I’ve lived in a handful of rooms. The room in the house that I grew up in. A few college dorms. The drafty apartment in Providence that I moved to, after college. In all of these rooms, I proudly displayed my books. In bookshelves, plastic milk crates, and in piles on the floor. Goosebumps and Christopher Pike novels from when I was a kid. College textbooks, and classics I kept promising myself I would read. I lugged boxes of books wherever I went.
I approached my latest cross-state move with attempted Zen. The eyes-closed, deep-breath calm that I try to force on myself when I’m facing something out of my comfort zone. I’m not my possessions, I repeated to myself. I sat down in my old apartment, in the spare room that had become a shrine to clutter. I sat down with trash bags, recycling bins, and boxes for books. And started to downsize.
There’s something freeing about getting rid of things that you convinced yourself were so worthwhile. Stacks of old magazines. SAT score sheets from high school. Old notebooks. College essays. I don’t know. Maybe I held on to these things for so long so I could read them, years from now, and think about how smart I’d been. I kept the important stuff. Everything else went.
The books were the hardest to get rid of. I flipped through dog-eared pages. Ran my fingers down worn spines. I kept some, but got rid of most. I brought books to the second-hand bookstore down the street. Gave books to my friends, telling them to read them and love them as much as I had. It was unburdening, even fun. I packed my life into boxes, lighter, now—and moved.
My bookshelf in my new place is functional. A five-by-five grid that splits my living room in half. Sectioning off my writing space from the rest of the house. A sturdy bookshelf that’s nothing like my old plastic milk crates and chipping, fiberboard bookshelves. My books are clumped together in color-coded blocks. My bookshelf is more about interior design than hoarding instincts to keep every book I’ve ever loved.
I made a home on my new bookshelf for the books I couldn’t part with. Books I loved so much, that they made me cover of the final lines of the last page, so my greedy eyes wouldn’t skip down. Books that I finished, and then immediately started again—because they were that good. The ones that I put down, moved, but also jealous, because I hadn’t written them. Gaiman, Atwood, Saunders, my giant Bulfinch’s Mythology, my worn copy of Catcher in the Rye. My Vonnegut books, including Galapagos, which my dad gave to me after he had read it—passages starred and underlined, his neat handwriting in the margins.
I’m not my possessions, I’ll still say, as I try to whittle down the things in my life to just the essentials. Sometimes, more successfully than others. Either way, these particular books on my bookshelf aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Nathan Tavares is a graduate of Lesley University's MFA in Creative Writing. When he's not writing, he enjoys traveling, photography, and hours-long Wikipedia benders. He likes to write about benevolent frauds, love, and the end of the world. You can find more of his stuff at nathantavares.com.