De-cluttering the impossibly slow way. Step one: books!

Anyone who knows me will know that clutter and I go way back. I am not one of those people who jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon, or who Instagrams photos of my pantry and storage systems. Minimalism and I are not friends. But last June, when Doug and I got Covid and were very sick, I had a scare and, among all of the other scary thoughts I was thinking, was this one: “What if something happens to Doug and I? How will the girls cope with all of this stuff?”

I concocted a de-cluttering plan. The plan was simple. I would focus on one source of clutter at a time, and I would work on it at a pace which I could manage. I decided that the first step to de-cluttering the house was to sort through the books. Leah and Emma came home last September, while we were still quite sick, and stayed for a month. I announced my plan: the four of us would go through every book in the house. We would hold up each book individually and decide if it was a keeper or if we could gently let it go. Any book that any one of us wanted would stay, all of the other books would go. My friends (mostly drowning in books like we are) scoffed at this and said it couldn’t be done. “There is no way that will work,” they said. “At least one of you will vote to keep every book.” They tried to encourage me to retain veto power. But, I was determined on this very equitable and fair process as a first step in my grand de-cluttering plan.

I can report that the plan did work to some degree, although it must be said that it worked very slowly. It took us a month with the girls to go through all of the bookcases, shelf by shelf. Sick people can only tolerate so much book culling, not to mention dust. By the time the girls left, we had sorted all of the shelves and piled up all of the books to get rid of in boxes. It then took Doug and I another 4 months to get rid of the books. It turns out that no one wants to take books! After much searching, we discovered that the British Heart Foundation charity shop near us would take a box of books, but only one or two at a time. Every time we went into town, we dropped off another box of books. This was painstakingly slow, but also about the only speed we had energy for.

We gave away 15 boxes, totaling around 600 books. I did a count, and we have 1400 books remaining. (These of course don’t include any of the books in our offices on campus.) This means that we were able to get rid of 1/3 of our books! And it only took 5 months! I am super happy about this. I will note that I have not yet begun to start Step 2 of my grand de-cluttering plan. I think, at this rate, it will be years before I get to “Step 6: Yarn!” (Note how clever I am to make yarn step 6.)

Now (at long last, you say!) for some knitting content: How do you justify buying more knitting books when you have just ruthlessly culled 600 books from your shelves? I am afraid I don’t have an answer for this. Years ago, I switched to buying most books in e-formats (I have well over a thousand books in that format – imagine if they were on my shelves!) and most knitting patterns as downloaded files. But knitting books are pretty hard to resist, and don’t work well in e-formats. Also, have you noticed that after many years of selling patterns individually on-line, the big knitting book is back in vogue? Currently, I am coveting any number of knitting books and am trying valiantly to resist. Here are the ones at the top of my list right now:

Traditions revisited: Modern Estonian Knits by Aleks Byrd

Neons & Neutrals – A Knitwear Collection Curated by Aimée Gille of La Bien Aimée

The Joy of Colour by Janine Bajus

The Knitted Fabric: Colourwok Projects for you and your Home by Dee Hardwick

Twisted Stitch Sourcebook by Norah Gaughan

How about you: do you keep buying knitting books?

7 thoughts on “De-cluttering the impossibly slow way. Step one: books!

  1. Yes I buy knitting books. They usually have small print runs so I’ve learned to not hesitate. On your list I highly recommend Gaughan and Bajus, they are packed with info.

  2. Oy the books. I try to be ruthless, if I have read it, let it go. Then a child or a friend expresses an interest and it is gone…I try to embrace the e-book but the screen time is hard on the eyes and harder on the love-a-book-share-a book side. I have yet to be gracious about the life is a continuum of hard choices front. Many thanks for all of your posts…

  3. Took a course on decluttering after I took early retirement several years ago and it helped. Then, we moved/downsized 8 years ago, had to put belongings into storage for a while, so we had to be ruthless with purging. Enlisting the mantra ‘No emotional attachments’ really helped. I had so many knitting magazines, lovingly stored in special plastic cases and had very few left after moving. Did things like took pictures of knitted garments I no longer wore but loved. Takes discipline and, yes, dedication and planning for purging but is so uplifting when all is accomplished. A friend recently told me – – in the first half of our adult lives we accumulate things and the second half is spent eliminating them. I know you and Doug have very busy lives but having a plan and chipping away at the mountain helps. Sounds like you have made a good start. Good luck!

  4. I do buy knitting books if there are three or more patterns that I want to make – or if it’s a stitch dictionary or a technique book that I love.

    I recently culled a lot of fiction, but I rarely buy fiction these days – I use the library instead, or occasionally buy an ebook if I’m desperate.

    I am trying to cull my 70s and 80s knitting books – they’re only pattern books, but I want to check first if any have any value before taking them to the op shop

  5. I don’t buy knitting books, I’ve bought one and it’s about using handspun for knitting, I was also gifted a Kate Davis book but I can’t see me knitting any of the patterns from it as they are all for 4 ply garments. I culled my books in multiple rounds of decluttering and now have less than 50 left in the house…at a guess. The more I manage to remove from the house, the lighter and happier I feel and have done quite a few blog posts over the years about decluttering. Its odd because it feels good but my goodness it is mentally and physically draining.

  6. I’m like you – trying to declutter including letting go knitting books where the yarn is no longer available but would happily acquire all the ones you list! I’m also leaving yarn until the last as experience has taught me that it never works and is very discouraging. I love buying wool and projects never seem to use wool from the stash but always require a purchase. If you knit as much as I do even just the leftovers from projects mount up. I don’t share the view that decluttering makes you feel better – it definitely makes me feel worse as I see all the failed ambitions and attempts. Books never read, clothes now too small, crockery cracked and reminding me how old I am. I’d better go and order some more wool to cheer myself up!

  7. We had to declutter our books pretty severely because we moved from Alaska to Wisconsin. We got rid of over half of our books and thankfully had a great used book store that took most of them. However, one category that remained pretty untouched was my knitting books. And yes, I definitely buy knitting books. Like you, I find they don’t work well in e-format, and they are just good to have in general. I have 3 of the 5 you list here, and heartily recommend you go for it!

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