versus Heart. As it always is. First set of questions to be asked of each book: do I love it? will I read it again? Actually it’s more complicated than that. Again, it always is. As with most bibliophiles my books split into fiction and non-fiction. The first category includes classics with all the paraphernalia (introduction, discussion, notes) that you don’t get with most ebooks, plus prized editions and titles I’ve read and will definitely re-read. The second is made up of titles I’ve by and large kept because they’re authoritative, have historical interest or are indispensable for reference — for the definitive study that, at the moment, I still mean to write. The do-I-love-it and will-I-read-it-again questions now seem simplistic. But I have to start somewhere, and so my book deselection starts.

They say with the decluttering process that you have to be ruthless. Many decluttering gurus swear by the “one in, one out” principle for managing their books. It’s too late for that now: it has to be one out, then another one out, and another. No more surreptitious snaffling of the odd tome from that visit to a bookshop: only browsing allowed, no purchases. It’s hard keeping to this self-imposed moratorium, but it’s getting easier. So I tell myself. No pain is no gain. Or, in the case of bookweeding, pain is loss.


So where will the discarded books go? Not to the tip — that would be like murder. I’m not mercenary either, so I won’t be actively looking to sell on eBay or at an auction or wherever. (Anyway, I’m lazy, and the hard sell is just so much hard work to my way of thinking.) So it’ll be giveaways: to family, who will have first dibs on books I think they might want or like; to friends, not that I have many of these; to a charity shop like Oxfam where sales will help do good as well as bring enjoyment to the buyers; and a select few to eventually go to a specialist Arthurian library if they want them.

In the meantime I’m slowing the process down massively by reading, rereading and reviewing. Like weeding a garden it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it — and I might as well enjoy the pleasure of the blooms before they go over.

Vacuuming the shelves during weeding

20 thoughts on “Bookweeding

    1. They certainly do make the house seem warmer, not just as insulation (!) but also because they say something about the owners. The time to worry is when the warmth turns to a hint of mustiness and even fustiness!


  1. oh how wonderful knowing that there are indeed others—I fear I’m living in more library than home. I have such an affinity for books—none of this e-business for me but rather the hard tangible bound paper and board real life book!
    The mark of real people in an ever growing world of the disconnectedness of a cyber world of electronic this and that gadgetry—warm and inviting–welcoming old friends 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and delightful “problem” 🙂


    1. I did hope that this post would strike a note of understanding and sympathy with followers of this blog such as yourself, Julie. Like many another I feel that a house without books is barely a home, though that sounds a bit damning, doesn’t it, and already I can think of exceptions.

      And while I’ve got a basic Kindle, given as a present, it neither measures up to the sensuality of real books nor imparts a sense of permanence; I find my attention drifting (as with most screen-based media) which is rarely a state I experience with codices and booklets.


  2. Nooooooooooo! You can’t get rid of some of your books. That’s bibliocide. If you are running out of room, surely you need a bigger house (I’m practising my arguments for when I have this conversation with my wife 🙂 )


    1. OK, you show your wife the top left hand corner only of my diagram, the bit that shows books providing for your emotional, sensual and intellectual requirements but not the rest of the flowchart. This last instruction is very important or she will have won the argument. (Above all, don’t share this post with her.) She will be fully convinced of your personal need for books and never ever fuss about it again.*

      Here’s the thing, Dylan. We’re planning to downsize (what couple needs four bedrooms and three acres?) so we need to reduce the space taken up by books. However, I’m assured by my wife that you can never have too many cushions so we need to factor in space for these when we finally do move to smaller premises closer to kids and grandkids. I hope that’s clear: you can never have too many cushions. (Above all, don’t share this comment with my wife.)

      * Advice given in good faith. Please follow instructions carefully. Don’t take advice under the influence of alcohol. Terms and conditions apply. Repeat action every full moon.


  3. Even ‘one in, one out’ seems too fierce a policy for me, so I don’t envy you this task. Though I am currently trying to weed out some of my books as I have a secondhand bookstall at a charity event coming up soon, which provides good excuse/motivation. I’ve acquired lots of children’s books in the last year or so and these need shelf room, not just a double row on the floor of my study. I’m still working on the unsophisticated ‘will I ever read it?/re-read it?’ basis, and coming up far too often with the answer ‘Ma-a-aybe…’


  4. I’ve been doing this for about three years now. Cleared out a bunch of out-dated non-fiction just by checking publication dates and deciding whether the author was renowned enough in his/her field. Fiction’s been slower, choosing which books on the fiction shelves are “questionable”, re-read them (if I’m not getting “into” the story within 50 pages, it’s out). But, distractions occur (new books and my resistance to the library occasionally crumbles) as does the reduced reading time of a parent with a toddler.


    1. Academic non-fiction can and does date badly, unless one is intent on doing an historical overview or meta-analysis. In history and archaeology, as in most scientific studies, this is particularly true — my excuse is, I’m not an academic and therefore I need reminding where commentators were coming from, if only not to repeat their mistakes. Fiction? Same as you, slower, but I’m learning to be ruthless. But not too ruthless…

      Kids books, especially picture books, that’s another matter. With new grandkids coming along all the time, that stack never seems to get smaller!


      1. True. Stuff in my specialty I’ve automatically kept regardless of age. Some of it is still referenced despite being over a century old. Other stuff? Well, when there are four books on “the medieval village” and two were written in the 1940s, they’re gone. 🙂


        1. Strange to know that studies on the medieval village — which one would imagine are as timeless as their subject matter — are no less ‘locked in time’ than their archaeological counterparts and therefore have to be reinterpreted in the light of continuing research. All those books on Stonehenge, for example, by Atkinson and his predecessors — all weeded from my shelves. Unless they have pretty pictures…


  5. Kristen M.

    I pulled a bunch of books, bagged them up and then set them aside, planning to go through them one more time before I sold them. I kept putting that off until recently I realized it had been a year since I first chose them. I was having trouble getting rid of them until I realized that I hadn’t gone looking for one of those books during that year. I guess that means they are okay to let go of. I may regret one or two but there are always new copies out there, right? 😉


    1. I find books can be like bosom friends, casual acquaintances or passing strangers, but over time can swap categories. Perhaps your bagged books were acquaintances who’d passed out of your social circle, and it was time to drift apart: there’d be others like them.


  6. I’ve been de-acquisitioning for a couple of years now, but mostly my academic books as I approach retirement. At the end of each semester, I cart a stack into class and offer them to students, who seem happy to take even 30-year-old research monographs. As for my home collection, Little Free Libraries ( are my preferred donation sites. But it’s tough to cull my fiction shelves. There are books I love that I’m fairly sure I won’t read again, yet I can’t bear to part with them. I’m still several years away from downsizing, though, so things are bound to change when I get to that point. As for cushions vs books, I have a feeling both will be necessary as I get older.


    1. I love all these synonyms, Lizzie, for dumping (many beginning with ‘d’): deselecting, discarding, downsizing,and now de-acquisitioning — great library term that — all describing a rather distasteful task. Is there as great a range of words for decommissioning cushions I wonder?


      1. “De-acquisitioning” is my favorite, because it raises the process to a higher level — what museums and other great collectors do with items they value. “Dumping” is what one does at the tip; “discarding” is for holey socks and worn down shoes; “downsizing” applies to military forces; “deselecting” smacks of a technology-inspired lexicon.

        Cushions deserve a word of their own — I’ll have to give it some thought and get back to you.


    2. The Little Free Library scheme looks great — I’d noticed before that old British telephone boxes were popular hubs — so will have to explore the website in depth now!


  7. Pingback: Rereading revisited – calmgrove

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