Last January, my wife challenged herself not to buy new clothes in 2018; anything she needed would be bought at a secondhand shop or repaired at home. While I’m not surprised, I’m pretty impressed that my wife made it 12 months without buying any new clothes. I can barely make it a week without cruising online and picking up a thing or two.
So, to follow her example, I’ve challenged myself to stop accruing so much stuff in 2019. My biggest space-taker and vanity purchase habit? Books.
Ever since I was a kid, books were my go-to purchase whenever I had money. All gift cards were to Borders or Barnes & Noble. If our family took a shopping trip, it was straight to the bookstore for me. It was mostly graphic novels and art books for a long time, but I also enjoyed novels, journals, and horror.
(I had a brief fascination with sports history when I was 8, but that pretty much ended when I discovered Greek mythology).
Today, I still self-medicate with retail therapy at the local used bookstore.
Here’s the problem:
The Pile Grows & Grows
My wife and I downsized to a single bedroom apartment earlier this year. We wanted to save money on having an extra room since we decided to move to a nicer (i.e. higher rent) neighborhood. As a part of that compromise, I put dozens of my books into storage. I packed only the few books I expected to finish this year. None of those books have been read.
Of the 40 books I have in my home:
- 25 are books I acquired this year
- 6 of them have been read
- 15 of them were books I planned on reading in 2018 and didn’t get to
This year, my reading challenge will be this: to read every one of the books on this dresser before acquiring a new one. If I do manage to read all of these, I’ll only get new books from the local library. I even got a library card this week.
“Why Not Just Buy Kindle Books?”
There’s more to my challenge than space and thriftiness, though. As a writer, my curiosity is both an asset and a liability. Curiosity without discipline or goals is what leads to surface-level thinking: I know just enough about a lot of subjects to mislead other people. It’s not my hope to treat my reading like long-form Wikipedia, jumping from topic to topic without any aim.
By forcing myself to read what I’ve already bought, I’m limiting my reading to what I’ve already committed to learning. For example, I’ve now got a four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson (thanks to a very generous Secret Santa). That beautiful set could very well sit on my bookshelf for generations before I work up the nerve to crack it open.
While any spending on books is an investment into yourself, I don’t want to continue pouring money into books when I haven’t even cashed out my investment from what I currently have. There’s a treasure trove on my dresser, and I intend to use it before I keep hoarding books.
Besides, I promised my wife I wouldn’t need to buy any more bookshelves.