I spent much of the day getting gritty, gray and covered with cobwebs, and I couldn’t be happier.

Like many in the prime of life, my husband and I are beginning the process of downsizing (or is it rightsizing?) our lives, now that our youngest daughter is off to college. It’s been liberating to realize – and difficult to explain to my baffled children – that this place is my home, not a museum dedicated to their past. I get to change things if I want, get rid of things I no longer need, and change wall-coverings now that all family members are out of the “spray carrots on the walls” phase. So, I’m taking it step by step, and working to enjoy the process. Today was the beginning of the book phase.

We all are enthusiastic readers, so we have LOTS of books. Used textbooks, novels, self-help books, family favorites passed down through the generations, as well as the books that we started accumulating once we could buy books just for fun. Not including our kids’ bookshelves, we have over 130 linear feet of bookshelves. Every inch of every shelf is full, and we have stacks of books here, there and everywhere.

It was high time to tackle this project, but in truth I was dreading it. I tend to fall in love with the books themselves – the jacket art, the text font, the deckle-edged pages – and I feared the reproachful backward glances of these dear friends as I banished them, one by one, from my life. Amazingly, though, that didn’t happen.

The Art of Discarding

Instead, I made the choice to approach this rightsizing task with a new attitude. Instead of deciding which books to “get rid of,” I resolved to decide which books I just HAD to have. I looked at every book anew, and considered each one with the unbridled joy of a book-shopping trip, not the slinking sorrow of a purge session. It was fabulous.

“Yes!  I love this author!  I haven’t read this book before – how lucky I am to find it and be able to read it now – for free!”

“Thank goodness I don’t have to have that book in my personal library – it wasn’t that much fun. Besides, if I need anything that’s in it, I can get it at the library.”

“Oh, wow, that was a great book. It doesn’t feel like a candidate for re-reading, but I bet the person who gets it next will have as much fun with it as I did.”

This last notion is important: I’m going to sell a few books and donate a bunch, establishing a hefty credit at our local paperback buy-sell store and donating other books to our local library for its community book sale, while giving still others to charities like Goodwill Industries. In every instance, I’ll be sharing reading, one of my great passions. The only books I’m literally tossing are missing pages, dirty, or crumbling. For me, this “pass on the love” spirit is essential to keep my downsizing mood positive.

You may have more endurance while right sizing, but I found that I could only keep working constructively for about an hour at a time. If I kept at it too long, I started tossing books indiscriminately, which wasn’t my goal. Fortunately, I had plenty of other tasks (and an elderly and demanding cocker spaniel) to manage, so I could break away before I got too cranky.

One of the most liberating thoughts that occurred to me as I worked was this: letting go of a book doesn’t mean letting go of everything you’ve learned from reading it. In addition, between your local library and the internet, you can lay hands on almost any information or story without too much effort.

I haven’t finished surveying all the books in the house yet – remember those 130 linear feet of shelves? – but I’ve made a substantial start.  The shelves are about twenty percent lighter, and the books that get to stay are sitting tidily next to new neighbors, somehow looking brighter and more engaging than before. I can’t wait to start reading. Maybe on my next break…

Another benefit of rightsizing is the opportunity to Create Your Comfort Zone.

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About The Author

Anne Ford

Anne Owings Ford is a writer, lawyer and speaker. After spending nearly 30 years litigating in various state and federal courts, she is immersed in writing a novel and several short stories. She also writes on women in business and the law, and the joys of downsizing a post-teenager household.