Letting Go of Old Wants and Beliefs

I’ve always wanted a library, so when I started my journey towards intentional living, I assumed I’d be one of those minimal-ish people who lived with generally less but still had a lot of books.

Gif by Disney

The room I envisioned had enough windows to provide plenty of sunlight. A cushy chaise lounge nestled under the biggest window with a fluffy pillow and a cozy blanket so I could fall asleep while reading (in this fantasy, I didn’t have to work). Next to that was a small table for my glasses, a cool or warm beverage depending on the season, and a gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich at lunch (I also didn’t have to diet in this fantasy). The bookshelves would be full of vintage books and equipped with wheeled ladders since they’d be so tall that I wouldn’t be able to reach the top shelves without a little assistance. And I’d have fun rolling around and singing on them.

When a small bookstore near my husband’s office was closing, he picked up three boxes of vintage and antique books for me, with my aforementioned fantasy involving exactly these types of books. Some he grabbed at random, some he specifically chose, and some had history beyond the book itself, like this one with a handwritten letter from a wife to her husband in it. 

Photo by Anthony Nielsen

Because part of intentional living for me is to make my possessions more visible, I didn’t want to store the books for “someday when we had enough space.” Instead, we set aside some time and had fun cataloging them together, discussing which we would keep or sell. When that was done, I set up the books on the newly cleared built-in shelves framing the fireplace. 

I thought this step towards building my library would bring me a lot of joy, but every time I looked at those shelves, I couldn’t help but prefer them bare. Instead of making me happy, the books felt like a burden. 

I was so confused by this. Vintage books were exactly what I imagined in that library of my dreams, so why wasn’t I pleased by my budding (and free!) collection? 

A grand treasury of books was something I wanted since I was a kid. Recently I remembered that my mom wanted one too, which made me question if the dream was even mine; children are often influenced by their parents’ unfulfilled ambitions. 

After weeks of denial, I finally admitted to myself that I simply don’t want a library anymore. Maybe I never did in the first place, maybe I’d changed, or maybe it was a little of both — either way, not wanting a library anymore felt almost like a betrayal of my past self. 

When you spend a long time wanting or believing something that you later change your mind about, it’s jarring. It made me question what the truth is and opened up overwhelming possibilities of what the truth could be — and forced me to rethink and re-evaluate something I thought I already had figured out. That was hard.

It took a while, but I decided that I’d rather have a small set of books I treasure rather than amass a large collection of books that simply look cool. 

Realizing I no longer want a library also helped me understand that just because I wanted or believed something in the past didn’t mean I had to continue to do so. 

Closing thoughts

In keeping with my responsible discarding and decluttering, I did not donate the books to Goodwill. I was afraid many of them would have ended up in the trash or recycling bin, so I posted them on Craigslist for another book lover to give them new life — or make a few bucks selling the valuable ones.

Throughout my journey towards intentional living, I’ve realized that physical decluttering was often reflective of decluttering my inner spaces. This was no exception. I’ve spent years in the same thought patterns and beliefs that weren’t serving me. This year, many of those came into light and I was able to evaluate each one and question their usefulness. I realized they weren’t serving me anymore — and I could let them go.

Suddenly the future is wide open and that can be terrifying — and exciting.

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

Teena Merlan