Beeminding reducing a thing you don't really want to reduce but probably should


Good evening, here I am with your day’s dose of “it’s complicated”!

So I have a couple of goals on Beeminder relating to reducing how many books I have in my backlog. In theory, this is a thing I want to do: I want to read more and I don’t want these lovely books to lie neglected on my shelf/Kobo for years.

In practice, it’s impossible for me to actually take a meaningful break from the extra willpower this goal requires, even during a time when I need all my willpower for something else like studying all day (I know there are some arguments against the idea that ego depletion is a thing, but it certainly seems to hold true for me). Even if I ask for a flat spot in my goal, that only takes off the pressure of trying to reduce the stack by reading – it doesn’t remove the pressure of trying not to buy books.

(This often sounds like a weird problem to have. Suffice it to say that growing up, books were a thing I got when I was good and a worthwhile human, to the point where now new books are 100% the most efficient mode of comfort/validation/celebration/dealing with any emotion for me. Some people have chocolate, I have books.)

I don’t really want to make it hard/impossible to buy books. Historically, that results in me rebelling either by just buying a lot anyway and taking whatever hit I’ve devised, or being pretty depressed/anxious and generally unsettled*. I stay within my budget, so it’s not bad for me in that sense, and space is not too much of a problem (I’m not a hoarder; I let books go as easily as I buy them, generally).

On the other hand, the number of books I have is overwhelming, and I am ignoring some awesome books because I’ve had them longer and I simply can’t get round to it. I have a couple of ways of incentivising this (if I buy no books in a week, my weekly roundup is called “Unstacking the Shelves”; I also have a “game” where books are worth points depending on stuff like length and how long they’ve been on my shelves; I track how much the books I’ve read cost me originally versus how much I’ve spent this month and my spreadsheet goes red if I spend more than I read), but I keep coming back to making a goal to whittle down my backlog and then failing dramatically, or at the very least needing to take breaks which make me feel like a complete pain in the proverbial as I ask for my graph to be messed with repeatedly.

Now that I’ve typed all this out, one option seems obvious: keep up my game-of-books goal (possibly increase it, or maybe add penalties for buying new books, or set point thresholds so I have to earn new books…), add a goal for making an Unstacking the Shelves post at least, say, once a month, and somehow make some kind of goal for keeping books read>books bought in my tracking spreadsheet. That latter needs more thought, though…

Anyway, other than “see a therapist” (my last one said “if you stay within budget, it makes you happy and it isn’t impacting your health, why do you want to change it?”), has anyone got any thoughts on this one? Any parallels you’ve managed to find ways to track and (sigh) reduce?

*I have actually tracked my mood and it correlates with both how much I read and how many books I’ve bought or been given. I even did statistical tests and the results were significant. I am a dork, yes, but we’re on Beeminder, so I assume that’s taken for granted…


By about paragraph five, I was asking myself approximately the same question you got from your last therapist. Do you have an answer for that? Maybe pinning down your motivation to reduce will lead you to a method to reduce?

If the goal isn’t so much to buy fewer books or get rid of books but to get through more of books, I’ve listened to audio books from the library to accomplish that. I feel like it generally takes me longer to listen to a book than to read it. However, I can listen to a book during times when I can’t read a book, such as while cooking, cleaning, or driving. This has the added benefit of making me less annoyed about having to do these activities.


Mostly because always having new books means I’m not getting round to books I bought way back in (checks oldest) 2011. I want to, but there’s always something new and shiny. But I’m acquiring new shinies… not faster than I can read them, but definitely faster than I am reading them (due to getting books from other sources too, like publishers, and the fact that I enjoy rereading books).

Also, there is something unpleasant about the bald fact that I find it difficult not to buy books. It feels like a personal failing, I guess, rather than a neutral thing – lack of self-control, even if in just one area of my life. (But then I wonder if I’m making too much of an unequivocal virtue of self-control.)

(Man, I love the way Beeminder forum folks can ask the right questions to make one think things through, though. :smiley:)


I cured my constant book buying habit with a rule that I had to read two books to buy one. Reading library books is an easy “cheat” but it got me in the habit of reading library books instead of buying them, so actually it worked perfectly.


I find that one so hard to stick to. I guess that’s partially because right now I’m spending a lot of time in Belgium, so when I do hit an English-language bookshop in Brussels or I’m on a trip home, I want to be able to splurge! But maybe if I “save up”… hmmm…


I’m going to third the “not really a problem” people here – it’s true that you’re not reading everything, but if you buy fewer books you’re ALSO not reading everything, so is there really a strong distinction there (given that you find buying books a net positive, regardless of the reading)? I mean, I say this as someone with an entire bookcase of books I haven’t read yet, so it’s possible I’m biased, but as long as you have the money and space, there is no actual moral virtue in reading all the books you own. No one’s life will be the worse for it.

If it’s the “accumulating faster than you can read them” problem that has you worried, I’d suggest making some kind of goal to regularly go through your unread books and weed out the ones you’re no longer interested in reading. Give them to a good home – do you have friends with similar tastes? the local Friends of the Library? A literacy program? – and let go of the fact that once, in the past, you wanted to read it. We aren’t, fortunately, obligated to complete every commitment our past self made, and I can’t imagine a sadder waste of time than reading a book you’re not really excited about instead of one of the dozens you ARE excited about. (If it were me, I would make a “one in, one out” rule, but with no requirement to have READ the one you get rid of. That way, at least your total stack would stay constant.)


Similarly: if, of all your options, you prefer reading the things you currently find yourself reading, why do you want to read the things that you don’t want to read?

There’s nothing morally superior about reading a book that one has owned a long time, rather than a new purchase. It doesn’t sound like you enjoy reading these less-shiny books more than you enjoy reading the books that currently excite you.

Do you want to find more time for reading, generally, in your life, so that your books, generally, get more use? A reading-time goal might be a good push. Do you feel like you are in an intellectual rut and want to increase the breadth of your reading? Gamifying it might help (I like the Popsugar Reading Challenge). Do you want to have fewer books in your house? Ianthala’s suggestion to give away unread books sounds great to me – to the library, to friends, maybe even see if there’s a local shelter that wants books.

But if you don’t really want to reduce this thing, and four of us now don’t see any reason that you should… I think you should make a fort out of books to completely surround your bed.


Umberto Eco said that the value of a library is in the number of unread books it contains…


Update: I have stopped all my reducing-my-backlog goals and instead made reading-more-in-general goals, with plenty of flexibility for reading whatever I like. Also, after some hesitation, I decided to stop beeminding (and Habitica tracking) how many books I’m reading at once, which I’ve mentioned in another thread. I mean, the reason I was doing that is if I leave a book aside for too long, I might forget what it’s about and have to start again! Well… who cares?! As long as I’m having fun. And I am: reading is always fun for me as long as I don’t start throwing all these rules at it. Things start falling apart when I do.

Thanks for helping me think this through, all! :smiley: