book by book: taking tentative steps into minimalism

In Anne Lamott’s acclaimed book on the writing process, ‘Bird by Bird’, she encourages intentionality and confidence in simply making a start, without worrying about achieving perfection.

As we try this approach to writing, we find words appear, slowly gathering pace like a flock of birds taking flight. Faith is required to begin. Things only flow well once we open ourselves up to the leap in the dark it requires of us.

Similarly, my route to an uncluttered home is only achievable in tiny, book by book increments, beginning with heavily laden shelves that have been unexamined for years.

my route to an uncluttered home is only achievable in tiny, book by book increments Click To Tweet

Having forgotten just what lies waiting to be taken down and viewed, I have to look at each and every book and make a judgement about which sorting pile it goes into.


My life seems to be measured out in books, circumscribed by words. I cradle each one gently, wipe off the accumulated garland of dust and leaf through the pages. We have a time limit in which to complete this particular task but my heart says it shouldn’t be rushed. Soul shifting work cannot be hurried.

Slow as it might be, the process of sorting and sifting demands decision-making. I don’t want to discard those things which feel like an extension of me, and are part of my history, without careful consideration.

With books, the theme of purpose and usefulness is complicated. How do you define the way words speak to your soul? How do you measure the merit of literature? What determines the decision to discard or to keep?

It’s challenging because a tangled thread of emotions keeps us attached to our stuff, especially those things associated with memories and personal history.

a tangled thread of emotions keeps us attached to our stuff Click To Tweet

Will I read this book again? Maybe not. But look who gave it to me. See the inscription. How can I part with this? Perhaps I can pass it on to my children.

In fact, tackling our book collection can feel like trying to choose between chalk and cheese children, each greatly valued for their own idiosyncrasies. How can we choose? Do we base our choice on usefulness to us at that particular moment or on emotional attachment?


I’m finding some books draw me in like a lover (or belong to my beloved), and I put them carefully on the keep pile. Others only require a perfunctory glance to be able to decide to release.

My journey into gentle minimalism began and continues with prayer. Looking to God for the necessary wisdom, guidance, energy and strength required. Realising I can’t even take the first tentative steps without holding on to His hand.

my journey into gentle minimalism began and continues with prayer Click To Tweet

It started years earlier with releasing my life to Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, and has continued with surrendering this and that into God’s hands as He indicates the need, while slowly recognising how His sovereignty surrounds and covers all things.

I cannot make progress without seeing the hidden blessings within these dusty relics, battered Bibles and mix of books, and noting the way God has so often used words to shape and mould me closer to Christ-likeness.

He speaks to me through these Holy lines of His and through those which others bring into existence. And He writes His personal words on my heart during prayer.

my heart needs to feed most on the Word that reads me, even as I am reading it Click To Tweet

My heart needs to feed most on the Word that reads me, even as I am reading it. Because God’s Word has life transforming power. Piercing our thoughts and intentions as it does.

And only this Holy library, this seemingly disparate collection of books, is capable of speaking truth, life and healing to our broken, wounded souls. A gift we need to cherish.

What are you finding hard to relinquish? Is parting with books painful for you? 

12 thoughts on “book by book: taking tentative steps into minimalism”

  1. Dear Joy, “My heart needs to feed most on the Word that reads me, even as I am reading it. Because God’s Word has life transforming power. Piercing our thoughts and intentions as it does.” Oh! This went straight to the deep places of my heart today. How differently would I approach God’s Word if I thought of it in that light: He is “reading me” even as I read. And, how differently would I approach any book, if I let the light of God’s truth awaken me through the words that He has given to others. Thank you for sharing with us your brave journey to surrender the bits and pieces of your life! Blessings, love, and hugs to you my friend!

