You must have been living under a mountain of joyless t-shirts for the last month if you haven’t seen the memes, or at least heard about Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, which was released on New Year’s Day.
I’m a fan of Marie Kondo- I’ve read all of her books and I just finished the Netflix series yesterday. Marie has three bestselling books about her KonMari method of tidying and decluttering, which involves sorting your possessions into categories and confronting every item individually with the question “does this spark joy”?
Her method is spreading fast since the show came out, with legions of new fans tidying up everywhere and thrift stores rejoicing. However, one category in the tidying advice given by KonMari is getting more consternation than others: books.
My Twitter and Facebook feeds have been inundated with memes like these, as well as the resulting rebuttals and defenses of KonMari.
The controversial book advice supposedly offered by KonMari has been debunked: she finds 30 books to be a reasonable number for herself personally, but throughout her works she acknowledges that everyone has their own unique formula for what brings them joy. The flexibility and customizability of the KonMari method is part of why I like it so much- it is practical and inspiring but can also be tailored to suit the lifestyles and interests of just about anyone. Read her books and you will see that “joy” comes in many forms- it’s true meaning, as meant by Kondo, is deeper and more complex than the word “joy” in the English language conveys.
But, the books…
Book lovers are proud of their collections, often as protective of their bookshelves as dragons guarding hoards of treasure. Having more books than one knows what to do with is a common non-problem in book communities, with people artificially bemoaning their massive TBR (to-be-read) piles while simultaneously feeling the special joy and contentment that comes with knowing you’ll never run out of books to read (and even if you did, re-reading is always an option!).
It’s not uncommon for book lovers to collect more books than they have shelves for, resulting in teetering towers of books stacking up ever-closer to the ceiling. The popular solution always seems to be obvious: more bookshelves needed! The contrasting choice, paring down a book collection to fit a deliberately chosen fixed-space, is a frightening prospect to many collectors of books. Yet, the large majority of people don’t have never-ending bookshelf space, and I’ve started to see the benefits of re-evaluating my own book collections and asking myself “does this book spark joy”?
One of Us, One of Us
Now, lest this post go viral for some reason and I find myself at the mercy of the booklr, bookstagram, and other passionate online book communities, let me state I am NOT prescribing what people should or should not do with their books, but offering my own perspective on what I’ve learned works for myself.
I drool over pictures of window reading nooks and built-in alcove shelving, too. I sniff my books. I collect novelty bookmarks. I’m one of you, I swear. Here’s my proof.
Let’s count the bookshelves:
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
***Edit I forgot the cookbooks! What a recipe for disaster!
And this doesn’t even count the books in my parents’ attic, or the books I keep at work (I work at a library and I still keep some personal books at my desk…).
I am lucky to have access to so many books. I live a privileged life. My house has no shortage of books, and this is after my most recent book purge. I donated a ton of books to the library where I work, and gave away plenty to eager friends as well. A small few books even made their way (GASP) into the paper recycling. How did I do this? Am I a monster? What was my reasoning?
At first it was hard. Books feel untouchable for book lovers.
As KonMari explains, honing your sense of what sparks joy takes time. Yet, even something as precious as books can be examined and questioned. There came a time that I realized, if I continued my book-amassing ways unhindered, I’d someday be a candidate for Extreme Hoarding: Book Lover’s Edition: “Shauna has been living in the same house for 60 years, surrounded by piles of books. She realized she had a problem when the floor in the ‘spare room’ collapsed under the strain of 6400 cookbooks. Still, ‘the books make me happy’ she asserts, as she sits in the only remaining 4 square feet of space left open in the house, her nose in a slim hardcover.”
When you know it’s joy
I want every single book on my shelves to be a book that I truly cherish.
These are some of the criteria that contribute to the joy I get from my books and help me know that I truly want to keep them:
- usefulness of content
- gorgeous writing
- excellent story
- lovely artwork
- pleasing tactile feel
- aesthetic and design
- or usually a combination of some or all of these things.
