Downsize – yes… But Don’t Touch My Books!

Okay, I’m gonna blame this on my husband because husbands are good for that sort of thing. But the truth? I should have known better. When Bob and I decided to downsize from a three-story house to a two bedroom cottage on a retirement estate, there were the inevitable decisions of what should go, and what would stay. This process clearly identified for me that I found it extremely painful to part with my vast collection of books. (My husband showed scant sympathy, as he had no problem parting with books that he had already read! His words were …”You’ll feel lighter.”)

Reducing My Library to One Bookcase

While I liked the idea of a literary diet, I knew in my heart that he was wrong. Even if I had no intention of rereading my accumulated books, there was something about their quiet presence that I found both soothing, and visually pleasing. But the downsizing task demanded that I reduce my library from 47 shelves (scattered in bookcases and hanging shelves over three floors) to seven shelves, all to be contained in a single bookcase in my new office. The radical reduction of my library was agony. But, I told myself, Bob’s right. Time to let go!

I managed to keep two more boxes of books, by making room in my new office for a standalone bookcase from my daughter’s old bedroom. So, what to do with those books now destined to be discarded – condemned to death? Feeling keen kinship with all these yellowing volumes, I wanted to make sure that each of the rejects found a new home. So, I hauled 15 heavy boxes to a facility where, a few months from now, a local Women’s Club was set to sponsor a used-book sale – the proceeds of which would provide college scholarships for deserving local girls. But while the good cause was good for my heart, it wasn’t so good for my back. By the time we returned home, I knew I wouldn’t be packing up any more boxes of books for sale – for a while!

Next, I begged friends to come over and take books. One after the next (most of them, like me, writers), they responded with derisive snorts. “Are you kidding me? I’ve already got more books than I can handle. Come take some of mine.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Then I surveyed the empty shelves and went into mourning for months.

Reluctantly I had to finally (and regrettably) call in a junk dealer to cart off the remaining hundreds of books, among them copies of memoirs and anthologies I’d optimistically published decades ago.

Now in my new cottage since May, I am still sad, when I think of all the books I ejected from my life. Their absence weighs heavy. That feeling of loss has been exacerbated by the brave new world of Zoom. (I know, you’re supposed to look at the person who’s talking, not the backdrop. But if there are bookshelves in the frame, that’s where my gaze goes. And that’s where it stays). I am not, by nature, the envious sort. But this unsought entry into people’s homes has stirred something raw in me. When I’m on Zoom, all I can see are all those damn shelves with their rows upon rows of – sigh – books. “This living room will never feel like home if we don’t have some books in it!” So, without apology, I now say, Bring on the books.

Adapted/shortened from the original article by Jill Smolowe (The author of Four Funerals and a Wedding – Resilience in a time of grief. Visit