2016 Reading: Why I stopped buying books for 7 months
July 1st wasn’t just the second half of the year for me — it marked the first day in seven months that I was allowed to buy books. If you’ve ever been on a diet or gave up spending or stopped doing something you really really really really wanted to do, you know how happy I felt to nerd out again last weekend.
But let me not get too far ahead of myself…
Last October I switched from working full-time to working 80% time — still, by the way, one of the best decisions of my professional life. I try to think of it as a life raise instead of a pay cut. But let’s get real. I might have gained 50 vacation days each year, but I also said goodbye to 20% of my salary.
To deal with the pay cut, I took some time in the fall to look at my expenditures and attempt to prioritize. Consider it a first step before going Marie Kondo on our house (something I’m still not gutsy enough to do). While I kept going through the stuff that we had moved into the new house, addressing the root cause meant bringing fewer things into the house to begin with.
I’ve always been an overstocker. If toothpaste is on sale, why not get four instead of two? I was raised in a Costco family where we would get the eight-pack of canned corn and hold out Ziplock bags for Dad to divvy up chicken legs. I dislike realizing I’m out of flour as I’m about to make cookies. I hate making a million runs to the store!
But beyond the convenience, there’s also a fear of not having enough of whatever at the right moment.
For food that’s all well and good, but who needs that many candles or shirts or books? Might there be some additional joy and freedom from having just a little bit less stuff?
We were already trending in that direction, S and me. In November, we made the decision to not get one another actual gifts but experiences instead. And as I sat in my closet and looked at all the clothes I decided that I needed to cut back (I did not make a formal resolution on clothing, but in the first half of the year I bought 2 dresses, one pair of pants, and two workout shirts. This is significantly less for me because, clothes).
So I challenged myself to purchase no books or magazines until July 1st. I bought a book right after Thanksgiving and then breezed through months with no new books.
Or so I hoped.
Let me start with the obvious — I love love love to read. When I was little I always wanted to have a huge library in my future house, the kind with the rolling ladders and fifteen-foot shelves and musty old books. Have you ever been to the reading room in the Suzallo Library at UW? That is the library I want.
I didn’t quite get that in my first house (shocker), but I did repurpose the formal dining room into a music room/library, complete with window and reading chair. And I loved it.
Though S has great plans to get some custom built-ins for our library/office/craft room, we still have just these four bookcases (and half of another) for books. No more space, but if I keep reading 80–100 books a year, where do the books go?
I don’t want to buy books just to buy them, I told myself whenever I felt my resolve weaken, whenever the siren song of the bookstore sang in my ears. Remember how sad you are when you start a book and don’t finish it — when it’s completely terrible and just ends up in the Goodwill pile? It feels wasteful and it makes you sad.
Magazines are even worse. They smile at me from their shelves in the Hudson Books at the airport. “This will be perfect to read as everyone else boards,” they say. “Don’t you want to hear about Blake and Gwen? About how to banish bloat for good? About the top 10 destinations of 2016?”
YES I DO GET IN MY PURSE!
What if I just read the books I had already bought but hadn’t read? That was 57 books. I counted.
So I started reading and the weeks ticked by…
I’m not about to minimize alcoholism because I come from a long and distinguished line of alcoholics (not my parents, before you wonder. Mom, that disclaimer is just for you). But I know I can never take drugs or smoke or drink much because I have an addictive personality. When I get into something, I get really into it (see cupcakes, chocolate, barre, running, Lego, etc., etc.).
I had to stay out of bookstores like alcoholics have to avoid bars. I kept adding books to my book spreadsheet. I even caved and signed up for a library card — not that I am against libraries, but I struggle to return books on time and I don’t like hauling hardcovers around. Also, germs.
Because when I made the mistake of going into a bookstore a few times? So painful. It was almost a physical ache to see books and touch books but leave them all behind. I saw oodles and oodles of books that I couldn’t wait to read. “I’ll be back,” I whispered to them.
This was such a good exercise for me, though. It’s not that I don’t have self-control or restraint — I’m about the only person I know who didn’t drink in high school or college! When I want to do something, I put my mind to it and do it (spoiler: I didn’t buy any books for seven months — I did it!). For me, this exercise was more about recognizing that I take things for granted. The goal was about downsizing not just for the clutter, but to not run to the next thing. It was about stopping and appreciating what I had.
I knew I was on to something when I chose gratitude as my 2016 intention.
Because even though I wasn’t buying books, there was still a lot of reading goodness in my life. There was something magical about going to a shelf in the fiction section of the Kirkland library and seeing the exact book I wanted waiting there for me. FOOLS! I thought, looking around, you have left this amazing book here for me!
I also came to appreciate spending more time in the library, looking at or reading the books I already had. Our library shelves are also a place for miscellaneous treasures or collectables from our travels. It was fun to look at those items and reliving those memories too.
Sergio bought me a book on our trip to NYC when we visited one of his favorite bookstores. He told me when we went in that it would be wrong not to get a book here and that he’d buy one for me. I was so excited! That was the joy I was missing.
If this big lifestyle shift was to become more thankful for what I had and find more joy in my surroundings, mission accomplished.
Sorry, Goodwill patrons. You’ll have to find good books elsewhere.
When June started, I felt myself salivate. Only four more weeks until I could buy books again! YES!
At the same time, I didn’t want to undo everything I had done and lose my newfound appreciation. So when May rolled into June, I sat down with my book spreadsheet for some more prioritization.
What book should I buy when I was able to do so? I decided to prioritize books by already-loved authors over those that were unknown. Almost every book on my list was available through the library, so it was easy to let go the feeling of missing out (#FOMO is something to address on another day).
As luck would have it, we were going to visit my parents over the July 4th weekend, so I penciled in a trip to Powells on July 2nd.
Let me start with this advice — Powells over a holiday weekend? Always a bad idea. Sidenote — too much green and yellow in that store, so I had to rep the purple and gold.
But with my prioritized list, I walked out with six books I knew I wanted to read by authors I already loved. There was something rewarding about finding new favorite books, feeling their pages, and smelling their new-book smell.
So I’m back to book buying again, but with a different set of parameters. I want to continue to use the library to discover new authors while adding new favorites to my shelves.
It’s going to be a great summer of reading, no doubt!
P.S. We did a quick overnight trip to Hood River, OR, over the holiday weekend — I can’t wait to share those photos with you!