As I face returning back to Merry England, I must also face the fact that I left all of my accumulated worldly possessions in the box room allocated to me in my mother’s house when I boarded a plane to New York with one paltry suitcase. Most of these possessions have been proven to be unnecessary, as I haven’t particularly missed any of them. So, a decluttering of my life will have to commence once my abandoned possessions and I are reunited.
I have to admit, most of these possessions are of the book shaped variety. Unfortunately, my family are not in any way bookish, and my unwieldy collection is barely tolerated by my mum, who was charged with taking care of my ‘library’ while I was away. She keeps making vague threats about ‘having a clear out’ and innocently mentions ‘I’m just taking a few things to the charity shop, I’ll take that pile of books you left in the dining room, shall I?’. She also thoroughly enjoys striking terror into my heart when she drops into conversation that ‘oh, the boys were playing in your room today and they might have ripped a couple of your books, they were just old grubby looking ones though, don’t worry.’ Can you imagine the horror of such indifference?!?! Plus my dad keeps ominously reminding me that as the builders will soon be swooping in to double the size of my mum’s house, the safety of my boxes of books that are scattered throughout the attic, garage and in corners of various rooms cannot be guaranteed. ‘I’m just saying…I can’t guarantee that they won’t get damaged, baby’ he says, shrugging his shoulders as if it’s a matter of NO IMPORTANCE. All of this adds up to the conclusion that my parents cannot possibly be trusted to take care of my books while I gallivant around the world and resist all temptation to settle down. Plus, realistically, I can’t keep lugging around a collection of 600 odd books with me every time I move, which tends to be every 9 months or so. So what to do? I either rent a storage facility or cull. I’m starting to think it may have to be the latter.
I do a big cull of 50 or so books every time I move, and I had whittled my collection down to what I considered to be the ‘bare bones’ before I left for America, but I know full well this isn’t true. I haven’t even read a good third of them, for starters. Some books I’m hanging onto just because they are pretty, or because I know I’ll get around to them one day, or because they cost me good money and I don’t want to give them away for nothing, or because I know they’re collectable and worth something, or just because they are seminal and I think I should own a copy. In truth I only really need to possess books I love and will reread, surely. But how to choose who stays and who goes? Can I really cull my lovely antique copy of Wuthering Heights even though I know I’ll never read it again because I hate it?! What about the entirety of Zadie Smith’s oeuvre, which I’ve had for years in hardback, and have never so much as flicked through the pages of a single one? Shouldn’t I just get rid of them and borrow them from the library if the urge to read them ever does take me? What about my paperbacks of the classics – from Tolstoy to Eliot – none are particularly nice and are just there in case reading them again takes my fancy. I could easily cull them and then reintroduce nicer editions at a later date. They’re always available at the library, I suppose. What about the hardback social history books I have, that I keep mainly for the pictures, as I know I won’t read them again. Should I just get rid? And my collection of vintage Virginia Woolf novels….I only really enjoy Mrs Dalloway and keep the rest for show. Couldn’t they go to the charity shop?
Really, as long as I have my entire works of Jane Austen, my complete edition of Shakespeare (for reference purposes), Jane Eyre and Villette, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, my Mitford collection, my Dorothy Whipples, my Elizabeth von Arnims, my Margaret Atwoods, my Willa Cathers, Illyrian Spring, The Hours, Doctor Zhivago, my collection of vintage copies of all four volumes of The Diary of a Provincial Lady, my Richard Yates’, my Persephones, and a few other individual books I know I will want to hang onto for sentimental reasons, I don’t need to own any other books unless I find another favourite author in the meantime. But there are some books I’ve bought with an eye to my future children – the Little House on the Prairie series, for example; others I have bought because they are beautifully bound, or have wonderful illustrations, and possessing them brings me great pleasure. Other books I like to have to lend out to people. Others are good to have for reference, or because I know I will want to dip in and out of them, such as short story collections and poetry anthologies. Can I so callously cast them off?! I just don’t think I could do it!
So, how do I cull a collection down to the true essentials? How do I get down to one reasonably sized, portable bookcase worth of books, without breaking my heart in the process? Suggestions please!