I’m not, by nature, a new-agey person. Although I live in the hippy mecca of Asheville, NC, I usually feel I’m the most conservative person in any gathering. So, when my better half began reading and acting on a book about de-cluttering with Feng Shui, I rolled my eyes a little and went back to whatever I was doing—until she began reading choice paragraphs and insights to me and (Shock! Horror!) they all seemed very relevant to my life. De-cluttering it seems (with or without Feng Shui) can be a process of letting go of things that have been holding you back or distracting you from your current life. If you view life as a journey, a process of change, you realize that most of your stuff was acquired before you grew into who you are currently. So much of this stuff will inevitably no longer be relevant to the job you currently have, lifestyle you currently follow, or interests you currently pursue.

To give a more concrete example: my family has literally thousands of books in our house. Most are titles I read (or wanted to read) at one point or another. There are, for example, shelves of fantasy & science-fiction (also science fact) from when I read a lot of SF, was actively trying to write that kind of fiction, and had a day-job where I needed to review and write about SF all the time. These days, my writing ambitions and practice are proceeding down different paths and reading Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui helped me realize that most of these books are never going to be used again by me. The very fact of their being around, taking up shelf space, the unread quietly guilting me, and the overflowing shelves having to be tidied, dusted and dealt with from time to time all takes mental energy and focus that I could be using more profitably elsewhere. Off to Goodwill with them all…

I began organizing our books on the shelves by interest areas—previously I had no organizing factor. At work, everything was categorized and alphabetical by author, but at home chaos reigned. Indian fiction initially took up a lot of space, but I’m no longer as intensely hungry for fiction from India and Pakistan as when I had first graduated from college (nearly 15 years ago), traveled in SE Asia and those authors were new and exciting to me. So I culled a great deal of older, already read and digested books from this section.

Naturally, Irish literature takes up a large section, but contained much more history and nonfiction than I realized. I decided to drop much of the random fiction and “flavor-of-the-moment” books I’d accumulated over the years (usually spur-of-the-moment purchases on trips back to my homeland) in favor of the more-serious history and literature, which is what I’m really interested in now.

The process of categorization and assigning shelf space revealed my current big literary/cultural passion to be what I’ll broadly call “the twentieth century European experience” (covering everything from Bloomsbury, Irish independence, and two world wars, through the multi-national ex-patriot experience in Europe between the wars, to the current facts of life in the EU). These are the kind of books I can’t read without opening two or three others to check references, compare and contrast, etc., so they needed to be shelved together for easy access. This wasn’t how I necessarily viewed my reading habits, but once I could see the amount of shelf space occupied by these books I began to reframe how I think about my reading time and any end goals or purpose those hours may have. So an unexpected benefit of this de-cluttering has been a mental shift in how I think about my reading habits/preferences and fresh understanding of how I’ve been choosing to use my free time.

We keep learning and growing in real time, but sometimes our mental image of ourselves, the one-line bio we assign ourselves in our heads, can’t keep up with our rate of growth, our changing focus. Our self image remains frozen in time like an obsolete mission statement or a long-neglected MySpace page. This whole de-cluttering kick helped me understand where my interests now lie and where they might take me. As I’m a very visual learner, I needed to see the amount of shelf space categories and subject areas took up, to weigh the bulk of old interests against new. This was easy to do once I gathered the physical books together — I can’t imagine how I’d do anything similar with ebooks on an ereader. (I have about 30 ebooks on my phone, but I can barely remember what they are. They’re out of sight and completely out of mind.)

Overall, we’ve probably only got rid of 20% of our books so far, with maybe another 10% that could easily be culled once I have the time and energy again. I think we still have too many books, and that’s probably the greatest testament to the influence of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui; a couple of months ago I never would have thought one could have too many books.