- I don’t make decisions about my husband’s books (he is pretty good about managing his collections)
- I do hold on to some books I haven’t yet read but WILL get around to reading in the near-ish future- books I truly intend to read. I can make a decision on them after i’ve read them.
When it’s time to donate
I’ve donated a lot of books to the library lately, and given some to friends- all good books, but not books that were bringing me joy any longer.
Reasons for Donating:
- It’s not you, it’s me: All of the books I donated once brought me joy, but as I grow as a person I grow as a reader and my experiences and values change. For example, a book that was life-changing in my teen years might no longer hold any inspiration or amusement for me, so I know I can let it go. If I want to read it again randomly someday, there’s always the library!
- Time: I realized that I had so many books and so little time to read that if I did have more time for re-reading I would rather read series that I adored than these stories that I enjoyed but didn’t love.
- Joy for Another: Someone else might read these books and love them. They are currently not being actively loved by me but could be useful, inspiring, or entertaining to someone else right now.
- Different Versions: Sometimes I have a book I adore but a version of it that I don’t love (whether it’s abridged, has cover art that irks me, it’s the one paperback when I collected the rest in hardcover, etc.)- in these times it’s easy to donate because I know I will get a different copy someday that will make me happy every time I read it. Alternately, while I always prefer a physical copy of a book, I do have some books in ebook format and sometimes that’s good enough for that title for me.
- Multiple copies: This might seem obvious or easy, but it’s not… book lovers often end up with more than one copy of a book, especially if it’s a favourite. I had 4 copies of Dracula at one point. I decided to keep 2 that I love- both were gifts and both are bound gorgeously in different ways (one has a blood red hardcover with a matching silk bookmark, and the other was hand-bound with unique artwork on the cover).
When it’s time to discard
This is not something book lovers want to think about, but sometimes books are candidates for disposal- as in the trash or the recycling.
How can this be? Aren’t books sacred? Aren’t more books always better than less?
Working in my public library has enlightened me on the process of “weeding” where we pull books that are no longer needed to make room for new titles. A lot of criteria go into choosing which books to weed (popularity, condition, number in a series, age of book, number of copies, etc.). Studies have shown that when collections are well-weeded, the circulation of books actually increases in libraries because in a well-weeded collection people can better find what they’re looking for (or what they didn’t know they were looking for)- sometimes less IS more. Often weeded books will be used in other ways (i.e. the sale shelf, or craft projects) instead of tossed.
However, sometimes a book is truly not needed anymore and can be discarded in the recycling. This isn’t an act of censorship – these are books (mainly non-fiction) that are so outdated they have become irrelevant and have no use or interest to virtually anyone anymore. Some made up examples:
- “Troubleshooting Windows ’98 For Dummies”
- “Y2 OKAY! Assessing the job market for the New Millennium”
- “You and Your Taxes: 2010 Edition”
- “Psychology in Focus, 2008”
But wait! you say- can’t these items be donated instead? Maybe SOMEONE would use them for… something?
I’m sorry, but no Value Village, used bookstore, or library wants your old stained National Geographics, ancient textbooks, or outdated reference material. Same goes for water damaged, musty, mouldy or otherwise soiled books. Even when outdated books are in good condition, unless you know someone who is conducting a research project (?) regarding outdated books on a specific topic (highly unlikely) or wider society develops a sudden and neverending compulsion to create Pinterest-inspired recycled book and magazine craft projects, there’s a limit to how many old books would be useful to keep for such things.
As hard as it can be to accept, sometimes a book has reached the end of its life. You can try passing it on to someone else (nobody will blame you) but at some point somebody has to make the hard decisions (or store them indefinitely in the garage…).
They Lived Happily Ever After
Okay, to end this on a happy note closer to the point, the reason for tidying and assessing your book collection, if you so choose, isn’t to chase some minimalist ideal- it’s to surround yourself with books that you truly love and enjoy. May you and your books live out your lives with purpose, loved and appreciated!