To Keep or Not to Keep

After the Library of Congress was destroyed by the British in 1814, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to the U.S. government for $23,950. The collection, consisting of 6,487 books, included books in many content areas. Today, the Library of Congress has over 32 million books and other types of media.

My Personal Library

While I do not have quite as many books as Jefferson, I have accumulated more books than I can display. I love to read books, and still prefer printed books over ebooks. Like Jefferson, my book collection spans numerous topics including mental health (my academic background), story, presentations, mythology, writing, cooking, bookbinding, music and religious texts.

Time to Downsize

In an effort to “declutter” our house, my wife and I decided to review the contents and stored items in each room to determine what could be eliminated. So far, items can be separated into three groups: things to keep, things to discard (trash), and items to donate to the local thrift store.

I decided to review all of the books as well. Because I like books, it is difficult for me to let any go. I took a few minutes and mapped out a process to help me evaluate each book.

Book Retention Process

The process is centered around four questions. If the answer to any question is “yes,” the book is kept. Alternatively, if the answer to all questions is “no,” the book is donated.

Will the book be used as a reference? Books that I will need to refer back to or pull information from should be kept. This includes my mental health books and other business/communications books. Improving Your Storytelling by Doug Lipman is a great example. I have referred to this book often when creating stories for work and church.

Is there a personal connection to the book? I have several books that are the result of personal projects including genealogies, books written by students, and some autographed books. The book below is a compilation of short stories written by my daughter and her classmates when they were in third grade. There are only 15 copies of this book (all signed by the authors), so of course it is part of the permanent collection!

Will the book be reread? If I am likely to read the book again, or loan it to a friend or co-worker, I will keep the book. I have shared True Believer by Eric Hoffer several times with friends, in addition to rereading it myself.

Is the book a classic? For my process, “classic” takes a broader definition than just a book such as War and Peace or a collection of literature. I’m using “classic” in the context of a book that provides definitive perspective on a topic. For example, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath presents a unique perspective on marketing and presentations, even though it is a contemporary book (2007).

Below is a simple flow chart I created.

I have worked through this process more than once over the years. Today, I took these books to a local thrift store.

Now, I have room for more!

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