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Curating Your Book Collection (A Blog Post for the Books)

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

I'm not sure if being a bookworm is a nature or nurture kind of thing. Having a father who was an English major and avid reader certainly influenced my love of books either genetically or through osmosis. Books have always been very important to my family. My parents even drafted a children's book when I was younger (dad writer, mom illustrator) called Too Many Witches. This was before self-publishing. It was turned down. With five kids and running their own business, they didn't have much time to produce a very polished draft. My kids do have a copy that they created a few years ago. We have actually run across a book called Too Many Frogs that has pretty much an identical storyline. Hmmmm...

Anyway, to say my dad loved books is a great understatement. If we ever spotted a used bookstore while traveling, we all groaned a little knowing we were going to be spending longer than we wanted in a musty shop of ancient books. His collection was heavy on science fiction, science and technology, and religion.

I was following in his footsteps (not so much the musty books, just keeping everything I had read) until I discovered the Konmari method. Most of the following tips are from this method, but when kids are involved we merge her method with those of Kim John Payne's, just like we do in the way we approach toys. Read on if you are ready to curate your book collection.

Curate your book hall of fame.

These are books that have been read many times and make you happy just to see them. Pictured above are a few of the most beloved kids books in our home. This is our second copy of Goodnight Moon and Goodnight Gorilla has been taped back together. There is a wonderful sense of Wabi-Sabi in well-loved books. At first glance, it is easy to confuse use with abuse. However, there is a certain poetry in well-loved things that is missing in the unloved. Here lies the beauty. Your collection should have a presence of joy.

Few books are reread by the same person.

Once read, a book has already been experienced much like a movie you liked (but don't need to own). The book itself is not the memory. An example for me is the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This hot pink, beat-up, used paperback (well, not this exact copy, this image was googled) jumped off the shelf at me at Webster's Books in college (2000?). Ok. I guess I have hung around used book stores willingly at times. I hadn't heard of the book, nor was it on a syllabus. Just an impulse buy for my young, artistic, philosophical self.

A few months after reading it, a professor mentioned that the visiting guest was one of the characters; he briefly appeared in the book as a child. Meeting him made the book serendipitously magical.

It traveled with me from apartment to apartment and spent a summer in my in-laws' barn before finally landing a spot on a shelf in our house. For 13 years it sat gathering dust. It made the first round of collection editing. In the end, I decided to thank it for its service (and wonderful pinkness) and let it go to make room for the right now books. It's still with me, just not physically.

I like to imagine it's being read by another too serious 20-something somewhere which is better than gathering dust. If I ever get a whim to read it again, I can be part of the history of the library's copy of the book too.

Anytime I am looking for a quote from a book I have read, a quick internet search usually gets faster results that flipping through the book. The internet is pretty neat, which leads to the next tips.

Let go of reference materials.

Get rid of reference and study guides you might look at someday. If you find you want them later, find the information online or at the library.

Let go of unread books.

Unread books accumulate and are harder to part with. If you bought or were given a book and didn't read it, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn't need it. Books read halfway had the purpose of being read halfway. Thank it for what it taught you and let it go. Better to read a book that grabs you now than one that gathered dust. Remember, your collection should have a sense of joy. Procrastination rarely leaves anyone feeling joyful.

A few remaining books from them Lowther Library are now in the Travis Library.

Have boundaries for your collection.

Our dad had no boundaries for his collection. We had bookshelves in every room. Our youngest brother attempted to bring order to the collection of kids books by creating The Lowther Library in his third-floor attic bedroom (with library cards and barcodes).

When my parents became empty nesters, the attic became the office/library and all the books made their way to the attic. Our dad passed away almost six years ago. We have helped our mom to downsize, but she has done most of it on her own. She has carried so many heavy boxes (hundreds of books, most unread) down two flights of stairs.

Make room for the new to create an active book collection.

Keep your collection small so you don't miss the moment you should read something. Amazon’s “save for later” helps to keep a list, so you don’t feel the urge to buy before you can commit to reading simply so you don't forget. No spending on unread books!

With fewer books, you recognize important information more easily. You'll see information comes when you need it and respond immediately, creating a new pattern of behavior that wasn't possible when you were hoarding books and neglecting their information.