    1. Dear Bettie, I know it can be an uncomfortable thought to consider how God’s Word is reading us as we read it, but it seems to me that it’s actually comforting, not worrying. Because our Lord is unfailing loving, compassionate, merciful and kind, and Holy Spirit gently convicts us instead of causing us to feel guilt-ridden. I believe the sense in which God reads us is more like a caring Father than a vindictive person set on punishment. Yes, there is a penalty to be paid for our sin, and that’s exactly what Jesus has so wonderfully and graciously done. As we read His Word, I think that God’s major desire is for us to take it in like food and drink, necessary soul food manna to see us through life’s precarious journey, and wisdom and instruction enough to guide us all our days. We need not fear His wrath. We are welcomed into His Presence with unconditional love through Christ. In reading Scripture, we have a mirror on our lives, intentions and thoughts and a beautiful picture of how well God intends to take care of us. Much to be thankful for there! Blessings, love and hugs to you, dear friend. xo <3

  2. Hi Joy! I hope you had a great summer! I think it was last spring that I seriously overhauled my books. It’s so true that “Soul shifting work cannot be hurried.” Some books went back and forth between the “keep pile” to the “giveaway pile.” It was difficult, but I realized I had a far too great of an attachment on books. I spent too much money and time on reading them rather than delving deeper into the Book of all books. Yes, only God’s Word can have that “life transforming power.” And I always need to remind myself to read other books only through the lens of God’s Truth. I wish you God’s guidance as you further sort through your books! Blessings and hugs!

    1. Hi Trudy, how lovely to see you here again, my friend! My, how swiftly summer has flown, don’t you think? The cooler days and darker evenings are a horrible change, plus our clocks go back at the end of the month. I’ve had to rest up a lot and be silent here for several weeks, which felt like a bit of a hardship at first. But the time has been golden with the Lord, especially once I learnt how to be less impatient and could enjoy the extra moments spent with Him. Now things are busier than ever as we prepare our home for some needful changes! How has your summer been? I hope it was restful and restorative. Well done on overhauling your books. I can see this being an ongoing process! I’m also guilty as charged in the amount of books I have and the great temptation to prioritise reading them more than God’s Word. Though paring back does teach you what to value most of all. Thank you for your kind encouragement. God’s guidance is truly needed as we sift and sort all sorts of things! It’s also lovely to see you’ve started blogging again. I hope to drop by to read your words soon. Blessings and hugs. xo <3

  3. I am in the same space Joy! Just sorting through mounds of my beloved books and getting the pile of move-on books as high as I can. I have felt the call to decluttering and minimalism calling me this year, but especially activating it more since we came home from a family holiday and I appreciated how few possessions we needed to get by. I have an emotional attachment to my book friends and it is very difficult for me, but in reading your blog today I’m encouraged in my pursuit! Thank you Joy for sharing your courage with me today!

    1. You, too, Jenneth? It’s a bit like a September spring-clean, isn’t it? My desire to live a less cluttered, minimalist lifestyle is partly driven by the demands of new things arriving, and in seeing my home through a fresh pair of eyes after years of seemingly sleepwalking into accumulating far more than we truly need. Old habits tend to die hard, and “beloved books” sorting definitely requires supernatural help. Our emotional attachment to books and things needs to be broken slowly and gently to cause the least harm, I think, and ensure the new habits are ones we will be able to keep. In this early stage of my own paring back, I am so pleased to have been able to encourage you to continue your pursuit!Thank you for sharing your own minimalism journey, sweet friend. I feel encouraged to have your companionship! Let’s aim to pray, support and update one another on progress (or the lack thereof), while we take as long as it needs to press on and accomplish this endeavour. Take courage, sister! xo <3

  4. “Things only flow well once we open ourselves up to the leap in the dark it requires of us.” This so true, Joy, why can’t I remember it? I think in a very real sense, God does call us to be minimalists and the closer we grow to Him the less we need our “stuff”. I love this, “My heart needs to feed most on the Word that reads me, even as I am reading it.” So glad you are writing again, friend. Blessings on your weekend!

