The truth is I never really did establish a firm, simple criterion for discarding non-fiction as I had done with fiction. What began to emerge as I sorted through the non-fiction were more like flexible parameters and fluid guidelines.
– I had books on subjects that weren’t as interesting as they had once been, like the books on WWII I had collected when I was younger. I was still interested but not as avid as I had once been. I kept the books that were of most interest, and discarded the rest…from 40 volumes down to 10.
-I had books that duplicated information found in other volumes; I kept the books that were the most comprehensive and discarded the rest.
-I had books that were outdated…like the country-crafts, wood-working book of really cute country projects. The trouble was country interiors had moved away from the cutesy-look with bunnies and bears and embraced a more-streamlined contemporary look. The designs had become obsolete. And what were the chances that I would actually buy the wood-working equipment and set up a wood-working space? Discard! Or the set of 1912 encyclopedias that were entertaining as a novelty but offered little relevant information except to illuminate a bygone point of view. Discard!
-I re-assessed books based on the credibility of the author or publisher. There are authors or publishers who tend to be exploitive or sensational and their historical accuracy questionable; voyeurs, tabloids, and scandal sheets! While the work is sometimes interesting (sensational) I decided it was generally unreliable. Discard!
-I probably had 15 volumes of literature anthologies that included novellas, poetry, plays, and short stories. The trouble was I hardly ever used the books, and didn’t remember what story/poem/play was in which volume. With so many classics available on-line, I decided I needed the space more than the volumes. Discard!
-I had books that were vaguely interesting, books I thought I should find interesting but had never gotten around to actually reading. Everyone is interested in astronomy, right? I could never get past the first few pages and would set them aside thinking I would read them at a later time. That time just never seemed to come. Life’s too short and space too limited. Discard!
-I had books that had been given me by family and friends and I kept them only as a way of honoring the person. I didn’t love the book; sometimes I didn’t even really like the book. Does it dishonor someone to pass the book along? Are there better ways to honor someone than keeping a book you don’t love and don’t have space for?
Consider when sorting non-fiction:
Is it still interesting?
Is the information duplicated in another volume?
Is it relevant or has it become out dated?
Is it reliable and accurate or is it sensational?
Has it sat on the shelf for longer than 6 months because you keep postponing reading it?
Is it something you’re truly interested in or something you think you should be interested in?
Is it information that is readily available on the internet?
Do you keep a volume(s) only because someone gave it as a gift?
Keep the best of a subject, keep what’s most comprehensive, keep what you’re truly interested in, and discard the rest.