The claim in the title might be a strange one, because I do not consider myself a minimalist. Of course, not all minimalists are digital nomads who live out of their backpacks or people whose bare, white homes only contain a bed, a chair, a cup, and a fork. Minimalism looks different for everyone, after all, and people rarely conform to stereotypes.
However, I have a book collection, a manga collection, and a video game collection. I still own dvds of my favorite movies, and geeky knickknacks such as figurines. All of these collections have gone through several decluttering rounds and the remainder is displayed neatly, but they aren’t what you’d consider ‘minimalist’. Hell, plenty of people would argue that having a collection of any sort is counterintuitive to minimalism in the first place. Whether they fit under minimalism or not doesn’t matter, however: I like having these items around, so I’ll keep them.
Before these decluttering rounds a couple of years ago, however, I realized I was getting overwhelmed by my own stuff. I began to declutter, and procrastinated on working on my master thesis by looking around for inspiration on the internet. Marie Kondo and minimalism eventually caught my attention. I initially felt that minimalism was a bit too extreme, but I discovered there were some useful aspects to the movement. I began following several minimalist YouTubers, who advocate simple and intentional living, and I read Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things, which I found thought provking.
Though I do not consider myself a minimalist and I do not agree with everything, I like the idea as a countervoice against consumerism, materialism, and accummulating stuff one doesn’t really use or need. It made me look at my own stuff, my relationship to these items and shopping in general.
To me, minimalism isn’t about what I do or don’t own, or how few items I own. It’s a helpful tool in deciding what brings value to my life. This element of minimalism is applicable to what’s often perceived as the very antithesis of the movement: collections! Here is how minimalism has helped me with my book collection.
It helps me declutter my book collection
This one is obvious, but it deserves to be mentioned. If you’ve read my previous post on why unhauling books is a good thing, you’ll remember there are various benefits to unhauling books, such as space and no longer having any books collecting dust on your shelves that will never get read (again).
Previously, I (probably subconsiously) considered my book collection as a collection of trophies, telling everyone what I had read. As embarrassing it is to admit, some books would take up valuable shelf space as status symbols to impress others. My experience reading Ulysses by James Joyce was absolutely dreadful and I despise Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe with a passion. I will never read these books again unless someone holds a gun to my head. There are also less extreme examples: I had a lot of books that were highly regarded but I personally didn’t find anything special, such as Dune by Frank Herbet. Eventually, I realized there was no reason to hold on to these books. Keeping these titles out of a misplaced sense of pretentiousness is not only silly and superficial (and honestly, nobody cares what books I have on my shelf), but holding on to every single book I’ve read as a ‘trophy’ is not sustainable in terms of space management. At least, not when I still want to be able to walk through my home.
I’ve had several rounds of decluttering and a lot of books were donated or given to friends. I decided that I only wanted to keep the books that, in the words of Marie Kondo, ‘spark joy’. I keep my favorites, books that I’d want to read multiple times, or books I’m very excited to read in the near future. It means that a lot of classics and literary works haven’t made the cut and a significant part of my remaining books are fantasy. Most of my collection might consist of ‘genre fiction’ which doesn’t have a good rep, but I don’t care. Of course, some classics and literary books still remain, such as Lolita and The Count of Monte Cristo, but that’s because I loved them, not because they are highly regarded. I still have a few books lying around I’m pretty sure I’ll donate after reading them, and that’s alright too.
It helps me get a better sense of the books I enjoy reading the most
Especially after discovering GoodReads, studying as an English major, working in a bookshop, and discovering BookTube, I added a massive amount of books to my TBR. These books were either hyped as the best thing since sliced bread, or I felt that I ‘should’ read them due to the themes and critical acclaim. That’s not to say that all of these books didn’t deserve the attention, yet I found my interest waning. Deep down, the book didn’t really interest me. I used to read these books anyway, but usually, my initial lack of interest was indicative of my lacklustre reading experience. I not only began ruthlessly removing these types of books from my wishlist, but also had a good look at my physical TBR. Did I still want to read this? Was I genuinely still interested in this particular book? If I was still excited, the book would stay. If not, off the book went.
As time passed, however, it became easier to determine whether I was genuinely interested in a book or not. Minimalism can not just apply to things, but also to time. Do I really want to spend my precious time with a book I have no interest in, simply because others loved it or I felt that I ‘should’ read it? The answer is no. Futhermore, it also made it way easier for me to DNF a book. If I don’t like it for whatever reason, I DNF the book and don’t look back. Life’s too short to read books I don’t like, no matter how ‘important’ these books are. The only exception are review copies.
Result of all this? I got a better sense of my likes and dislikes, and most books I finish are books I really enjoy.
It helps me be more critical of the books that find their way on my shelves
To add on to my previous point, I’m more critical of the amount of books that find their way into my home. For example, I’ve realized that I’ll read thrillers only once most of the time. It seems a bit of a waste to buy a physical copy I’ll end up getting rid of, so I’m trying to decide between getting a library subscription or an e-reader for these titles.
I also won’t buy anything that I ‘should’ read, but only if I’m genuinely interested in a book. Whenever a book piques my interest, I actually keep it on my wishlist for a while; I sometimes realize that my interest has passed after a couple of weeks. It saves a lot of money! That’s not to say I’m not buying any book ever, but my purchases are more intentional and I only stick to books I want to read soon.
Finally, it keeps my physical TBR smaller. I’ve been working to downsize my TBR pile, and this has helped me to make sure it won’t grow bigger again. A very large TBR was stressful and overwhelming to me, and it actually prevented me from rereading my favourites because I had so many unread books! I also don’t want to have books sit on my shelves for years, only to DNF them after 100 pages because I don’t like them or because my tastes have changed over the years.
My purchases have been intentional and come from a genuine interest in reading these books in the near future.
It made reading less stressful
The reading challenge on GoodReads, overwhelming TBRs… I’ve realized that when I attach too many numbers and ‘things I should’ to my hobby, it becomes too stressful which negatively affects my reading experience. After all, books should be about their contents and the experience they provide, not about numbers or stats. I already had the sense to avoid readathons because they are simply not my thing and I never really bothered with reading stats, but I also don’t feel like stressing about my TBR and my GoodReads reading challenge. So I’ve decided to keep both numbers low and manageable.
Even if I do not consider myself a minimalist, I do feel that there are aspects that are applicable and helpful even to those of us who like maintaining a collection. It has helped me evaluate my relationship with items and to determine what brings me value. Of course, my life is not perfect, and neither is my book collection. It just means that my hobby, something I do for fun in my spare time, has stopped being overwhelming or stressful.