Earlier this year, I put myself on a strict book buying diet. Going cold turkey was difficult, but well worth the effort. Not only did I save hundreds of dollars in aimless shopping expenses, I am slowly learning the art of minimal living, and I’m happy to discover that I don’t feel deprived! Actually, the liberation of personal space and money has brought on a lightness of being that I did not expect.
I did, however, have a few slip-ups. Although I purchased only one book this year, I accepted two review freebies, and received three for my birthday (beyond my control, but still – it felt like cheating). It has been five months since my last slip-up, so I’m feeling confident that I will stand strong until the end of 2012.
In order to maintain my discipline, I cultivated a few tricks for keeping my wallet closed:
1. Imagine how much food you could buy instead.
The cost of food is no joke. And I don’t mean processed, pre-packaged snacks, but real food: chicken, green peppers, milk, eggs, and potatoes. In Canada, the average paperback book costs between $12 and $25. Going the used route is significantly more cost effective but, at approximately $3 apiece, they add up quickly. Knowing that the money spent on a regular priced book could potentially buy a bundle of fruits, veggies, and a trey of meat, which will keep me healthy and energized, the temptation to purchase the latest bestseller instantly fades.
2. Be completely honest. Do you have the room?
This is a question I ask myself with every purchase. Over the last several years, I’ve begun to realize just how much the environment correlates to our happiness quotient. When I’m surrounded by stuff, I feel utterly claustrophobic, lethargic, and useless. I get completely overwhelmed. At this point, the idea of bringing another book home makes me want to twitch. Seriously. If there’s no room on your shelf, then the answer should be no.
3. Maintain that honesty. Do you have the time to read it?
If the answer to this question is a hesitant wince, that book will be collecting dust for months, maybe years. Keep your money.
4. Challenge yourself to leave the bookstore with nothing.
Leave empty handed. Don’t open your wallet for anything. No coffee or cookies at Starbucks. Walk in, look at stuff, enjoy the aroma of paper and imagination, then walk out the door without a bag in your hand. I dare you. It works. If you have to, don’t bring any credit or debit cards.
5. Practice by purging.
If you find it difficult to avoid bookstores and equally difficult to avoid the cash counter, try to purge what you have. Scan your shelves for titles you’ve read, for which you have no further use, and just start throwing them into a donation bag. Many apartment buildings and condos have a communal library in the lobby or laundry room; this is a great place to drop your used goods. Last week, I managed to shed at least two dozen books, and cleared an incredible amount of space. For the longest time, I felt the need to hold on to my books, as if they were keeping me company, proof of my artistic personality and ‘reading accomplishments.’ Purging has taught me this assumption was all in my mind.
6. Get heavy
Picture the perfect day. Are you surrounded by books? When I close my eyes and imagine true “freedom” and happiness, I don’t see a pile of novels stacked precariously on every shelf. Actually, I was surprised to discover that, when I performed this simple exercise, I relished the thought of being unencumbered by stuff. I’ve recently discovered that true value is in time. The many minutes and hours of our day are like dollars. It should matter how we spend those thousands of seconds. If even a moment of our time is occupied by unhealthy habits caused by too much of anything, we owe it to ourselves to incorporate change.
7. Add it all up. How much are all your books worth?
Now, this analogy is not meant to compare books to cigarettes, but I’m only trying to point out how quickly and easily everything we buy adds up. We tell smokers to look at how much they spend on cigarettes in a year, so I’ll suggest you do the same for your books. When I realized I have thousands of dollars of unread novels just sitting on my shelves, I had to put a stop to the insanity.
Talking about books in this way, as if they were a burden, may seem like sacrilege. If you are not overwhelmed or bothered by the size of your collection, then feel free to ignore these tips. I have no intention of forcing anyone to give up their most prized possessions. However, admitting that I simply have too many books was the right step for me. The more stuff I remove from my space (including clothes and other crap, etc.), the lighter and more peaceful I become. Even more helpful is not replacing all the stuff I’ve purged! This certainly does not mean I’ve lost my reverence for the printed word. At this point in my life, I am focusing on creating new habits that will allow my future to be more mobile, less cumbersome. I am still incredibly thirsty for knowledge and storytelling. My resources may change, but my passion will not.