Anxiety for a Bibliophile


Hi.  I’m Martin.  And I am addicted to books.

Anyone who knows me is not shocked or surprised by the words above.  I have loved to read as long as I can remember.  I have always had a bookshelf with books on it, whether it was in my own bedroom growing up or a joint bookshelf in our den where my father and I shared (actually, still share) books.  (Sorry, Dad.  I’ll get my books out of there some day.)

I have multiple bookshelves in my house with books.  Most shelves are now two deep.  I also have boxes in my garage with books.  And I have boxes in my parents’ shop with books.  And I have some on a bookshelf at my parents’ house.

Okay.  I have a problem.  I admit it.  I can justify it by talking about how great it is to have books, and I still think that is true.  But I still have a problem.

Books are my trophies.  Whether I have read them or not, I love to be able to point to them on my shelves.  I justify keeping them.  What if I want to read them again (which I have done on occasion, but not all that often)?  What if I want to reference them? (After all there was that one sentence on p. 24 out of a 300-page book that was great.)  One day I will have a room as a study/library.  (The fact that I don’t have one now and will have no way to have one anytime in the near future is irrelevant.)

Lately it has been weighing on me more thinking about just how many books I have.  My wife (Chrissy) has been leaning toward minimalism more lately, and I am impressed by how much it has taken hold of her.  In some ways, it has taken hold of me, too.  (Don’t tell her I admitted that.)

We have a smaller house.  It’s enough room for us, but it’s not huge by any stretch of the imagination.  Because it is a smaller house, it is all too easy for it to fill up with various items.  Add to this that we are both teachers who work about 45 minutes away from home, and we struggle to keep up with tidying up the house with all the things we have laying around.

I hate to admit this.  My books are a large part of the problem.

Recently I have gotten better about getting rid of books by donating them to my church library or by giving them away.  But it is kind of like using a thimble to bail water out of the Titanic while it is sinking.  I am constantly taking in more books than I can read or get rid of.  (Did I mention I have a problem?)

I really got thinking today when I read an article by one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies.  He wrote an article titled “Going All-in With Ebooks.” In the article, he thinks through the possibility of getting rid of his entire library and going all digital.  I like some of the reasons he brings up.

I also read several articles today by minimalists on the idea of at least trimming back one’s collection to one bookshelf (or less, in some cases).

I have to admit, the idea interests me . . . but it makes me extremely anxious at the same time.  It would be very beneficial to cut back on my book collection, transitioning to mainly digital.  I say “mainly” because at this point I have no plans on getting rid of certain collections I have (C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Randy Alcorn, etc.), but that would reduce the number of books I have to probably about one complete shelf, maybe a little more.  I currently have four bookshelves in my bedroom, so that would be a huge improvement.

I keep getting almost ready to take the plunge, and then the anxiety kicks in.  It is at this point that I understand at least a little how hoarders struggle.

So, I feel stuck and indecisive.

On one hand, I could help my wife with her minimalizing.  I could reduce the amount of books I have to keep track of and take care of.  I could have my entire library always at the touch of my fingertips on my Kindle.  And I could focus on having a library with more purpose and focus on only a select few authors.

On the other hand, the time and money I have spent collecting books would be wasted.  I feel like I would be betraying my bibliophile ways.  The ease of referencing something in a physical book would be gone.  (I am extremely visually oriented and mentally map many of the books I read.)  And I would possibly have a nervous breakdown.  (Okay, not really; but it certainly feels like it.)

Perhaps I will make a decision sooner rather than later.  But I am interested in your thoughts.

Do you prefer physical books or digital?  Have you found yourself overwhelmed with books, or do you think, as I tend to, that there is truly no such thing?  Is the comfort of a large library worth the hassle of having more items all around the house?  Is the convenience of having all books in digital form worth giving up a large collection?

Comment with your thoughts!