Downsizing: Keeping the Quirk

Books for Donation

Cliff and I don’t plan to spend our golden years in our 180-year-old Victorian house, despite its eight fireplaces, heart pine floors, and bedrooms so big my daughters built small cities with appliance boxes.

Life here can be cold (in the winter) and maintenance, including cleaning those handsome floors, is a bear.


We’ve been looking at smaller houses. New ones.

New means windows that open and close. Walls that aren’t cracked and porch floors that hold paint.  And new promises, maybe, a few less spiders and the bug who shall not be named (but that name starts with an R).

We’re starting to crave normal. Closets. Ceilings you can reach with a stepladder. Hot water that appears in less than five minutes.

“These new houses don’t have many built-in bookcases,” I said to Cliff after we toured a model. “And the open floor plans don’t allow much space to add our own.”

“You’ll need to give away a large quantity of your books,” he said calmly.

Say again?

Cliff hates to get rid of anything. Fruitcake tins. Consumer Reports highlighting electronics long off the market. T-shirts from his freshman year. That’s college AND high school.

He’s never put pressure on me to clean out my stuff either. He’s not a husband made nervous by clutter.

His words shot daggers into my book loving heart.

But c’est vrai. I owned too many books.  Bookcases stuffed with them in five rooms.

I’d keep only my favorites. Let the book weeding commence…

You’ve maybe done it too.

Every volume represents a bit of you. A hobby. A trip. Your vocation. A story you loved. A birthday present from a friend. An intriguing period in history.  Childhood books torn and worn. Self-help that didn’t  end up revamping your life but sure made fun reading.

The easy part of the project was gathering the sturdy liquor boxes.

“It’s your lucky day!” the woman said. “Take them all.”

Bourbon Box

I went through my library three times.  With each pass though, I got tougher, even more ruthless.

Here’s my takeaway tip, my book thinning rule, the deal I made with myself:

You can pull a few books back out of those boxes.

That’s allowed.  And I did. And it assuaged the trauma, some.

Right before I carried the last load to the car, I rescued a final volume, Edward Lear: The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense.

Because even if my house is new and normal, I don’t want myself, or my writing, to be 100% normal.

Heck, maybe not even 50% normal.

I’ll sit in that brand new living room and let the quirk of Edward Lear, whose limericks are almost as old as my old house, inspire me.


PS: If you want to read more of Lear’s limericks, come visit me! I’ll read to you. (Learn about the history of the limerick here.   Read lots more of the work of Edward Lear here at Project Gutenberg.)


17 thoughts on “Downsizing: Keeping the Quirk”

  1. Oh my! I love your house and would have so much trouble leaving it. I think. Maybe. Lately have also realized I’m ready to let go of odd pieces of furniture I’ve collected and refinished along the way. I guess it goes with this stage of life, eh? Getting practical.

    I did the book cleanse a few years ago. Apparently wasn’t ruthless enough. And now I’ve added more. Sigh…

    I’m all about keeping the quirk!


  2. Ahhh……i get so attached to my books and keep on expanding my collection. I am embarrassed to say that some of them haven’t even been read….yet. Good luck!! I hope you will have moments of feeling pleased and rewarded after this daunting task. And I can’t wait to see where you and Cliff make the big move to a smaller house to…….!!!


  3. I dread when I have to clean out my parents’ house and all their stuff, and tons of books. And then there’s our house– books and boxes galore. Very hard to get rid of beloved belongings. Good luck!


  4. Even though we did not move from a very large home to our current home (not anywhere close to what you are faced with), we did downsize from 2 bedrooms and an office to 1 bedroom and an office, which makes a big difference in storage. And, since I tend to be a gatherer of things that make me smile, this is a problem. SO… my recent move has left me with stacks and stacks and stacks of those study liquor boxes you mentioned (the best moving boxes ever, yes!) and nowhere to go with anything. We have yet to purchase bookcases, but even then, my keepsakes and books will not all find a home. Ouch.

    I like your strategy, too. Anything you put in the “go” box can be returned to the “stay” box. My strategy (when I get around to opening up those boxes) will be to keep anything that makes me smile and/or feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even items in the kitchen are getting the heave-ho if I don’t feel happy about using them. Having 12 mixing bowls makes no sense to me anymore, so out go the bowls that are only useful and NOT sentimental.

    Good luck with your project. I’m glad you’re keeping the quirk. Makes me feel there’s hope for me. 😉


  5. The hardest part is accepting the reality that you can’t keep all the books you own. One way of looking at the universe of “readers” is that you may be “rereader” who gains new insights and observes personal growth in rereading old favorites, or even teacher-assigned books or you are someone who rarely, if ever, rereads. Although I am squarely in the rereader camp, I started weeding my collection by eliminating books I did not like the first time I read them (no matter how enthusiastically someone recommended them), reasoning that I would never read them again.
    The same day you posted this entry, I was weeding to contribute to a local book sale whose donation deadline was approaching. I flipped through my uncle’s JHU yearbook and found … your father’s picture and description! So (at least for now), I’m keeping it! I knew that your father knew my Aunt Becky and Uncle Charles way back when, but I didn’t know Uncle Charles and he were at Hopkins together.
    When I dropped off the donation, I noticed that there was a sorting box labeled “Requires Thought.” Having a box like that would help to keep on task if you are on a discarding spree. At another time, you could “think” about whether to keep those books or not.


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