I came home yesterday afternoon to find the carpet on our landing stacked with books of all shapes and sizes, plus a range of other miscellaneous items.
All of this stuff had come from the little pine bookcase in our family study; it was clear that there was some purposeful and industrious activity going on in there!
With her dad’s help, our teenager had decided to reorganize the space, the idea being to improve her own personal organization (she is about to enter an intense phase of revision prior to her GCSE exams).
One bookcase, so many items
I have to admit that I was well aware of every single item on those shelves. I had previously done a little bit of delicate ‘pruning’, but was cautious about tackling this particular decluttering project.
My reluctance was mainly because of ‘The Declutter’s Rule‘: don’t minimize someone else’s stuff. As many of the items were shared or belonged to one of the other family members, I’d let sleeping books lie.
Now, there was a real reason to get one with it. And – when it came down to it – no-one was actually attached to any of this stuff at all.
The bookshelf list
You won’t be surprised when I tell you what miscellany lay before us.
There were: A-Z guides of Warwickshire, Birmingham and London; children’s bibles; language dictionaries; prayer books; poetry; kids’ story books (for all ages); tourist maps and guidebooks; seldom-used fitness publications and a couple of associated recipe books; two photo albums; my old Franklin Covey organiser (now used only as address book); a box of mobile phone-related electronic goods; my summer hat; two teddy bears; one small mug (a gift from long-ago Dutch houseguests); and some revision guides.
All of this fit onto one single bookcase, sitting neatly behind the door of the study, so (until now) it had been unobtrusive and therefore almost invisible. It had, in effect, been hiding in plain sight.
Guess what we really needed? Yep, just the revision guides (and I might use my hat when the sun decides to shine)!
Why did we keep these things for so long?
Books say so much about who we are (or tell a story about who we once were). They remind us of the people who gifted them to us or the period of time when we first read them. The maps and guidebooks take us back to much-loved places and the language dictionaries are symbolic reminders of trips of yesteryear.
What do our books say about us?
Having books around also says something about who we think we are (or who we’d like to be). A mix of fiction and non-fiction, they provide a glimpse into the aspects of life that appeal to us.
Books also add interest to a room, especially when you can display them by colour, type or shape.
As well as hanging onto them for aesthetic reasons, we also keep them in the hope that someone (one day) might read them again.
Maybe I was hanging onto the baby books ‘for the grandchildren’ (whose would-be mother is still at secondary school!!!). Surely, it’s better to release these lovely stories into the world, where they can be enjoyed by others who’ll really appreciate them now?
Keepsakes or clutter?
If I admit it, much of this stuff fell into the category of “keepsake” but it was disguised as something useful, educational or visually appealing.
What spurred me on was a throwaway but telling comment from our daughter: “I can’t work with all this clutter; I feel better without it.”
She needed the shelves for revision folders and guides, so our mini-museum of curiosities was now just getting in the way.
Home museum or library?
A study space in our home, no matter how large or small, can easily become something akin to a personal museum; a collection that provides a glimpse of who we have been, the places we have visited and the objects we accumulated over the years.
Unless we pursue an academic career when a carefully-curated collection of key works in a particular subject discipline might be useful, it seems to me that we can readily let go of these things without a backward glance. After all, any book we want to to read is readily available at our fingertips via digital download (either as a purchase or via the library).
Out they went
So, in just a few minutes, we placed all the books into carrier bags and carried them downstairs where we placed them in the garage, ready for despatch to our local second-hand bookshop.
The result? The room feels lighter, less cluttered and there’s more space for the study’s intended purpose: to study.
Have you ever been spurred on suddenly to declutter a space in your home? What did you do? What was the result? I’d love to know!
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