It seems that there’s one type of possession that regularly escapes the de-cluttering – books. They’re seen as more than just possessions – they’re educational, cultural, spritual, essential. But are they essential? Are there real reasons to keep books or is it just that the idea of getting rid of them is almost taboo?

Historically there have been regimes that sought to purge the world of various forms of literature and for many cultures, the very idea of losing their books might seen unthinkable. Attachments to books can be hard to break, but, for the vast majority of the population isn’t it just sentimentality?

As parents we cling to the belief that a home filled with books is an important catalyst for bringing up educated and informed children. After all, most people seem to be aware of the statistical evidence that backs up this belief. I’m particularly wary of statistics, however, and I imagine that this particular evidence falls into the same category as that which is used in ads here – people who eat a healthy breakfast tend to be slimmer and healthier than people who eat no breakfast.

Contrary to what the makers of breakfast cereals want you to believe, it doesn’t mean that their product will make you slimmer and healthier. What it means is that people who live a healthy lifestyle (which is more likely to include a healthy breakfast) will be slimmer and healthier. That’s not exactly ground-breaking research.

I think it’s the same with the children and books idea. It’s not that having books in the house will make your children brainier, it’s just that having lots of books is a sign of well-read parents. And their children will probably share the same values. Book ownership is just an indicator, not the cause.

So, why else might we hang on to our books? They bring back memories. Couldn’t that be said about many possessions? We’ll read them again. Will you? With all the books being published every day, how many of the ones you’ve already read are you going to go back to? I might need to look something up. Please. Haven’t you heard of the internet?

Purging books is, of course, music to the ears of the e-reader sellers. They want you to give them up. They want the last bastion of an analogue lifestyle to be conquered. But are they right? Is it just pig-headedness to moan about the demise of the printed word? I had similarly conflicting emotions when I moved from film to digital photography. I came up with all sort of reasons why film was better, more “authentic”. Since getting a D-SLR, however, I wonder what the hell I was thinking. It will be the same with books. The possibilities that come from digitising literature are enormous and we’ve not even scratched the surface yet.

Does this mean I’m going to be ruthless? Well, don’t expect me to lead by example. There’s a deep attachment to books that’s hard to break. Bookshops are still like candy-stores to me. But I can’t help thinking that books are just another possession, the only difference being that it’s a cinch to find excuses for buying unlimited quantities of them. So, let’s have an amnesty. You go first.

  • Naomi

    I agree that there are books that aren't worth hanging on to. I give books I just know I won't ever look at again to the Oxfam bookshop or hand them on to friends/family. Two things in a favour of hanging on to books though – one is I don't want our children to always look things up on the internet. What about things they don't know they want to know? I'm not sure snuggling up at bedtime with an e-reader will be quite the same either – what about the illustrations in lovely big picture books?

    Secondly, what would we put on all those shelves???

  • Mikey

    Yep you pretty much hit on all the points of why I was keeping books. I have gone through 3 purges at this point. Got about one more to go.

    The purges:
    1. Anyone want some books? Friends/family… take your pick. Got rid of about 20 or so. We are talking about leather bound and hardback first editions…
    2. What have I read. Been there done that… not going back… Another box gone.
    3. Am I really going to read it…?? A tough one… but was able to cut pretty hard

    Down to about 30 books from 300 right now or so. That I am really planning/want to read. So what is the 4th purge?

    Take a look in 4 months and purge again based on my reading habits and interests at the time.

  • Ceci

    I stopped buying books that i can get at the library. Plus if i buy a book i will reread it, and if not, i'll trade it at a used bookstore.
    I don't see the kindle really taking prints place…you have to plug it in 😛

  • Ceci

    I stopped buying books that i can get at the library. Plus if i buy a book i will reread it, and if not, i'll trade it at a used bookstore.
    I don't see the kindle really taking prints place…you have to plug it in 😛