SOCIAL STUDIES Confessions of a Hoarder Rachael Berkey

My name is Rachael, and I have a problem.

I hoard.

Not newspapers or Legos or Precious Moments figurines. No, the object of my hoarding obsession is heavier, more expensive (for the most part) and much, much more addictive than these things.

You see, I hoard books.

My apartment is filled with them.

I have books coming out the ying-yang. (Even if I’ve never been able to exactly identify what a ying-yang is…though I can take a pretty safe, NSFW guess.)

I’m at that stage of book hoarding where my friends and family refuse to help me move from residence to residence. Professional movers have either listed me under “No calls accepted” or they gave me a specialized ringtone that features the O’Jays singing “Money, money, money, money” each time I call.

And I move pretty frequently.

Everywhere I go, I pick up new books. Sometimes I pay for them. Sometimes they are given to me. Sometimes, I see them, alone and neglected on the New Reads shelf at the library, and I just can’t walk away.

Imagine walking into the pound or a pet store and that adorable baby animal you are obsessed with is just sitting there, staring at you through the glass, begging you with its sweet little face to take it home.

This happens to me with every book I pass.

It’s a problem.

Every now and again, I do the unthinkable. I cull my library.

I’ve done it two, maybe three times in my adult life. Sometimes, I’m organized about it. In graduate school, I made a spreadsheet with titles and authors. I carefully color-coded things so I knew what I had sold on Amazon and what I hadn’t sold at all.

Why yes, it was the end of the semester! Yes! I was procrastinating both grading my students’ papers and writing my own! However did you know?

Other times, I’m less organized about it…usually around the time I’m set to pack up and move somewhere. Then I sit on the floor, surrounded by packing tape, cardboard boxes and a Rubbermaid container I’m filling with the books I’ve decided are not worthy of being carted off to my next home. These I take to whatever used bookstore will have them. If I live in one place for too long, the staff at these stores get to know me by name and will stop me before I bring in more than one load of books.

“No Rachael, we can’t take this many this week.”

Usually it’s a question of volume rather than quality. No one has ever actually insulted my literary taste. Well, except for when I tried to offload my Twilight collection on an unassuming bookseller in Cambridge. He snorted and handed them back to me with a smirk.

There’s a constant stack of books on my bedside table. I sleep in fear of it, completely convinced that someday it will actually topple over and suffocate me in my dreams.

This is utter nonsense of course. In college, I regularly slept under my books and survived to tell the tale. I even remember my roommate walking in with a friend late one night and overhearing, “Seriously, she can sleep like that?” from under a small forest of textbooks.

There’s a recovery program for people like me, right? I can hope to someday kick this addiction? I will someday wake up to a calm, ordered home with books that decorate the shelves and space but don’t overwhelm it?

Please? Someone tell me that there’s hope…

Photo credit Susanna Cole’s tumblr

comments

Please help us maintain positive conversations by refraining from posting spam, advertisements, and links to other websites or blogs. we reserve the right to remove your comment if it does not adhere to these guidelines. thanks! post a comment.

  1. Rachael, I am right there with you. I buy books like it’s my job and keep them forever. Getting a Kindle has helped some, but some of the books I want to read only come in hard copy (like what I’m reading right now – ‘Jesus and Buddha’ by Ed Sherman – http://www.buddha-christ.info). The books that I like – I convince myself I’ll read them again. The ones I don’t like – I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.

  2. KIndle.

  3. i couldn’t agree more. i just went through my books and actually alphabetize them. sure that’s no big deal, except that i have over 600 books and i’m only 26! i think there are worse things to be a “hoarder” over.. but yes. my name is mary and i’m a bibliophile, welcome to the club!

  4. Never second guess your love of the literary world! Be reasonable, yes, when trying to decide which books are of value and have fulfilled their purpose in your life. If not, pass it along to someone who may be in the precise position to allow this treasure to utilize its full potential! I, like you, love my books, but have had to find ways to be more reasonable about my obsession. With a one-year-old son, compromises just had to be made in our small home. But don’t think by any means that it was easy. Books are love that never has to die, stories that never have to end because you can always start over fresh! They are reality and adventure and narrators of our souls! Kudos to all you book hoarders out there!

