Today I bought my second cookbook of the year ('Gather, Cook, Feast', it looks good), it's sitting next to me whilst I eat my third smoked mackerel salad in a week and wonder where my enthusiasm for cooking has gone. Buying it was also the final bit of encouragement I needed to begin the process of going through my books with a properly critical eye and starting to clear some out.
Starting with the cookbooks was obvious, I completely ran out of shelf space in the kitchen months ago (there are Christmas presents still looking for a home) and I'd got to the point where it felt like I couldn't find anything. I've pulled out 6 books to go. It might not sound like much but it represents about 25cm of shelf space, which was enough to find a place for everything else, and suddenly I feel a lot better - it doesn't always take very much. I had never cooked from 5 of them, not used the 1 I had cooked from (once) in years, and need to question why letting go can be such an issue.
If I was being really ruthless I could get rid of more, and maybe I will, not least because I hope that a few less books will encourage me to use the remaining ones rather more. Cooking has always been something I've really enjoyed but for the last year or so it's begun to feel like a chore at times. There are a whole host of reasons for this, a lot of it's a work pattern that gets me home around 9pm a couple of nights a week, and then has me back at work by 8am the next day. It's energy sapping, and I'm learning the hard way that the older I get the less energy I have.
Suddenly the effort of thinking sufficiently far ahead to have the neccesary ingredients ready to cook something interesting or new when I do get home at a sensible time seems like an effort to much - hence packs of smoked mackerel and salad even on days off. It seems there's also a point when a wall of cookbooks becomes overwhelming rather than inspiring to me.
But for a natural hoarder, and book lover, getting rid of books isn't easy. There are the books which might have been gifts where it feels positively disloyal to discard them. Books bought with good intentions that make me feel I've failed by not embracing their contents with more enthusiasm. Books that represent hard earnt money that apparently I wasted because I never used them and now they're going. Most ridiculous of all there are the couple of Nigella titles that make me feel like I'm letting down the woman herself when I admit I don't really want them. Because I think she's great, even mentioning that her books are on the pile feels oddly disloyal, but when I flicked through them nothing appealed to me - so why do I feel like this?
If there are so many books that just looking at them leaves me paralysed with indecision though (only a little bit over dramatic), then there has to be a cull until the whole lot looks manageable again. Small flats are no place for the sentimental or indiscriminate stockpiling of unnecessary clutter. There will always be space for the books I use, love, and really want, just not for all the books I currently have. I do the same with mugs. That has to stop too.