Confessions of a life-long book hoarder

Why I haven’t given away a book in 20 years

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Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Last week, I moved back into my apartment for the second time, relieved that I was only carrying clothes in duffel bags and not furniture. As I entered my building, I passed families lugging enormous couches and tables, and I cringed as I remembered how sore I felt after maneuvering furniture from cars, up the stairs and into my living room.

I remember feeling grateful to be returning to an apartment that was the same as how I left it in the spring. That is, until I opened the door of my bedroom and realized with dread that it was exactly the same as how I left it in the spring.  

Although my room was tidy, it was full of winter clothes, old school papers, extra supplies and stacked books, all of which should have been either organized or thrown out in May. Last spring I tore out of Charlottesville after my final exam with just my summer necessities in the trunk, pushing back spring cleaning until this fall.  

I spent the next few days organizing and sorting through my things pretty easily, but I hit a roadblock when I reached my roommate and I’s shared bookshelf. The shelf stretches from the floor to above my head, and the books are stacked in all directions.  

Most are arranged according to size — the thickest books lay on their side to take up less space, and the narrow ones are wedged together so they don’t get lost.  The highest shelves remain neatly organized, but the books on the easiest shelves to reach have been squeezed in at haphazard angles to take advantage of every inch of space. The spines face outward and from a distance are a jumble of color blocks and titles of every font and size.

Interspersed between them are framed photos, delicate bottles of perfume, tiny handmade dishes, postcards with art and more. Handwritten notes and cards are slipped in between, a Nepalese singing bowl rests on the top shelf and a piece of conglomerate rock from Zion National Park serves as a bookend.

My roommate and I had brought more books from home, so I studied the shelf in a genuine attempt to remove some to make more room. After skimming over all of the titles, I couldn’t bring myself to pull more than a few hand-me-downs I knew I wouldn’t read anytime soon. But I put them to the side, just in case.

I actually consider myself to be a book hoarder — I’ve never given away a book I’ve received, and my 20-year-strong collection is scattered throughout the places I’ve lived in the past.  

At my house in my hometown, the books on my bedroom bookshelf are packed so tightly that it takes a forceful yank to pull one out. When I ran out of room on the shelves, I began piling them neatly on top of the bookshelf until the stacks were taller than the actual shelf. I invaded my sister’s shelf when I ran out of room, and the remaining books that didn’t earn a spot in either are boxed up in the basement.

Each book holds its own special meaning — ones from my favorite classes, ones I’ve bought while traveling, ones that inspire me, ones that uplift me after a long day. I don’t have to read the stories to remember the experiences and feelings associated with them. The topics range from religious texts to memoirs, collections of photography and a copy of the Percy Jackson novel that inspired me to study storytelling and Greco-Roman art years ago.

Books elicit the same comforting sense of memory and nostalgia that I feel when I look through old photos — when I see my books, I’m not just remembering their content, but also the time in my life when I read them.

Although my room is now reorganized, the bookshelf remains in the same state of disarray. I’ve decided that not everything must be carefully organized, and I think it’s healthy to have a space that stays messy if that mess brings inspiration and happiness. In fact, I plan on adding to my collection and letting the shelves become more and more full with stories throughout the year. But in the meantime, I’ll try to start checking out books from the library. 

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