    Also, for the people who love to read…..had to read this essay in English a couple weeks ago, and really enjoyed it. Thought I would share! “How to Mark a Book,” by Mortimer Adler http://bhs.cc/ciswriting/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/how%20to%20mark%20a%20book.pdf

  5. I have so many books. Too many. It’s a problem. I have no intention of stopping.

  6. One side of my floor is completely covered in comic books. I don’t even have room for another bookshelf

  7. My names Stacey and I’m a book hoarder.
    I never want to be cured :]

  8. My names Rachel and I also hoard books. I have tons and tons of them!

  9. I can relate so, so much. I just moved cross-country and gave two Rubbermaid bins full of books to my friends and then the library. I rarely buy new books; they’re so expensive. But if I read a book I love, I make sure to buy it in a nice hardback. But library book sales and the random “free to the public” books at my local library are my crack. How can I pass them up? I do like passing the books on, somehow (if they’re not my faves) because I know they’ll live on.

    I’m a big library patron, so that helps me stay out of debt. But when I grow up (and I’m already 32), I want a library like the Beast has in Beauty and the Beast.

  10. I never thought of myself as a book hoarder … I prefer “collector”, ha-ha, but seeing as I’m the one in the example photo for this article, on my bed with my swamp of books, I would imagine that makes me “guilty as charged”. And yes, I used to sleep under/with books in my bed, as a child, but eventually learned to stack them up beside my bed, as I began to worry about them being inevitably thrown to the floor in my sleep and damaged.

    P.S. If you want, I can send you a HQ/original copy of that photo, so it won’t be so stretched, and colored properly. Just let me know where to send it.

    • I loved your picture! It felt just like my college dorm room when I slept under books! :) I don’t think I can switch it out for a HQ version but thanks for the offer. I’m so glad you found this post with your picture! :)

  11. Funny ive just been realized the same thing about myself. and also my bf has said there should be a book anonymous club where he can send me to…and i can agree that best place to search for books are thrift stores…thank god my bf is an enabler and doesnt mind traveling with me to all 3 stores in search for my weekly dosage…

    • Oh you should read Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris…I think there’s a great essay in it about an enabling partner & his birthday presents of used bookstores. :)

  12. That’s funny because my name is Rachel too and I have the exact same problem :) I’m concerned the seams of my bedroom are going to burst soon. I love this quote by Anna Quindlen: “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.”

  13. A cure for book hoarding? I think there’s a book for that.
    Maybe you should start a Books Anonymous Group (B.A.G.). I would be the first one to join. After cleaning my apartment yesterday, I found 4 tote bags filled with books in my closet from books sales I attended at the beginning of the semester. I don’t know where to put them :(

  14. My cure was to move abroad, then continue to move every few years. You can hardly carry any weight in luggage these days, and you’ll find shipping way to0 expensive. Plus abroad there is always a good home (other English speakers) to pass these books on. Basically, any book you have the hope of regaining on Amazon used one day, is one you can ease your mind about not physically possessing now.

    I arrived to my latest destination, Spain, with only 6 books (including the thin Bunny Suicides).

    • Oh that’s a good idea! I used to think the invention of ebooks would solve my problem…but now I cling to my paper books even more.

  15. yes, there is a cure. you just have to keep moving into bigger and bigger spaces. i favor second hand stores for books and never come home without one. if my purse is empty of books, i would rather spend and extra ten minutes looking for one to read today than be on time for work. try paperbackswap.com for getting rid of some of your books. cause you get credits and can order more too.

    • That whole turning books into more books thing…it’s like they reproduce on their own. Not that I’m complaining or anything…

  16. Books are just so beautiful, though. I love them. Quick question – how many books would you say you have? My hoarding is counteracted by my mum’s obsessive clutter-clearing so I only have about 150 now. But I got a “several-dozen-million” vibe from this.

    • Well, I haven’t really counted in a few years. But the last time I moved, I had 10+ liquor boxes of books. Liquor boxes are great, free ways of packaging books so long as you aren’t sending/shipping them, FYI. And the last time I really counted…that procrastinator’s shift into spreadsheet mode? The final tally was 338.

  17. I can relate completely. It seems to confuse my peers moreso, because I find my fancy in nonfiction books. North American tree guides, biographies, and about 11 “Understanding Your Cat” books. I’m a little ashamed, but at least I’m informed (:

    • In researching my last novel, I acquired books on music composition & history, and books on Toronto. My nonfiction shelf is quite eclectic.