The Sweet Sorrow of Purging My Bookshelves

Kate Parchment GirlI’m excited to introduce you to Kate from Parchment Girl. Kate is wild about books and fits right in here. A reader’s drama is usually contained within the pages of a book, but I’m willing to bet you’ve had to face the same dilemma as Kate as your pile of books starts to block the sunlight from your windows. To purge or not to purge? That is Kate’s question.


I’m not the sort of person who hoards things unnecessarily. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve donated or thrown something away and regretted it later, I could probably take an all-expense-paid Caribbean vacation. From basic things like clothes that “didn’t fit me anymore” (until they did) to irreplaceable keepsakes like my childhood journals (which led to a lot of self-reprimands of “how could I be so stupid?!”), the valuable things I have lost to my compulsive need to “unclutter” is staggering.

This hyper-minimalism used to extend to books as well–even books with personal significance. I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true. I once got rid of a Tommy Tenney novel my dad had given me that was signed by the author. I sold my copy of Inkspell, which my brother gave to me when I was a kid, in a yard sale. I donated the copy of Twilight two of my friends bought for me. (Okay, maybe that last one was a good idea.)

I had plenty of space of my shelves back then. I simply couldn’t control my need to get rid of anything I did not absolutely need. (I realize this has to be the weirdest problem anyone has ever had. Don’t ask me about the psychology behind it. If I knew, I probably wouldn’t have gotten myself into that mess to begin with.)

I later regretted most of these overzealous purges and promised myself I would not get rid of any more books. Period.

Fast-forward about eight years.

My bookshelves were packed–so packed that I had to evict a large dresser to make room for an additional bookcase. Pretty soon, the new bookcase was packed. I was cramming books into every available inch of shelf real estate. Eventually, I realized a purge was necessary if I didn’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders.

I was very anxious about the impending book purge. Would I revert back to my hyper-minimalistic ways? Would I later regret chucking certain books into the donation bin? The angst was real.

The day of the purge arrived and I sorted through over five hundred books, trying to decide which ones had earned their shelf space and which ones it was time to let go. After hours of hemming and hawing, I cleared out nearly one hundred books. Most of these were books I didn’t really like, hadn’t read and never planned to, duplicate copies, or classics I planned to replace with nicer editions in the future. Still, it was agonizing.

A funny thing happened when it was all over and the donated books were out of sight. I felt better. Relieved, even. The books on my shelves could breathe again and I felt lighter, freer, and I didn’t miss those books at all.

It’s been about five months since The Great Purge of 2016. I currently receive approximately fifteen to twenty books a month–mostly review copies, though I’ve never been able to resist a Barnes & Noble sale either. I’ve moved past my neuroses about keeping books just like I moved past my neuroses about minimalism. Still, even though I regularly donate books I have no interest in, my shelves are well past maximum capacity again and this time there are no more two-star books to donate. Fortunately, as it turns out, Hoarders was canceled four years ago.

The Sweet Sorrow of Purging My Bookshelves

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