Up until recently, A&E ran a creepy show called Hoarders, showing the struggles of people who can’t part with their stuff and their road to recovery. These are people who are living surrounded by overwhelming amounts of stuff—and often in terrifyingly unhealthy situations.
One of the things I really appreciate is the kindness of a number of publishers who send me a lot of books. This is really kind since they don’t have to do this (and I don’t always read what is sent—because it simply isn’t possible). But it also makes me a bit nervous. How do I balance the self-imposed sense of obligation that comes with receiving a book? Do I read it? Give it a shout-out and be done with it? Say nothing at all?
Worse, there’s a tendency to want more (which may well be an example of what the Bible calls “coveting”). It doesn’t matter if I can get through it or not, it doesn’t matter if I can start it or not—when I see a book I get excited about, there’s a temptation to get it.
And before you know it, my shelves are double (or triple) stacked, and my kids are building forts out of my book collection.
Which brings me back to Hoarders. Something that really hit home for me (and my wife) over the last year is the similarity between bloggers—whether they receive books or other products—and hoarders. If we’re not careful, we can let these things pile up and they overwhelm us.
Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about three basic rules that help me keep a bit of control over the growing number of books in our house. Hopefully these will be helpful for you too:
1. Pass up. If someone sends me an email asking if they can send me a book, there are times when I wind up not responding at all (usually because it gets lost in the sea of awful that is my inbox). But often, I find myself having to respond and say “thanks, but no.” Sometimes even to books that sound interesting to me.
Even if you’re not in a position where people are asking to send you material, if you’re just going to the book store, this is an important practice to get into the habit of. When you’re looking at a book, maybe ask, “But what I really need is…” and see what you’d actually fill in the blank with. Chances are, it’s not the book that’s in your hand.
2. Prioritize. One of my early mistakes as a blogger was failing to prioritize. I signed up for too many review programs (which I now don’t use) and requested too much material. I wound up in a place where I didn’t really know where to start.
These days, I tend to choose what I’m going to read based on:
- If I have an outside assignment (such as when I’m reviewing a book for The Gospel Coalition)
- If it’s part of my research for a book project
- If it’s a book that will help me serve others
- If it’s something dealing with a cultural issue that interests me
These are pretty broad categories, but they still help me a ton simply because they force me to be a bit more particular in what I’m reading and not try to do too much.
3. Purge. This is the hardest one for book lovers in general, but is the most exciting one for my wife. But if a book is on your shelf for more than a year and you’ve not opened it, it’s probably time to give it to someone else. If you read a book and it was terrible, strip the cover and recycle it.1 If you read a book and you loved it, but know you’re not going to read it again, give it to someone else. It’s rare that you’re going to have the chance or desire to go back to most of the popular level material you’re reading, so it’s just fine to say goodbye to it.
You don’t need the books you’ve not read, and you don’t need to keep most of the ones you have. There’s no shame in admitting it and a regular purging of your books gives others the opportunity to read something potentially really great.