Illusions of Joy
How I learned to let go of ideas that were secretly poisoning me.
I’m a reader. And I love my books.
Therefore, when I started minimizing my belongings, my first hard stance was that I couldn’t get rid of my books. I have been collecting books for my entire life, but started focusing on intentionally trying to build my library over the past five years.
I had a dream of one day owning a large house with a sprawling library of classic and obscure titles that I would confidently dole out to my friends to incite deep and passionate conversation and camaraderie.
Any time I would come across a good deal on a classic book or a run into a recommendation from a friend, I’d pick it up. If I couldn’t find a good deal, I’d buy a new copy online. Of course, I needed free shipping (obviously), so I’d even buy several books at a time—even though my reading list (read: pile) was far outpacing my ability to experience the material.
I got to the point where my large book case was full, but instead of getting rid of some of my books, I decided to—you guessed it—buy another book case.
Any time I was reading, I’d steal a glance at the pile of books, wishing I had time to make the pile disappear faster.
All of this because my one-day-in-the-future library fantasy brought me joy. Or so I thought.
But something struck me one day as I looked at the pile of unread books that had now overflowed onto my night stand. I stared deeply into their vocabulary spines and soft pages, and I realized that the feeling that I had labeled excitement when describing my emotion toward the books I would one day read was actually not excitement at all—it was stress.
That’s when the bough broke and I realized I could be free of that dream that I thought had been bringing me pleasure but was actually inciting stress in my life—stress in a space that should be joyful.
So, to my own great relief, I got rid of over half of my books.
Now, instead of impulsively purchasing titles as I come across them, I have found that the best way—for me—to build and progress through a compelling reading list is to use technology to keep track of the books I’d like to read, and to borrow them from the library or purchase them from used book stores only as I have time to read them and, typically, in exchange for the last book I read unless I found it of particular value.
My hard stance changed from refusing to part with my books to not allowing the joyful space of reading to be overrun by the stress of the unread.
I re-assess my library regularly, and I’d be lying if I said there aren't still books I need to get rid of (there’s an outgoing bag of twenty more sitting beside me). But for the most part, I look at my book case now, on which my whole collection fits, and I smile.
Because reading isn’t stressful anymore.