Accepting that the closest you’ll get to spiritual regeneration is the Transcendental Meditation book languishing on your bookshelf is an important moment. Perhaps, if recycled, it may reincarnate as a cookery book, but there comes a time when you’re obliged to admit that owning books is not the same as having read them, and they’re taking up valuable space. This realisation generally coincides with being told the house needs de-cluttering.
Yes, those beloved belongings dragged around countless university digs have become clutter. I’m already on first name terms with staff in the local Red Cross shop, bringing them more stuff than I’m buying. At this rate the house will be empty, although I’m reliably assured there’s no danger of this while vinyl records continue to exist.
Obviously, I took the suggestion of further de-cluttering with the fumbled grace of someone getting up from a beanbag in a hurry. After all, rooms these days already provide a person too little reason to linger, despite 50” television sets and wi-fi; the days of sinking into a chair with an impulsively selected book on naval history, rockery gardens or psychotherapy are fading.
Choosing which books to cull is like choosing which family photograph to burn first, although some are easier. Buying the screenplay Love lies bleeding by Don DeLillo presumably made me feel intelligently rakish at the time, but we’ve been avoiding eye contact ever since. The shelves are jammed with novels that informed my life by scattering themselves across the floor of my bedsits when I was still young enough to be developing ‘being crap in the morning’ as an understatement. They were read, and then displayed so people could see I’d read them. But they’re not all Milan Kundera and Carlos Castaneda; besides, the best way to impress these days isn’t by reading eastern European existential literature, but having the children dressed and ready for school.
Mind you, the majority of my books better reflect the ease of Internet shopping during bored afternoons in an office, than a cultured soul. There’s a book on how to write children’s stories, a guide to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, one on magic tricks, and Gina Ford’s The Contended Toddler. None of which happened; life got in the way, namely the last one. I may as well have scrawled an un-ticked list of ambitions on the wall.
I’m told that accepting books will never be read again is a mark if maturity, like realising Artisan pizza is euphemism for no toppings, cassettes aren’t ironic, they’re shit, and living like there’s no tomorrow means getting a lie in. A bookcase is a display of good intentions, of things we never did, yet surely we’ve got famous people for that purpose, and whom don’t take up valuable storage space. Discarding the influential novels of youth is that awful moment when you realise you’re too old for Converse; that slacker cool clashes with remortgaging your house to afford an extension. Being asked why you’re keeping these books is akin to questioning men the specifics surrounding why they’re keeping that piece of wood because it might be ‘useful’ one day.
These books have surrounded me for twenty years, but sometimes you have to let the past go to let the future in. At least that’s what the Red Cross shop staff continue to reassure me, and I mumble as I go to sleep.
Of course decluttering makes room to buy my debut novel The Life Assistance Agency, out now on Urbane – myBook.to/lifeassistance