Saturday, February 26, 2005

The big idea and the book saga

My husband and I are in our 50s now and the last child is getting married this summer. This 3-story 100-year-old Victorian is way too much house for us and we are ready to downsize. Right now the house and our journey to simplicity are inseparable; when we move to a smaller house, we will have to refine our simplicity movement to encompass a wider berth, not just housing.

When we moved to Maine from Tennessee in 1996, we were certain it was the last time we would ever move. We had always lived in parsonages in varying conditions (mostly bad!) and looked forward to having our own house again. We moved with 2 teenagers and 1 boyfriend, so we needed a big house with big rooms. We also wanted an older home. All the houses we were shown in Maine had rooms too small, so when we got to see this one, we made an offer right away. Then we doubled the size of the existing house before we moved in.

One day we counted the windows in the house, then counted the lightbulbs (in and out). I can't remember the exact number, but I believe it was around 116 light bulbs we have to maintain.

Of course, my sewing/quilting/cross-stitch hobbies needed a room of their own. And we had to have the piano somewhere, didn't we? When we moved, we had a stepper and weight machine, and have since replaced that with a treadmill and a different weight machine and a weight bench. So we have a room just for laundry and exercise, with a TV hooked up to cable and lots of DVDs and videos to watch while exercising.

I have to say, though, that a great deal of the things we brought with us consisted of books.
We have always loved books. We used to go to the bookstore and could easily drop $100 or $200 in one visit. For some reason we have found it very difficult to avoid buying books and just as difficult to get rid of books. We envisioned one day having a huge library room with built-in shelves holding our treasures.

So with fixing to put our house on the market, the books were one of the first things I thought of - with trepidation. The cape we are hoping to move to will definitely not have room for all these books. So today we went up to the 3rd floor and started sorting.

Looking through all the books we have accumulated is like looking through our lives. My husband Ed has textbooks from college (over 30 years ago). We have a lot of "classics" that our kids had to read in high school. I have easily over 30 paperback Agatha Christie mysteries.
Lots of hymn books (Ed is a retired minister and I did music ministry in the churches he served). Lots of theology books. Several books on Lincoln (those are mine!), a few on decorating, several on controlling clutter (!) , and lots of science fiction books (his).

We gathered a variety in 5 boxes and headed for a local used book/antique store today. In a phone call, they told me they do buy used books.

Now, we hate to sell our stuff. In the first place, most of it we don't want to part with, really, but we're forcing ourselves to. Most of it we chose for a reason, because of our interest in certain topics, etc., so in some way these books represent our identity. They represent the changes in our lives. There's the rabbit book (from 10 years ago when we had one). A lot of self-help books on nutrition, exercise, and the aforementioned clutter book. Books about hiking in the Smokies back when Ed was in Tennessee to do that.

The first yard sale we ever had really stressed me out. Strangers were looking through my stuff, and a lot of it they didn't even care about or want. When they did find something they wanted, they wanted it very cheap - after all, what was it really worth? Well, to me, it might have been worth a lot. I remember that day I removed some of the "stuff" and took it back into house after the 3rd hour of the sale; they were items I would rather have kept than sell so cheap. I felt that these people were putting a price on my taste, in a way.

So here we were today in a bookstore, having a lady look through our books. Now I know it's business - she was buying books to sell later and had to make a profit, etc. But it was awkward and demeaning for me. She never smiled, even when I tried to make conversation, and she definitely tossed more back in the box than she kept. Finally she tallied up some numbers on an adding machine, and said flatly, "$47 is all I can give you for the books that I kept." OK, so $47 is better than nothing. However, one of the books she took was a brand-new hard-back book I bought last week for $25, just published. When you add up all the money we originally spent on all these books....Oh well, we are $47 richer. We didn't really like the lady's attitude and don't want to do business with her again, so we just took the rest of the books from the car and gave them no strings attached to another local used book dealer.

At this point in our simplicity journey, we are not out to make money - which is good as a byproduct but not the point. The point is to get rid of "stuff." Giving it away serves the purpose too.

After that, we went back upstairs to do more sorting. We have a huge pile of theology books. What do we do with those? Do people who shop at the Goodwill really buy theology books? I'm not talking just "pop" theology - I'm talking seminary type stuff. Concordances, biblical interpretation, homiletics, church renewal, liturgy. So now I'm going to call the nearest seminary on Monday to see if we can donate those to them. They can either put them in their library or give them away to students - whatever gets them used.

I used to think you could donate books to the library and they'd be overjoyed to get them, considering their budgets. But apparently a lot of libraries are running out of room and are being picky. I donated a brand-new children's book to our libary a few years ago in honor of our daughter's graduating with a teacher's degree. They had to assure themselves it was new and not used, they had to look at the condition, and finally gave me a cool acceptance as if they were doing me a favor. Really!

Some of our books we have read and enjoyed but won't read again. Some we are getting rid of because our tastes have changed. Some because they are too outdated. But mostly we are letting go of them because we just don't have room in our new house for them . We can't afford property taxes and heating bills just to house a room or two full of books. Sigh.

So in our quest for simplicity, the books are the first victims. Little by little we will sell, give away, or throw away pieces of ourselves. The simplicity books say to get rid of everything you don't either need (use) or cherish. Think about that - keep what you use or cherish. Not a lot of stuff really falls into those 2 categories, does it?

1 comment:

Tif said...

You ought to submit this posting to a magazine for publication.