Earlier this evening (yesterday evening, technically, since it’s now Friday morning), I asked for tips and tricks from those who’ve significantly simplified their lives and reduced the amount of stuff they live with.

An hour ago, I sat bolt upright against my pillows, having just set aside another finished library book (on a YA kick lately, so I’m whipping through novels pretty quickly).  I’ve been thinking of simplification as losing — thinking in terms of “jettisoning” possessions and worries and the “too much” of a busily overwhelming life, removing things and clutter and stuff.  What I need to focus on instead is building — to start with emptiness and slowly add enriching elements into crisp, clean air and space.

For instance, books.  I am a hoarder of paper — hard and soft-cover volumes, novels, poetry, memoir and biography and non-fiction, atlases and maps, loose art prints, sheet music, 19th Century cookbooks and recipes … the list goes on.  My best friend would probably say that I’m hoarding the trappings of knowledge in order to use the objects as touchstones of memory to recall items of particular interest that are never otherwise at the top of my head — for instance, the proximity on my bookshelves of Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart to my operatic sheet music collection is what reminds me of Cather’s brilliant use of Schubert’s Die Forelle in that novel, and then also her commentary on May-September romances, and the tragic bitterness that imbues biographical studies of her and thus brings out the despondency in her later works.  But, I do know all of this; I didn’t need to look up any of those facts — I just needed to run my fingers over the spine of Lucy Gayheart and see the stereo in order to feel energized and inspired by the story and the overwhelming brilliance of its creator.  But I don’t necessarily need to see and hold and be surrounded by every book I’ve ever read and loved and written about in order to capture those memories.

And so, as I begin packing my book collection, I’ll be going about it in a different way.  First, the books that I can’t live without — those which are constantly read and reread and reread, quoted and discussed and picked over ad nausea — will be lovingly crated.  (They include a leather bound collection of Classics embossed with name plates and given to me by Aunt Millie and Uncle Carl, the trade paperback/hard cover volumes by Alcott, Austen, Carey, Dickinson, Emerson, Fuller, Hawthorne, Montgomery, Oliver, Rowling, Shakespeare, Thoreau, Tolkein, Twain, Wharton, and Wilder, my collections of favorite Christmas tales, two dozen beloved children’s/Young Adult books, a dozen art and design volumes, and fewer than two dozen other books (generally more recent publications of fiction and creative nonfiction) that I adore. Probably four crates worth – a far cry from the 25 crates packed during my last move.) Second, all of the books that I’ve bought and haven’t yet read will be moved into the to-read stack — that’s probably 50 volumes — from which I will read them and determine whether they’re must live with books or those that can be passed on to someone else.  And for everything left in the upright cases once those books are removed, I’ll call Ursula, second-hand bookshop proprietress, and arrange a house call.

Even if all 50 of the unread volumes move with me, the sheet music, photo albums, and reference books (American, British, French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin dictionaries, French language guides, and the Highly Selective Thesaurii) will all fit comfortably in one case, without being squashed.

Is that “simple living,” following micro-dweller rules of “one box of books per person”?  Absolutely not.  But is it the right course for me?  Hell yes.

I may not be an aspiring literature professor any longer, but I still derive uncommon enjoyment from my books.  As I no longer read with a pencil in hand and a pile of student papers in my bag, it’s time for me to remember that books should be providing only joy, and act accordingly.

Start with Nothing, then Add.