2020: The Year of the Book-Buying Ban

At the beginning of this year, I set two very specific goals for myself. And actually met them. Both setting and meeting goals are very unlike me, so please don’t think I’m boasting.

1. Read at least 20 books before January 1st, 2021.
2. Do not buy any books for myself before January 1st, 2021.

Thanks to a pandemic, the first one was easier than I expected. The second, not as much.

I’m convinced that buying books and reading books are two different hobbies. Both very enjoyable, both make me smile, but one fills up my house and the other fills up my mind. I will say that one of my dear avid-reader friends buys books and instantly reads them, and I admire her for that. However, I am not that friend.

I’m embarrassed to admit how many books have sat unread on my shelf for multiple years. Even more embarrassing, I think, is how many I’ve started but never finished. This year, I wanted to start eating that elephant, one bite at a time.

What is really cool, though, is that I wasn’t confined to just the books on my shelf. What I loved about this challenge – besides being forced to read my hoarded stacks – was that I got to borrow books from friends. About one-third of all the books I read this year were borrowed from other people. How cool is that! I want that to keep happening.

Look, I love purchasing my own books to underline, highlight, and write in; but I also love borrowing from friends and seeing parts that they enjoyed or dog-eared. Just the fact that they would lend me one of their precious books means the world to me! It also puts some healthy pressure on me to finish reading them in a reasonable amount of time. Win-win-win.

Part of what inspired me to set a purchasing ban in the first place was Cait Flanders’ book The Year of Less, in which she gave herself a shopping ban for an entire year. I read this book back in 2019 but had been thinking since: What can I do to limit my purchases? And why is that important?

Placing limitations on ourselves in any area of our life is healthy and grows our discipline. I’ve mentioned before that I am not a disciplined person, but I want that to change. Although not buying any books for a year was a small thing in the grand scheme of life, it was big for me personally. I did it. I said no to book sales and gorgeous cover designs and spur-of-the-moment, standing-in-a-local-bookstore decisions and “Man, that looks like such a good one – if I don’t get it now, I’ll forget about it!”

I admit that I bought books for other people this year. But I also lent more books than I ever have before. You know why that is? Because others lent theirs with me. It’s a cycle of community that I never want to stop. Joshua and I are hosting our first book swap in a couple weeks, and I hope all sorts of people show up ready to share old books and take home new-to-them books.

Books are like meals. They bring us together. I may have nothing in common with someone, until I find out that they too are reading through the Chronicles of Narnia. Suddenly we have so much to talk about!

I think I’m going to continue my book-buying ban in 2021 in principle, but I do have a few specific ones I’d like to purchase now before we get into the year. (Another bonus of not buying books is that people want to buy books for you – I’ve been gifted 5 books and one of my favorite series in the past month!) Either way, I want to make reading the books I have a priority – and then sharing those with others.

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