Book-buying experiment (HT: "Separating Impulse from Action" by DRMacIver)

So… @dreev started this whole thing by linking everyone in our Slack chat a blog post by @drmaciver, Separating Impulse from Action, saying that it would be particularly relevant to me. It was immediately apparent why someone would think that from the opening paragraph:

Here’s a trick I figured out yesterday. It solves quite a specific problem that I have, but you might have similar problems, and even if not I think it demonstrates some useful general principles that could be applied in other circumstances.
The problem is this: I buy too many books.

So… yeah. I can, ah, I can see why someone might think this post is meant for me. And naturally my interest was piqued by the solution proposed, which is basically summed up in this paragraph:

Now when I want to impulse buy a book I instead just click the add to list button instead of the buy now button. Then, every Sunday, I go through the list and decide which of these books is the one I want to buy the most right now. In the course of doing so, I remove any books from the list that I’m definitely sure I won’t want to buy later.

I asked on Slack if I should try it, and @dreev was all in favour, so I decided to launch on the project, for at least two months, with the following caveats:

  1. Orders I’ve already made don’t count.
  2. I can save up towards a spree at a bookshop I like or as part of a trip (once that’s a thing again); this shall be done via a saving goal on YNAB, and the spree cannot be triggered until the goal is reached.
  3. I can still make preorders separate from this system, because they’re so important to the success of books (and I don’t usually have a problem with preorders).

I did have a long-ish debate with @adamwolf and @dreev yesterday about how exactly to implement this; I did ask their permission to include their comments, but in the end I solved the problem we were discussing myself. (The problem was “which day is new book day?” and the answer ended up being “you’re so indecisive that it’s obvious there’s no clear winner; book-ordering day is today, go!”)

Soooo, now I need to think up a Beeminder goal to go with it, because if I don’t enforce all that somehow I’ll mess it up. I’m stuck between do-more, because I just literally want to enforce buying a book every week (so I can’t stock up chances to buy a book), or a do-less, because I want to be constrained to one book a week. I almost need both. Or wait, a do-less with a safety buffer cap? I can’t think why that wouldn’t work now… Any thoughts, folks?

So anyway, my first pick was Invasive Aliens by Dan Eatherley. Let’s see how it goes!


Ooh cool!

I’d just have a goal for “did I buy the correct number of books this week Y/N” with a 1/week rate, and score 1 for yes (bought exactly 1 book) and 0 for no (bought some number of books other than 1).

I’m also a bit of a bibliomaniac (good article) - books are so magical - but I’m ok with that. I don’t want to stop!

I’d like to adapt this system in some way for my web page problem though. Not sure how other people manage to avoid having hundreds or thousands of tabs open. I need to get a Firefox addon that has a tab queue and train myself to open new links in the queue instead of in a new tab!


I don’t want to stop either, but I want to stop feeling overwhelmed by it. I have so many books unread, and even with fairly vigorous criteria for what I can keep whenever I go through my shelves, it keeps multiplying. I like the fact that the experiment isn’t just about not buying books, it’s about buying them at a pace where I could actually read them, and – via the fact that I have to narrow it down to one each time – ensuring that what I buy is what I want to read right now.

Also, ha, I love that you’re turning my usual advice about keeping the graph really simple back at me. A simple 1/0 system is exactly what I suggest every time someone asks me how to set up a goal. Very well, I shall follow my own advice!


NB: friend from elsewebs felt the need to point out that 1/week is far slower than the pace I can read them. This is true (I’m currently on about 4 books/week; I can read 3+ books/day, though I haven’t done that routinely in years), but the slow pace of buying also gives me a chance to read library books and my backlog.

A day may come when I have to increase my pace and buy two or three books a week to keep myself entertained, but that time is far in the future.

(Assuming my current pace of 4 books a week is sustained and I read one newly-purchased book per week, if we discount all the ebooks I own entirely and assume I only read books I own, it would still take me ~118 weeks to read all of them.)

Also, I’m maintaining my subscriptions to Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, and I also have access to Libby and Borrowbox through my libraries, so I have a lot of options that are not buying books. I don’t intend to limit those at this time; actually, I rather hope the goal will help me look first at these options and start wishlisting books to borrow, and push me to do so. Since PLR is a thing in the UK, it doesn’t substantially reduce my support for authors, and it also supports libraries – a cause dear to my heart.

…All in all, 1/week should be plenty for a good while.


Wow, TIL. That is super cool.