    1. Dear June, you are not alone in needing a reminder. Exercising faith can feel scary at times, can’t it? It’s no wonder we falter. How perceptive of you to consider that “in a very real sense, God does call us to be minimalists and the closer we grow to Him the less we need our ‘stuff'” Yes, indeed. It’s a continual process of noticing and shedding what doesn’t fit us any more as His children, extraneous goods and chattels included, perhaps. I love that thought! I’m so happy to see you here again, my friend, and grateful for the levels of recovery that have allowed me to pen some words again. May your weekend be blessed and restful! xo <3

  5. Hi Joy,
    Oh I can relate to the sensitivities of book-sorting! And you have beautifully articulated it. I think it’s an individual thing for each of us but I totally agree with you on the deciding question of will I ever read this again, and if not, for sure it goes into the donate stack. But as I’ve leafed through a few books, sometimes I’ve wondered why I kept it so long in the first place! (Which of course, delighted me to put it so easily into the give-away stack!) And I’ve found that sometimes as I go back a third, fourth and fifth to review my bookshelves, it gets much easier to discard. However you go about this soul-decluttering process, I pray that you will find peace and even a bit of pleasure in the process! Sending love! xoxo

    1. Hi Valerie. Oh I love how you describe this process as “the sensitivities of book-sorting”, because that’s exactly how it is. What a great book title that would be! I’ve also had to consider just why I’d purchased and made house room for some of the books I come across. But I guess it’s because they’re a microcosm of my life, revealing need, interest and desire fluctuating over the years. This is really just the beginning of serious book sifting and house clearance, though we could be talking years instead of months, judging by the slowness of our ability to deal with these things! Though even now, as I glance around at piles of this and that, pots of paint and half-finished-half-started projects, I begin to sense some breathing space developing. Maybe peace and pleasure will be hot on the heels of finally getting at least one room looking like we want it to! Thank you so much for your encouraging comments. Sending love and hugs right back at you, friend. xoxo

  6. I’ve struggled with minimalism and my want to be minimalist for few years now. For me it was a quite literal experience of first moving out of my house of many years and then trying to fit my things in the new, much smaller, house. And then struggling with humidity (98% is the norm) and roaches. Huge, huge, gigantic roaches that loved to hide behind and under my precious things and eat paper from books and lay eggs behind them.
    Strangely this led me to see that I really didn’t need as much things as I had thought before. And a house uncluttered was the best house, ever. And ebooks aren’t as bad as I had though (at least roaches don’t like to eat them). And I really didn’t need as much things as I had thought before.
    Now I’m back at the Andes in my much bigger home where the humidity is much, much lesser and there are no roaches. But I still love those lessons that I learned. Life is much simpler when you possession don’t drag you down. You can really concentrate on what is essential, what really matters.

    1. Dear Joanna, thanks very much for sharing your story here. Having to downsize is definitely an exercise in minimalism, though having to also deal with a change of country and culture, never mind weather conditions, must have made it extra hard for you. I could barely move or breathe in 98% humidity, so that is a huge ordeal until one gets accustomed to it, I guess. And goodness me, this sounds really challenging as well: “Huge, huge, gigantic roaches that loved to hide behind and under my precious things and eat paper from books and lay eggs behind them.” Wow, I have nothing but admiration for you, my friend, especially for the way you have had to adapt to so much that others would simply want to walk away from.
      What a terrific lesson in learning to live with less! And what a great reminder of God being our “enough” when we have to rely on limited supplies of things we’ve grown used to having. I’m pleased to hear you’re now living in a more amenable home, where the humidity is less, and agree with you that Kindle books aren’t as bad as you thought they were. I resisted reading that way for a long time but the beauty of them is being able to keep a “virtual” library at hand without cluttering up the home! You definitely did learn some valuable lessons from your time in straightened circumstances. I love this thought:”Life is much simpler when your possession don’t drag you down. You can really concentrate on what is essential, what really matters.” I will be mulling on these words as I take as long as necessary to clear my home and heart of junk and clutter. Thank you for that profound wisdom. God bless you as you continue to serve humbly and willingly and shine beautifully brightly for Him. xo <3

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