books – because why start somewhere easy

I started my Year of Challenges with what was, for me, going to be the hardest: not buying any books or magazines for a year.

I love books. I fall into bookstores and fall out with numerous titles. I do the same thing with libraries and I always find a magazine I just have to read at a newsagent. In fact, back when I made this decision on holidays, the very first thing I did was go to lunch in a bookstore. I won’t lie, it hurt but I got through it by picturing the shelf of unread books I had at home and the …hmmm, four hardcopies and more audio and ebooks on my phone…. in my luggage for a week away. By that point, I’d bought two of those four hardcopies while on holidays and I had a magazine from the airport departure terminal too.

These new purchases would be added to my collection at home, taking up five bookshelves, plus my Kindle full of throwaway reading, most of which I could easily delete and not miss, I am sure.

It was this thought that made me realise I should add a decluttering element to every challenge, again to combat the overwhelm that’s got in my way when I’ve tried to lighten the load of my physical possessions previously. Except for books (okay, okay, and shoes and kitchen gadgets) I’m not a hoarder, I just have a hard time letting go of things that “might be useful one day”. It’s a trait I inherited from my grandparents I’m sure, I just don’t have the collection of empty ice-cream containers or tins of rusty nuts and bolts. I have bookshelves.

The rules

So, I went back and revised my mental “rules” for this challenge.

  1. No new books or magazines EXCEPT if one of my favourite authors brings out a new title (because, come on, there are limits)
  2. Use the library – I have a library card, it’s a nice walk from my home and there’s the online resources as well
  3. Clean the dross from my Kindle
  4. Read/reread the titles on my shelves and donate as I go
  5. Make sure there were no books hidden away in unpacked boxes.


Photo taken at The Coffee Library, Bali.

I’m not sure I can go a whole year with no new books; I am a reader, it’s my defining characteristic. It was barely hour four of this particular undertaking before I was mentally making extra exceptions. But no. Since I got this mad idea from two electronic library books (one audio and one ebook), I can surely go a year using the resources around me. I have five bookshelves, a local library, the library’s online collections and a podcast app on my phone. I can’t say it won’t be hard but surely I can do it.

Turns out I have habits

I started on February 6 and by the 13th I had worked out why there were so many titles on my Kindle … I had a store browsing habit. TV boring? Flip on the Kindle and look for something new to read. Travelling? Into the Kindle bookstore to download some new titles.

On February 22, I went to get my groceries and there was a pop-up bookstore between the centre’s front doors and the supermarket. I had a book IN MY HAND before I even realised what I was doing. I had a quick internal debate about if the book was for me or a gift (seriously, I tried to use that line on myself) before I put it down and walked away.

Writing this I took stock and realised I had to stay away from my triggers. I can go into the library, I cannot browse a bookstore. I can go to the websites of my favourite authors looking for updates on their latest works (okay, I’ve been doing that obsessively and no-one magically has a new book in the week since I last checked), I cannot go into the Kindle store. I can follow Money & Smith Journal & Frankie & Dumbo Feather on social media, I cannot walk into a newsagent.

Replacement habits

Now, instead of picking up books and walking to the register or adding them to the electronic cart, I have two options:

  • I make a call on whether or not they go onto The List, the compilation of books I may still want to buy on or after February 7, 2019. It’s a surprisingly short list so far, and/or
  • I add my name to the hold list at my library (and do a little dance if that title is on the shelves and mine for the taking).


The other aspect of this challenge is, of course, saving money. I have actually been cutting my book spending for years, making better use of the library and free options (thanks kind friends) so this is really a final “cold turkey” step that will allow me to see just how little I can spend on books, while still enjoying one of the greatest passions of my life. In 2017, I spent 0.54% of my income on books. In 2016 it was 1.32% and in 2015 it was 1.4%, in 2014 it was 2.4%. Before that I wasn’t tracking any spending and it was probably more. (I type probably as if that’s questionable. Pfffft.)

In 2018, that number is, so far, only 0.4% of my income to date. Given the challenge, that should stay the same or decrease as I continue to earn money and not spend it on books.

Featured image (featuring the books sign) by César Viteri on Unsplash


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