Stuff 3: Books 1 May 10, 2016

It’s amazing how much stuff you can acquire while trying to get rid of stuff.

Bookcases, for example.

IMG_2075My brother’s partner’s sister (got that?) is downsizing from a big suburban house, and put out the word she had a couple of large bookcases looking for a new home. After seeing the photos, I thanked her kindly and took them off her hands so I could start getting rid of books.

Bear with me; there’s some logic to this.

My husband has multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed more than ten years ago and retired at the end of last year. MS is a disease of exhaustion as well as disability, and for some people, it cuts down on the amount they can take on. Like a job. There’s also the fact my husband can’t walk anymore, although he gets around very well outdoors on a scooter and inside using a wheelchair. He loves going out—uses the subway and buses to whip around Toronto—but he’s also home far more than he used to be.

Part of the reason we’re de-cluttering is to clear more space for my husband to work on a new series of projects at home. I think most people get rid of stuff in the hopes that clearing space will let them start a new phase in life. We’ve been tossed into a new phase. Not what we would have asked for—MS is a lousy disease; I don’t recommend it—but you play the cards you’re dealt.

Which brings me to books and bookcases. We must have a couple of thousand books in the house—downstairs, upstairs, living room, studies, bedrooms—most of them at double depth on the shelves. We’re drowning in books, and badly need to get rid of the ones we’re unlikely to read again, that we never finished, didn’t like, that we wish we hadn’t bought in the first place. It pains a writer to say this, but not all books are indispensable.

Yet around here, the process of dispensing with books is fraught. Grounds for divorce: my husband getting rid of any of my books, or me getting rid of any of his. This becomes even more of a problem now that my husband can’t make it down to the basement or up to my top-floor study, where many of his books are stored. We have a lift onto the front porch for his scooter, and a chairlift from the main floor to the second floor, but the house isn’t fully accessible, and can’t be.

So we came up with a plan: move my husband’s study into the big front bedroom on the second floor, while moving the bed into the small back bedroom. How much space do you need for a bedroom, really?

So when I heard about my brother’s partner’s sister’s (got that?) downsized bookcases, I saw how they could go into my husband’s big new study, and how I could start filling them with books that had been stored inaccessibly. He could weed out anything extraneous and I would get rid of the overflow until one magical day, all the books he wanted were available on the floors he could reach, and all the clutter was gone.

Illness takes up a great deal of room. It takes time; it steals time from you in every sense. The pace of life slows, the medical appointments pile up, the physiotherapy appointments; you have to figure out work-arounds for things that can no longer be done the way you used to do them.

De-cluttering takes time too, and the two inevitably come into conflict. My brother and his family brought over the bookcases the weekend before last and they’ve stood gaping empty ever since. But I’ll get to them this weekend, and have meanwhile resolved not to acquire anything else—not a single thing—until a good heft of books goes out the door.

The question is, what on earth do you do with used books these days?