Since forever, I’ve had stacks of books in my bedroom. Once the bookshelves got full, the books flowed naturally to every available surface until even the floor had piles. Little towers of literature everywhere. Over the years, I’ve gotten to accept that situation as normal. On my way to the desk to work, I’d have to navigate around that tower of lesbian mysteries or stack of Neruda poetry collections or blank journals I can’t seem to stop buying. I’ve had book tower collapses in the middle of the night, a sudden and laddering sound that had me shooting upright in bed, only to relax and and roll over. Oh, that’s my stack of “to be read” (TBR) from last month. Southwest corner of the room near the tall bookshelf. I’ll just rearrange them later.
Before moving where I live now, I was a bit of a semi-nomad. I changed apartments at least once a year and I got used to moving at least fifteen boxes of books with me, each one feeling heavier than the last. Many of those volumes I moved are new “to be read” books and the still many others are my favorites. There are boxes (now modernized to clear plastic containers) of books that I’ve moved from place to place for fifteen plus years.
During the last year or so, as I’ve thought about moving abroad, I’ve been forced to confront my box moving tendencies. And my piles of books. Question: if I have the same set of books in my TBR pile for ten years, when do they stop being TBR and become TRASH? My favorite books are still my favorites, but a 22-year-old hauling thirty plus pound boxes up a four floor walk-up is very different from a 42-year-old doing the same. So, woman in the mirror time. These books. And this life. Am I ready to change anything?
With confrontation (and acceptance) comes action. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly shedding books. It hasn’t been an easy process. I look at all the physical books that have become my favorites, that have made me laugh, have kept me company during times when I’d otherwise feel alone, and I want to keep every single one. But it’s not possible. All that shit is heavy.
About six months ago, my mother asked me to help her get rid of the extra things in her house. She’s an OG Avon lady with a place packed to the rafters with specialty products that were hot back in the ‘90s. Plus, like me, she likes her piles. I feel like it took a lot for her to look at the growing stacks of stuff and admit that maybe it would make sense to downsize, if only to avoid being bludgeoned to death by flying Avon figurines during the next hurricane.
So I wholly embraced this task of helping her. I want her to know the lightness that comes with having less things around you, of having more room to move, of existing in a more orderly space.
I remember my grandmother having piles, too. Containers of things she kept to sell at the flea market on weekends. As a child, I recall being enchanted by those piles of possibilities. I played in the plastic bags full of costume jewelry, sifted through the boxes of new granny panties destined for the hips of strangers, the tubs of plastic shoes and cheap handbags. Gradually, this enchantment wore off. Or maybe it simply changed, became not my enchantment with the things my grandmother hoarded like treasure but an enchantment, a spell, that guaranteed that I too would keep things. To sell, to touch, to hoard.
But it’s time for me to wake myself up from that enchantment. Otherwise, a tower of books collapsing over my head at midnight just might do it for me.