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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter

I have a confession.

My bookcase is filled with books.

I know that sounds crazy. The purpose of having, storing, collecting, stacking and rifling through books is often elusive. I like them, but simultaneously want to rid myself of everything that is superfluous and books that have already been read are not terribly necessary.

Our family book collection ranges from the the original fairy tales penned by the brothers Grimm to current politics and the opinions of experts nationwide. Picture books, atlases, literary classics and pre-teen drivel all line our shelves.

We also have a few photos, a couple of decor pieces but mostly, our bookcases hold….books.

On the rare occasion when I feel somewhat social, I’ll have friends over to my house to visit. Most of them are highly opinionated and I can’t say we always agree, but that’s what makes them so valuable. They bring a twist to my way of thinking and are often able to enlighten me with a point of view I had not previously seen. All of that is done without
yelling or screaming, stomping or huffing. (I have a fantasy that one day my five-year-old will understand having a fit is not a valid exercise in opinion sharing.) So, between books and my friends, my level of genius just continues to grow.

One day a friend came over to help me declutter. Minimizing seems easier to accomplish when there is a cheering squad; when something is anchored to the heart, it’s hard to recognize it needs to go and then let it go.

For instance, a friend helped me in the kitchen and did not understand why I owned so many baking supplies. She personally hates being in this room and thinks all cookware is a parasitic alien life form, sucking the beauty out of the kitchen by constantly reminding us that the purpose of the room is not just to display a vase or two of flowers and unused china. I admit that she was probably not my best choice when looking for support in my decluttering task.

We gave up eventually and moved to the living room where she proclaimed my wall unit to be old fashioned, unattractive and crowded with an unnecessary number of archaic books.

I had nothing to say. I liked my books but I also liked some of the souvenirs I had acquired from my limited travels and as gifts from my friends. I agreed they were being overwhelmed by the stacks of literature crowded on the shelves. However, I never thought about getting rid of all of them.

As I contemplated shelves where my decorations held center court, my friend sensed she had made a point. However, she pushed it too far with her next sentence.

“Why would you need books anyway? You can just get anything electronically.”

Now that is just crazy talk. No books?

I’ve heard the arguments on both sides. The feel of paper versus the ease of carrying multiple tomes in one electronic case. The ability to physically flip the dry pages and seek favorite lines, highlighted and underlined with notes written in the margins. The skill of scanning for specific words or looking up character summaries and adding multiple
bookmarks like dog ears bent on so many corners that the book appears thicker with love. I realized that versions of this can be done electronically, but it doesn’t involve all the senses like carefully reading and marking a book does.

What both reading methods have in common is words. Good ones and archaic ones, some that are unnecessarily flowery, supercilious even. There are perfect ones, the ones that make your stomach tighten with emotion, and some that make the corners of your mouth involuntarily curl.

The words are all there. Whether illuminated by a desk lamp or the internal machinations of a computer, they are able to create a world in the mind. Thinking about all of the words and books and paper and stories, and the finite space provided by my bookcase and the size of my house, I knew I had to make some choices.

I had to determine whether I needed the tactile and olfactory stimulation of books, or just the actual adventures hidden in the black and white words of each story.

Or did I need to get rid of the inexpensive collectables and gifts?

Perhaps the final option was the acquisition of a bigger bookcase.

From the bakeware nestled in the kitchen cabinets waiting for the perfect ingredients that help make a house a home, piles of too-tight pants and the neatly stacked kindling that line the bookshelves, I needed to make a decision: Which items were earning the valuable space they were taking in our home?

Good grief. Coming to my senses, I realized I was wasting too much time, and I only have one life to live. My friend needed to go home and I needed a nap.

But first, maybe I’d whip up some cookies and savor them with a good book.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.


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