What I Learnt From A Book Buying Ban

June 19, 2019

At the beginning of 2018, I decided to take on a challenge and ban myself from buying books. The reason behind this decision? I realised (as many of us do) that for the last couple of years I had been acquiring lots of books, but was reading less. In fact, my book buying habits have significantly changed over the course of the years. I can safely say that I bought close to zero books as a teenager. In reality, it wasn’t until I discovered BookTube that buying books became a habit.

How It All Began

In my pre-YouTube era, I re-read the same books repeatedly and used the local library more often. I also had no idea what type of stories I enjoyed reading, so I’d pick whatever was available at my local supermarket, or bookshop.

Discovering the online book community changed this panorama. Fellow readers, who shared their passion for literature online, introduced me to dozens of authors and hundreds of books. Up until this moment, I saw reading as a very lonely activity.

Perhaps because I did not have many friends that liked to read, finding these online book lovers felt like reuniting with a long lost family. This family understood me. They felt as strongly about books as I did. As a result, reading became less lonely. Influenced by BookTubers and bloggers, I started filling my shelves with fictional worlds. Epic family sagas, disturbing dystopias and world-renowned classics. I was happy.

The Turning Point

Still, these happy feelings did not last long. Whenever I looked at my TBR pile, I felt anxious. I would stare at the colourful spines, read the titles and start to wonder: why did I buy this book? I should’ve read this by now! For how long has this been sitting on my shelves? A sense of guilt would take over. Instead of feeling excited about digging into new literature, I felt guilty about the books I wasn’t reading.

And so, by the end of 2017, I was facing one of the most terrible reading slumps of my life. I’d start a book and put it down after a few pages. I tried different genres, but nothing seemed to work for me.

As I was losing hope of ever finishing a book again, I was struck by an idea. I remembered seeing a YouTuber talking about a book-buying ban. She decided not to buy any more books, so she could focus on the ones she already owned. Interested to know if I could pull it off, I set up a goal of not buying books in 2018. I accomplished my challenge and lived to tell the tale. Read along to find out what I learnt from not buying books for one year.

A Troublesome Relationship With Money

I had suspected this for quite some time, but the book buying ban only confirmed it: I have a rowdy relationship with money. I am aware that this is true for many people, but in a way, I’ve always felt a bit ashamed of it.

Truth is, no one likes to talk about money. It is a taboo in most societies, but we should definitely discuss it more often. Anyways, my relationship with money has always been one of restriction. I come from a middle-class family, so when I talk about restriction, I don’t mean severe financial struggles. I have to say that I’m very privileged for never having felt the hardships of poverty first-hand.

However, I was educated to believe that money was used for vital supplies only. I thought that spending money on food was okay, but spending money on myself wasn’t, even if I was being financially responsible. This understanding of money had a long-lasting impact on how I manage my personal finances.

Therefore, by 2017, I was not only feeling guilty about my TBR pile but also about the money I had spent on those unread books. In my mind, passing on my unread books to other people signified loss, for I had bought something, which I didn’t consume right away. Worst of all? It was something I could live without, it wasn’t vital to my existence.

After going on a book buying ban, I started to buy fewer books, which allowed me to feel more in control of my money. It also shook off the guilt I felt about spending money on myself.

Unread Books Shouldn’t Make You Feel Stressed

I believe it was John Waters, who once said: Nothing is more important than an unread library. This quote speaks volumes to me and I should definitely frame it above my desk. As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I have a magical power. I can transform any pleasant activity, like reading, into something stressful. I wasn’t aware of this until recently.

The one year of not buying books gave me plenty of time to browse through my shelves and reflect upon the reasons why I add certain books to my collection. I spent quite some time considering what type of stories I was drawn to and what were my criteria for keeping certain books over others.

I had all kinds of books. I owned books that I had read as a child. Others had been bought simply because of an appealing cover. If the synopsis intrigued me, it was almost certain that I would buy it. I also had books I had bought abroad. Even today, whenever I travel somewhere new, I always like to bring home a book from that place.

In the meantime, an epiphany occurred. I concluded that besides being a reader, I am a collector. Not only do I enjoy reading, but I also adore books as objects. I love to look at them, slowly browse their pages and enjoy the characteristic scent of paper.

“Why should unread books make you feel stressed?,” I told myself. “Unread books are full of potential. You shouldn’t feel guilty about owning them; you should feel excited!”

There Is No Perfect Reader

This should be common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to emphasise that every reader is different and experiences books in a distinct way. Even though BookTubers continue to encourage people to read, they can also negatively affect readers. At least, that has been my experience for the last couple of years.

Up until recently, I was accustomed to comparing myself to people on the Internet.  People who were reading the hyped book of the moment, who owned beautiful hardcovers, or read 100+ books a year. They seemed to me to be the epitome of the perfect reader.  In my mind, the perfect reader was that person who was always up to date with new releases, who could afford to buy expensive collector editions, and who read in one year what I did in three.

The book buying ban allowed me to understand that there is no such thing as the perfect reader. There are readers who will find contentment in new acquisitions, while others will only read from the library. There is no right or wrong here. After my book buying ban, I like to think I found a happy medium. I still buy books, but I also read a lot from the library and often borrow novels from my mother.

Do you have 100+ books on your TBR? Cool. You actually don’t buy books at all and borrow them from your friends? That’s okay, too. As long as you’re happy with your choices, you shouldn’t feel pressured to change.

As for me, I’ve made peace with my TBR. Besides, I’ve learned to accept that I’m a sucker for pretty book covers and it is unlikely that that will ever change. After all, why should it? Life is too short to feel guilty about buying books.

Andreia is a Portuguese freelance writer and ballet enthusiast in love with pretty books and untranslatable words. When not writing, she can be found with her nose stuck in a book, perfecting her French, or dreaming about the Swiss Alps. Travel pet peeves include having to narrow down which books to pack in her suitcase. Follow her adventures on her blog and Instagram.

You can read her articles here