You be the judge: should my wife clear out her old books? | life and style

The prosecution: Andy

Sally keeps all her books, even old school textbooks. They’re scattered in piles all over the house

Sally and I met at school in 2015, and after four years of dating we got married last year. She’s always been a big reader and while I enjoy a book now and again, I don’t read as much as her.

I also get rid of my books once I’ve read them. I don’t think that you need to keep every single book you’ve ever read on the shelf for the rest of your life. Sally’s books take up space across all the shelves, and accumulate in little piles all over the house – on the countertop, around the bed, by the sofa, on the coffee table. It’s annoying as I like a tidy house.

We have a massive bookshelf in our bedroom, another in our office and more in the living room. But it’s not enough. Every year Sally will get books for her birthday and Christmas. They add up quickly.

I’m fine with Sally keeping books that are meaningful to her, but there are probably only five or 10 books in that category. And of course some books that should never be thrown out – things like dictionaries. Coffee-table books about, say, photography or travel, can stay, as they are decorative.

But other than that, pretty much every book should live in our house only temporarily. They are replaceable and should be updated regularly to make space for newer titles. When we had a clear-out recently, Sally grumbled about having to throw her books away. But does she really need to keep her GCSE textbooks? We’re in our twenties and don’t need to hang on to those.

Sally says she loves having a large collection of books in case she wants to reread them or lend them, but that never really happens. Besides, we are lucky and live close to a great library, and also have access to a university library through our work. There’s also the option of audiobooks.

Sally needs to learn to throw or give books away, have regular clear-outs and adopt a one-in-one-out policy when buying books. Besides, a book is easy to source again should she change her mind. It’s time Sally learned to part with books that are gathering dust in our home.

The defense: Sally

I don’t buy that many books and they live on mounted bookshelves – so what’s the problem?

Andy thinks our house is getting too cluttered because I like to keep all the books I read. But it’s not like we keep books piled up on the floor – they have a home on our bookshelves. We recently took a big box of my books to the charity shop, which I found very sad. I didn’t like parting with my books – I had some of them for 15 years.

He once said if I authored a book, we could keep it permanently in the house, but that books bought and sold aren’t really of any sentimental value so should be recycled. I think this view is drastic and a little bit psychotic. Who throws away perfectly good books?

He thinks I should start listening to audiobooks instead of buying books. But I don’t buy that many books, maybe one a month, if that. And I really love curling up on the sofa with a real book – audiobooks and Kindles just aren’t the same.

Most of my books don’t take up any space because they live on mounted bookshelves. So really, what’s the issue? I can see why he thinks we need a clear-out, but I think we should start by throwing away other things.

Andy likes doing DIY and has a couple of shoeboxes full of wires and old parts that he uses to make things from scratch. But he never bins any of his half-finished electronics projects. I’m not sure why we need to focus on my books. They’re valuable and sentimental, and if we have kids I’d like to pass some of my books on to them instead of buying them toys. Keeping our books for generations could be a great investment.

I like being the person with a great collection. I love lending books to people, too.

Andy’s parents have given me a book subscription for my birthday, so I don’t think the book-collecting habit is going to get any better. He’s now saying that I should adopt the one-in-one-out policy. But I’m going to ignore it. And I definitely won’t be throwing any books out – at least not until the house is absolutely overflowing.

The Jury of Guardian Readers

Should Sally get rid of her old books?
Sally isn’t guilty. Books look great, and Andy could get involved in organizing them. Sally could also help by borrowing books from the library and only buying those she really loves.
Eleanor, 31

Sally is definitely not guilty. You can never have too many books. A book collection is like a chart of your life so far – they contain memories and emotions from when and where they were acquired. A house with books is a house with soul and depth.
Hamish, 47

Sally is an intellectual and stylish individual who has caught on early to the growing “bookcore” trend of whimsical homes flooded with piles of cascading books. Many millennials would kill for the aesthetic that Andy is complaining about. I imagine that Sally could make a killing on Pinterest.
Elliot, 23

Sally is guilty. At a conservative estimate, she’s added 36 books to her collection in the past three years, and she admits to owning some of them for 15 years. I suggest that Sally use the Marie Kondo method to declutter.
Leona, 57

Andy seems pretty authoritarian in his approach to books, and his choice of words when describing the situation is telling. He should lighten up, read a few books to calm himself down, learn about relationships, and compromise; otherwise, there will be trouble ahead!
Simon, 50

You be the judge

So now you can be the judge. In our online poll below, tell us: should Sally clear out her old books from her?


We’ll share the results on next week’s You be the judge.

The poll will close on 9 June at 9am BST

Last week’s result

We asked if Zara should iron and fold the laundry – including the tea towels – something which drives her flatmate Rita crazy.

72% of you said no – Zara is innocent
28% of you said yes – Zara is guilty

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