As America slowly awakens to the fact that our influence in the world is becoming less, we will have to come to terms with the idea of "less" on a personal scale as well. The fundamentals of our economy have been crumbling for decades, but fortunately, we could rely on plain consumer demand and easy credit to prop us up, putting off the inevitable fall and kicking the proverbial can down the road.
Perhaps this isn't all bad. Do we really "need" all of this stuff? Do we need these McMansions in the suburbs? Hell, do we even want them? More and more people are embracing the ideas of simplicity, frugality and minimalism as a personal response to what they see as consumerism gone viral. What may have begun as a necessary response to a downsized income or career opportunities is gaining traction as a potentially more fulfilling way of life. Owning less means spending less, and that goes for time as well as money.
As mentioned in my previous post on the "Great Book-Burning of 2010," I have been doing some scaling down of my own. Part of my daily "to-do" list is to eliminate one thing. I can donate it, sell it, or throw it away. This is easier said than done, as I run into practical and sentimental excuses of why I should keep a particular possession. For me, and for a lot of people, books are one thing that I find very hard to get rid of. I like having lots of books around. I like how they look and feel, but when I am being honest, I mostly like how they make me feel about myself. Owning lots of books makes me feel intelligent, informed, educated, and other pleasant fictions. I am realizing that I hang onto them like trophies, instead of viewing them as important for their true value, which is the information, insights and exposure to new ideas that their pages contain. As such, I do not need to "own" these objects, I just need to own the words inside. I can read them, think about them, write about them, and adopt them into part of my overall life philosophy. And then, I should pass them along, to friends, family or the library, so that other people can do the same.
I am pretty much done with getting rid of books for now. I went through a massive purge when I first started this experiment, and have been slowing eliminating more, in ones and twos, as they individually fail to meet my requirements to be kept. I am keeping some, and this is how I have decided to go about it:
Will I read this book again, or want to refer to it often for quotes, statistics or individual passages?
If so, it makes the first cut. Lots of good books do not make it through this first round.
Is this book easily accessible through the library?
This is where most of the classics, like "1984," "The Jungle," and "Brave New World" got the axe. I will certainly want to read them again at some point, but books like this will be at any library, with a few dozen copies of each.
Do I really, really need this book?
For everything that made it this far, I take it in my hands and really try to envision a situation in which I need to actually OWN the book. Here were some more tough choices. Even though I think most of what Tim Ferris, author of "The Four Hour Workweek" is selling is mostly bullshit, the first few chapters were very motivating and inspirational. Because of that, his book made it to the final stage. I eventually decided to get rid of it because most of what he talks about in this section is available on his and other blogs. So no, I don't really, really need it.
What I am left with is a little over 20 books, a few backpacking and camping guides, some maps of trails that I will be exploring again, and some reference manuals on backcountry medicine and staying alive in the woods. For the last category, I like taking along one of these in any longish camping trip in the woods...you know, just in case.
Apart from these two dozen or so that I have resolved to keep, I have another larger supply of books that I have not read yet, but still have an interest in doing so. I have given myself six months to read them, marked the date on my calendar, and will get rid of anything unfinished at that time.