Believe it or not, you don’t need bookshelves.
Mind blown yet? Probably not, but keep reading.
I know everybody has them, and I know this goes against all conventional wisdom in western (consumer) society, but hear me out. What if you don’t actually need shelving because you don’t need the stuff on those shelves?? We all think we do, but that’s because we grew up in a culture that says “the material things you choose to display reflect your personality and experiences.”
I couldn’t tell you how many nerd dwellings I’ve entered where the first thing you see are bookshelves in the living area, prominently displayed and overflowing with random items: Minecraft bobbleheads, TARDIS piggybanks, Overwatch POPs, DVD’s, Xbox games, and YA novels. All subconsciously arranged as if to scream, “Welcome to my personality! This carefully curated collection of media and merchandise reflects who I am as a person!”
No, it doesn’t.
I hate to sound like “High School Marcus” and quote Fight Club, but…
“You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fu**ing khakis.” -Chuck Palahniuk
…and just like the protagonist in Fight Club, it’s easy to fall pray to the trap of believing that it’s not just your “stuff,” but that your stuff is YOU. It’s not. It’s just stuff. It’s all temporary, and the more shelves you have the more you’re going to accumulate, because people are like goldfish: the bigger the tank you’re in the bigger you’re going to get. The more you’re going to spread out.
The band Animal Collective summed it up perfectly in their song, Taste:
“Am I really all the things that are outside of me? Would I complete myself without the things I like around?”
How many houses have you seen with empty rooms? Got an empty room?? Fill it up! Garage? Fill that up too!! Park your cars in the driveway to make room for more stuff! Bookshelves work the same way. It’s rare to see empty shelves. It even becomes this circular logic, where you don’t want empty shelves so you buy more things to fill the shelves, instead of only buying shelves to store the things you need. It’s madness!
I started out with one set of cheap shelves from Walmart, just enough to hold my DVD’s. That collection outgrew its home and expanded to a second, bigger set of cheap shelves from Big Lots. Before I knew it, the creep set in and I was the proud owner of two large wooden bookcases from Office Depot and a couple of glass Detolf curio cabinets from IKEA.
Cheap shelves, fancy shelves, whatever. They all hold the same stuff.
Over time the cheapest shelves broke, the bookcases were given away, and the IKEA cabinets sold as the things they once held were successfully downsized beyond the need for shelving. As it stands the only “shelf” in my home is attached to my computer desk, and holds a printer, office supplies, a handful of books, and some odds and ends; the last survivors of a once-great civilization of useless decorative stuff.
The simple act of removing an object from view can minimize the importance you place on that item. I found that if I boxed things up and ignored them for a while I would tend to forget what was even in the box. I obviously didn’t need it if I never missed it, and definitely didn’t need it on a shelf in my living room. Try it for yourself! Soon you may be going from one to zero!
A few tricks I used:
- Get those shelves OUT of the main room of your house.
- Put them somewhere you won’t see them very often.
- Try combining the contents of two shelves into one.
- Too much for that? Then liquidate the stuff that doesn’t fit!
- Set goals for yourself, like going from 3 shelves to 2, or 2 to 1
Don’t get overwhelmed, just start with something simple. If there’s no good reason to have them, then there’s nothing stopping you. You don’t have to do it all at once, but it IS an attainable goal, and surprisingly easy! You can join me in banishing your bookshelves!