Clutter clearing unwanted gifts

There’s a bit of a hoo-hah going on here in the UK at the moment about a book written by Sophia Waugh, grand-daughter of Evelyn Waugh, which she gave to her friend, the famous chef, Nigella Lawson, complete with a dedication in the front. Somehow this book found its way to eBay, where a friend of Sophia’s bought it, told her about it, and Sophia decided to tweet about it to the world.

The story was picked up by national newspapers, with Katy Guest of the Independent commenting, “Giving away unwanted gifts ought to be a noble act of recycling and free from guilt.”

Absolutely. Just because someone gives you a gift, it doesn’t mean to say you are obliged to keep it for the rest of your life.

But apparently the emphasis of her statement was on the word ‘ought’. She then went on to say, “…but everyone knows that it is not. Giving away unwanted gifts is rejecting the warm feelings of the person who gave them, and giving away unwanted books is even worse… She [Nigella] of all people ought to know that you don’t give away books, no matter how tight your shelf space.”

Says who?

Imagine a world where it is FORBIDDEN to ever throw away a book that someone has given you, and the burden of having to buy or rent a home large enough to house your collection, even if you never read the darn things or have any interest in keeping them. Imagine the lengths you would eventually be forced to go to in order to avoid being given any more books. How ridiculous would that be?

And whatever happened to that age-old wisdom, “It’s the thought that counts”? The gift itself is immaterial.

The main thing to understand about gifts is that if someone truly cares about you, then surely the last thing they would want to do is give you something that becomes clutter in your life. They would want you to let it go. And if you really care about the giver, the last thing you would want to do is keep a gift out of obligation. Every time you look at it or think about it your energy will drop, and that’s what you’ll connect to rather than the love the gift was given with. It’s far better to let the item go and put fresh energy into the friendship instead.

I also don’t understand why there should be a special case for keeping books. I’m always delighted to find my own books in second hand book stores because I hope it means the person who originally bought it has now used the information in it and moved on.

Books really do have a shelf life (pun intended). I keep around me those that are useful in my life right now, and when I’m done with them, I let them go to make room for new books. Increasingly these are ebooks, which take up no shelf space at all and are much easier to search through, notate, and eventually delete or archive when their current usefulness comes to an end.

Related topics
What to do with unwanted gifts
One person’s clutter is another person’s treasure

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2012


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3 Responses to Clutter clearing unwanted gifts

  1. Yes! As I librarian, I have thrown away thousands of books in my career, and am always struck by how horrified people are at the very idea. Here is an essay I wrote about it that has become quite popular among librarians: I Can’t Believe You’re Throwing Out Books! (http://perfectwhole.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/i-cant-believe-youre-throwing-out-books/)

  2. Fiona says:

    I agree with you entirely, but do horrify my family with my ability to dispose of books. I think it goes back to how recently it was that the printed word was available to those other than gentry or clergy – the printing press was a truly world changing invention. Add the preciousness of books to the propensity of authoritarian regimes and religions to burn the books they don’t approve of, and it makes letting them go a bigger emotional deal than you might expect.

  3. Anon says:

    Hi Karen

    I love your book! I recently decided to do a big cull of my books. I lay on my bed and pictured the ones that I would grab in a fire and sent the rest to a charity store (your book is one of five that survived).

    But I had a problem. I’d saved my childhood stamp collection, which I was quite apathetic about. However I did have fond memories of my grandfather helping me with it, so for that reason alone I was feeling obligated to keep it. This prompted me to call him and have a chat. It turns out that, as young boy when he was orphaned and had to catch a train to get to his sisters house in the country, he had to sell his stamp collection to get the fare.

    I posted him my collection on the understanding that if he didn’t want it, he could sell it or give it away (he is amazing at not hoarding so I wasn’t too worried that it would clutter his house). He was delighted to receive it, given his history with stamp collections, and the fact that we worked on it together. But most importantly, me clearing the space on my bookshelf meant that I got to hear such an important story from my grandfather’s life. Priceless.

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