Some time ago I mentioned how I went through my book collection and tagged everything with copies available in the Open Library or through my state library system. This past week I decided to bite a bullet I'd already put into my mouth in some form and purge my collection of the vast majority of those books. As before, I find I don't miss them.
The last time I did a cleanout of this magnitude was when I moved cross-country about five years ago. Originally I didn't plan to end up with around a quarter of what I'd started with, but once I began purging I found I missed almost none of what I got rid of. Anything I knew I could re-buy any time, anything I'd read once and didn't particularly feel drawn to revisit, anything strictly of historical interest now (and I know I'm no historian) — all of that went.
This time, the purge focused on things that I'd been hanging onto out of some sense that they were hard to replace, or that they might come in handy someday for reference. Only the stuff that I couldn't replace or re-read easily, or the things I knew I had a personal connection to, stayed. (Art books always stay.) Everything else got yanked.
End result: almost an entire shelf freed. This doesn't sound like much, but I maintain little room in my home office for books by design. Some of that is to keep down the number of books I purchase, so I don't end up right back where I started, drowning in piles of things I read once and feel obliged to cling to.
I don't much like using stories like these as justifications for enforced minimalism. What constitutes "minimal" for me is not what constitutes "minimal" for you. And rules like these only make sense when we're free to impose them on ourselves and make them into their own rewards. I just know that after I moved, I was fiercely aware of how much stuff accumulates in a person's life, how little of it is really that important, and how so many of my bad feelings about parting with much of it were mostly just the discomfort that comes from attacking any unchallenged assumption. It's a worthy direction to lean in, but how far you lean is never for anyone else to say.
When I was younger, I had some unchallenged assumption about my hoard, that it was one day going to turn into a kind of private collection in the vein of the one Michael Seidenberg amassed. Eventually I developed the good sense to realize this wasn't going to happen, and that unless I wanted to expend the effort to get good and serious about realizing such a thing, I needed to quit pretending otherwise.
I'm still looking forward to my next visit to the Strand, though.