Do you remember the scene in the animated The Beauty and the Beast, where Beast, trying to impress Belle, makes her close her eyes and guides her to his library? Even though a cartoon, that scene takes my breath away. It’s not the budding romance. It’s the library. Beast lives in my fantasy library. My “someday when I’m rich” library. A library big enough that I never have to downsize another book if I don’t want to.
In many ways, books have been the love of my life.
But how do you reconcile that love and that fantasy with living in 200 square feet? My priorities have changed but my adoration for the written word has not.
Suffice it to say, downsizing my books has broken my heart. Just a little.
My first Downsizing post was about giving away an etched piece of baleen I purchased on a trip to Barrow, Alaska. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to making that downsized item the first I wrote about. It was simply one of many items that needed to go. As an aside, since I wrote that post, have you heard Barrow has changed its name to its original Inupiak name of Utqiagvik?
Had I posted either in order I got rid of things or in the order of how much it pained me to say goodbye to things, the first downsize item I wrote about would’ve been books.
So why didn’t I write about them first? The truth is, at that point, I just didn’t have the heart to do it. But with somewhere between four and six months left in my sticks-and-bricks life, it is time. I have, however, been downsizing books for more than two years now.
To understand the process of downsizing more than 1,000 books, let me step back. When Supersizing my LIFE was still a whisper of an idea—basically, the first six months—I dedicated my time to researching, trying to figure out whether this idea was viable.
By then it was winter in Alaska and I had hesitantly decided to become a fulltime RVer and that the place to start downsizing was an easy garage sale the next summer. By easy, I mean I wasn’t getting rid of anything I’d miss if I changed my mind.
The winter project, then, was to go through my house room by room to gather easy to get rid of items. Or, at least, that was the plan. But each time I put it on my “to do” list, I found a reason not to do it. The procrastination, I knew, was because getting rid of my books was going to be hard. I see in hindsight it was, in fact, my grieving process of sorts.
The stages of grief: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
Once I hit acceptance, after a few months, a switch was flipped inside me. What I wanted gripped me like ice hooks. I wanted a Supersize LIFE. And that, ultimately, was so much more important and meaningful to me than any material possession.
In the that first round of downsizing, I downsized my books by a third. Of course, over the two years since, a lot more has had to go.
None of this is to say downsizing has been easy every minute of every day. It’s not to say I didn’t take a moment, many many times, as I said goodbye to a particular book.
First I took the books to the used books store for trade-in. The ones they didn’t take went into the garage sales. I let friends pick through them next. Finally, the rest went to the ASPCA retail shop.
I know it isn’t logical but my bookshelves included books I knew I’d never read again, books I never even read once and, the most illogical of all, books I had read and didn’t even like. But I kept those ones because I always had my Beast library to fill at some point in my future.
It’s funny what we drag around, isn’t it? I had an entire box (not a small one) I’d brought along behind me since my NYU days. I was never likely to read Shakespeare’s plays or sonnets again, yet I had been hauling around the nearly six-pound hardcover The Riverside Shakespeare through no less than ten moves.
Between graduating and now, I’d opened that book exactly one time. After watching the movie Shakespeare in Love, I had to know if the ending was based in truth. You remember? Viola says to Will Shakespeare, “Write me well.” And we see him working on his next play.
If you didn’t look it up and were curious. It’s true: a character named Viola is rescued after a shipwreck and comes to Orlando (the Duke) dressed as a boy in the Twelfth Night. Was that one bit of knowledge worth the work of keeping the six-pound volume? That is definitely debatable. Actually it probably isn’t.
In the two years since the first round of purging, I have said goodbye to a few books authored by friends. I’ve said goodbye to another 150 books signed by the authors. Those were hard. Not so much because of the inscriptions themselves, but because of the memory of the circumstances around getting the books signed. Some were at readings. Others were at writing conferences. I sold three first editions (Henry James, Ernest Hemingway and an Edgar Allen Poe collection) on eBay.
It may come to pass that, once on the road, all my reading will shift to a digital format. For now, I have four moving boxes of books that are ready for the journey. That’s 200 pounds of books. (Yes, I weighed them.) And it has taken me two years to get it whittled down to this. Most of those are books I haven’t yet read so my plan to read them on the road and pass them along to others.
Other fulltime RVers shared that possessions important at the beginning of the journey fall to the wayside as priorities shift as a minimalist lifestyle is embraced. I know that. But for now, I’m still a little bit sad about the volumes of literature I no longer have at my fingertips. However, it’ll be less sad on the day I step into my RV, step into my new dream and further away from the dream of a library like Beast’s. This, at least, I am certain.