The Drama of Packing Books and The Year of the Bookshelf

I’ve been told before that “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” If packing to move were compared to my general flight path in life, I’d have to agree. What takes my far more focused husband a few hours, will take me days as I flit around and get distracted, inspired, or pulled into a side-project.

I started reading a fabulous book called THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. In her book she advises to do all your discarding first before any organizing, and to do it by one of five categories, rather than by room. She even suggests the order in which you discard (from “easiest to hardest”) starting with clothes. I loved that part. Giving away clothes that weren’t “bringing me any joy” knowing that someone else might find a better use for them.

But next on her list is books. And she admits that books are very challenging for many people to let go of. That’s an understatement for someone who once held a good-bye ceremony for a box of poetry books and cried the whole time.

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“Shelfie” – a selfie standing in front of one’s bookshelves


Of course, MOVING is not tidying up. Moving is picking up all your belongings and assembling them in what you hope will be a tidy and organized fashion on the other side. This time around, we’re temporarily downsizing in a new city. And as I’m not a big fan of long-term storage, I thought this book might help me to tidy first before we moved. Alas, the moving date is now a tidal wave and I’m still on the beach deciding which shells I want to keep.

Marie Kondo, I am sorry I did not follow your system of discarding books. I will be more disciplined next time.

I have moved 10 times in 20 years. I have made culling, packing, moving, unpacking, and reorganizing books an art form. I start early, knowing it will take weeks for the entire process. There will be drama and tears and at least one bookshelf landing on my head. (I currently have a tender bruise right above my “third eye.”)

I started with discarding the easy ones – I’ve read them, they don’t belong to a friend, and I’ll probably never read them again. I’ve been giving them away to anyone who stops by and on non-rainy days this box goes out in the yard:

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Since we’ll be in a smaller space for a while, I next created a “NOW BOOKS” box – books I have been thinking about reading for a while and “might” be inspired to read in the next 6 months.

Then there’s the box of “Poetry books I probably won’t read in the next 6 months but are too precious for me to store anywhere,” my “Oz Books” box (yes, they have their own separate box), my “books I keep in my bedroom for some reason” box, and another box of all my “educational / teaching” books JUST IN CASE.

The rest I taped up and created a fortress of boxes called “I’m okay with us putting these books into storage for 6 months. I think.”

But then yesterday, I was reading this lovely article and suddenly realized I had no Henry Miller in my box of “NOW BOOKS” and that article must have been sent to me by a higher force! Henry Miller must have something to tell me about this phase of my life!

It only took reopening two boxes of books for me to find this:


Disaster averted!

~     ~     ~

Sometimes I look at my bookshelves and feel like a fraud. The majority of books on my shelves are of the “haven’t gotten around to reading” sort. And for some reason, when I see other people’s bookshelves I immediately assume they HAVE read all those books and all that juicy content is dancing around inside them. My friends assure me they, too, have neglected to read many of the books on their own shelves. So perhaps bookshelves are less of a trophy case after all and more of a to-do list.

In the past, when I packed up my books, I wavered from inspiration to melancholy to guilt. But this time, considering them an attractive to-do list, I thought instead, Why don’t I make this the Year of The Bookshelf List? The books are probably tired of sitting around getting dusty, only to get their hopes up when I reach for them for yet another move. It’s time to love some of them up and move them along.

So, in honour of this committment, I hereby dub this the


The deal I have made with myself is that for this entire year I will always be reading at least one book that has been on my “read someday” bookshelf list. And if it doesn’t bring joy (thanks Marie Kondo!), off it goes to bring it to someone else.

I just hope I put the right books in that “NOW BOOKS” box.



Pick a book from your shelves that you’ve been meaning to read. Go ahead, open it right now.

What is it? How does it make you feel opening it up?



  1. Jennifer D. Munro
    Jan 23, 2015

    I realized that my bookshelf is largely a reflection of ‘who I want to be’ and not ‘who I am,’ because, like you, I haven’t read a lot of my books. I got rid of 125+ books recently, because I mostly read library books, or ebooks (usually a library ebook), and it would take me 3-4 years to read just those 125 books alone, which won’t happen. So, for fiction, if the library had an ebook copy of a print book on my shelf, I donated my copy to the library (for their sale or honors shelf). When I’m ready to read it, I’ll just download the library’s ebook copy. That made culling much more painless. I kept culling my books until all of my books fit single file on the shelves that I have. I even ended up with extra room!

    • Danika
      Jan 23, 2015

      That’s so true – who I want to be. And sometimes even – who I think I *should* be (which certainly doesn’t serve me!).

      That’s inspiring, though. And you’re right, I cannot possibly read all the books on my shelves over then next 10 years even. I’ve become a library book borrower, too. I rarely buy books any more, usually only friends books or books I want to write in or use for teaching.

      I have read ebooks, and I do once in a while, but I really don’t enjoy it as much. I don’t think I’ll ever been a convert. I’ll just have to learn to let go.

  2. phoenixoffaith
    Jan 23, 2015

    Oh gosh, Danika. I know what you mean about books. We have bookshelves across one entire side of our family room downstairs. I would feel an anxiety attack just thinking about down-sizing. *shudder* I am very attached to my books, most of which I have read, then never looked at again. But, then there are those to which I do refer back (hoping I said that right, especially with the teacher). 😉 I even bought the version for some reference books and have them bookmarked. Several books I have read more than once and even twice. Again, reference books about healing.
    Thank goodness half of the books in our library are my partner’s. Unfortunately, he’s even worse than me! Help! *gasp*

    • Danika
      Jan 24, 2015

      I think teachers and writers may have a particularly rough time of it. And Ken and I are each both. Double trouble!

  3. Angelica Jayne Taggart
    Jan 23, 2015

    Having just shipped 19 boxes of books to Calif., I know how hard it is … so here’s a virtual hug for you!!

    • Danika
      Jan 24, 2015

      Thanks, Angelica! 🙂

  4. Judith Torres
    Sep 24, 2015

    It’s so very hard! My books mean so much to me. I had even turned the staircase in our last house into bookshelves! Books were too much, indeed. We moved two month ago and I donated about 150 books of Russian and European authors to the town library. Even after that downsizing, I still have a whole wall of filled bookshelves in the office of our new house. Donating my books didn’t make me happy, but I think about all the people who’ll have the chance to read these precious books and get in touch with the worlds and characters that are created. Greets!

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