I read myself to sleep. I surprisingly read a lot by just reading a little each night and look forward to this part of my day. I prefer to use my Kindle Paper White. It is not back-lit, so I have a case with a built-in light that gets it's power from the Kindle's battery. If I fall asleep with it on, the Kindle and light automatically turns off when the page hasn't been forwarded for awhile. When I borrow a paper book from a friend or library, I use this weird light that is rechargeable and perfect for side lying reading. I don't love lights that clip to books for some reason.

Go digital.

The free Kindle App is available for almost every device, you don’t need to own a Kindle. (Read books on your phone while you wait at the dentist!) You can still have digital clutter and hoarding issues, but at least ebooks will take up less physical space. Reading at least 44 ebooks on an e-reader before replacing it halves your climate impact. Amazon has a recycling program for Kindles, should one die. You can loan your ebooks. Speaking of digital loans...

Borrow (and Steal) Ebooks from the Library.

Ebooks save money, trees, time, and stress. Libraries in big cities have better selections, and many libraries offer accounts to state residents. In PA, simply go to (Philly) and register for a card. You'll have instant access their ebooks. Turn off your WiFi connection on your Kindle and you can continue to read a borrowed ebook with no recalls, renewals, or late fees until you turn the WiFi back on.

Don't Let Books Define You

Books add value and contribute to who you are, but they don't define you. Avoid keeping books to look good to others. Conversely, keep books you aren't embarrassed of. The Shopaholic series are entertaining, light-hearted beach reads, but these guilty pleasures have no place in my "best of" collection. (Sadly, I related to the main character which is why they were so funny!) Fluffy beach reads are another good reason for ebook library loans!

Store your books by category.

You shouldn't let books categorize you, but you should store your books by category. The Konmari method typically keeps like things together. An exception is keeping cookbooks in the kitchen rather than with the other books. I store all my recipes digitally with Plan To Eat. Many cookbooks only had a few recipes I used. I either found them online to upload to my online database, or I entered them manually. All that is left is Better Homes and Gardens and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. The later is rarely used other than when I cook Bœuf Bourguignon, but cooking from this beautiful book brings me joy.

We store all of our kids' books along with the adult books on our living room built-ins (though on different shelves). This really encourages guest readers! Our girls keep the book they are currently reading and a bedtime book that we read (Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls) or two in their rooms. For our youngest, a themed basket (spring/Easter now) of books is kept in the living room. According to Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, kids read more with less to choose from, just like they play better with less toys. It's just like the active bookshelf we mentioned.

Share the Love by Donating!

If there are books your kids never have interest in, encourage them (and yourself) to thank them for their service and let them go. For many kids in the world a book is a great treasure. Share the love by donating! Let gratitude and generosity define your character. Brightly has a great post about donating books so they wind up in hands instead of landfills. They are also a great source of information about reading for all ages. They even have a post about "Konmari"ing books. One post was about finding time to read with young kids. This includes reading before bed like I do. Reading with kids takes us to the next tip.

Read by Example.

It wasn't our Dad's huge science fiction collection that turned us into readers. (I didn't get past the first page of I, Robot.) Being read to, access to books of interest, and parental example mattered most.

My 8-year-old daughter just devoured Wonder and returned to the library in less than a week for the sequel. We watched the movie on our spring snow day. (Tissues needed. *sniff.) I say this to prove a point. Encourage, enable, and set an example. (By reading, not hoarding.)

Limiting screen time is another way to encourage reading. We like to read books that have been made into movies. These are often the picks for family movie night Fridays.

Of course, you can do everything right and you kid might not like to read. And that's ok. Not everyone has a reading personality, or has found something that interests them enough to spend their time in this way.

Speaking of personality types, I love reading books on the subject. Sometimes I use the characters in Winnie the Pooh to explain to my girls about different personality types. I Iove the Olivia the Pig books so much because I identify with Olivia. She'd rather be the queen than a princess and she wears her mom out, but her mom loves her anyway. Is there a children's book character you identify with most?

Books are the second category of our one-time, habit changing, whole home method. For more information about our method and services, visit

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