I’m a great believer in periodically de-junking one’s life. I do try not to hoard things but I’m not a natural minimalist and clutter keeps creeping in. I enjoy having ornaments around which friends have given me. I like buying unusual earrings and necklaces in foreign street markets. And, above all, I love collecting books.
However, I realized that enough was enough when I found myself blowing dust off all those little ornaments rather than dusting them properly. There were just too many. I’m asthmatic and the result was Not Good. Time for a change. I gave them a proper wash, put a few aside to keep, and said good-bye to the rest before taking them down to Oxfam.
I’ve also learnt to be more ruthless about my wardrobe and chuck things I don’t wear. These days it’s strictly buy something new and something old has to go. It doesn’t always work but I’m a lot better than I used to be.
Then there are the books. I have over two thousand. There are bookcases in almost every room and on the landings, and most of the alcoves have shelving for books as well. I was getting to the stage where they were beginning to pile up in the corners of rooms. Well, if I’m honest, there have been piles of books on the floor for years but I hadn’t seen them. Now I did.
So, this week, I’ve been tackling the books. A number of academic books from my M.A. course went – they are out of date now. I re-read those novels I wasn’t sure about and was surprised how many I was happy to let go. I’d loved them once but now they no longer appealed in the same way. Then there were books which I’d been given but didn’t really want. I’d thanked the donors nicely and now the books could go. The charity shop would get some money, I’d get some space.
The real problem is with the thousand or so books which comprise my research library - and I'm sure my fellow novelists know the problem. As a Historical novelist, we need to check on not only the obvious things like housing, costume, travel, food, wages and so on, but also more obscure information. I have books on smuggling in Cornwall in the early 19th century; theatrical lighting (candles, paraffin lamps and, later, gas) in the mid 19th century; an entire shelf on Wellington’s army in Spain during the Peninsular War; how refugees fleeing the French Revolution managed to support themselves in London, and a host of other out of the way subjects. It’s much more difficult to prune books here.
Nevertheless, this week, in six separate visits, I managed to take over one hundred books to the new Oxfam Book Shop in Islington. So, can I now report that my bookshelves are inspiringly freed up? Not quite. But I can see a lot more of my floor! What’s more, I feel incredibly virtuous.
And it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.
Photos: top: novels in the sitting-room
bottom: books on the landing: top shelf: 19th century Highlands, lower shelf: