I’ve avoided it so far, but I think the time has come to weigh in on the KonMari Controversy about books. In case you’re wondering what the heck that is, I found this article a fairly balanced and genuine reaction that isn’t knee-jerk about books in the way the NRA is about guns.
Marie Kondo, in her book “the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (now a Netflix series), suggests going through everything you own to really determine what gives you a “spark of joy” and what doesn’t.
The latter category? Get rid of it.
That’s fine, apparently, when it comes to socks and silverware. But when people realized she was suggesting that you get rid of books – well, then the internet really lost it’s mind, satirized by one of my favorite writers, Sam Sykes, thusly:
I cant believe Marie Kondo said to destroy all books and then broke into peoples’ houses individually and made them eat all their books and then when they tried to protest she said “don’t talk with your mouth full of books, bookmouth” and all the cool kids laughed at them.
Of course, that wasn’t what she said. And let’s be clear: I am one of the book people. Possibly my fondest memories as a kid were when my parents would take me to the B&N used book store in NYC, give me $10, and turn me loose in the stacks. I’d come out with a pile half as tall as I was, ready to devour them. A friend of mine had half of the second floor of their house dedicated to a maze of shelves filled with books – and when I saw it, I thought “I want that”.
But I don’t have a house (nor do I want one), and in a 650-square foot apartment which is the living and working space for two adults, we thought that maybe we should look into this “tidying up thing.
I’ve found the whole kerfluffle rather interesting since this is something that Natasha and I had done quite a while ago, when we first got the book and embraced it. So I can tell you exactly what it feels like, at least for me.
TL;DR It’s Terrifying and Then Awesome
It’s a simple process:
- Take all your books off of all of your shelves, and pile them in the middle of the living room.
- Resist the urge to dive into it like it’s a pile of leaves and wallow in wanton literary pleasure.
- Take up each book, one at a time, and ask yourself: “Does this book make me feel good?” (Unless “spark of joy” is a normal part of your vocabulary, in which case you can use that).
- This is where it helps to have someone else there, because you will want to open the book. Don’t get distracted; authors are tricksy creatures who have spent years figuring out how to distract you from your mission. Your mission, and your friend’s, is to watch each other like hawks and just judge the books by their covers.
- If the book is anything but “Fuck yeah!” put it in the “get rid of” pile. Watch yourself for justifications like “But it was a gift” or “But I might need it” or “But it looks so nice on the coffee table”. Those are, in order of appearance, guilt, fear, and vanity, none of which are “happy”.
- At the end, you’ll have two piles. Take the one and put it back on your shelves. The other – and again, this is where it helps to have a friend doing it with you – goes out to a library, or to a book reseller. Do this right away. If you leave the books piled in your house, they will use their seductive literary wiles to work their way back on your shelves.
- When you get back home, take a look at your shelf.
That last step was where the magic really happened. Yeah, I felt good donating to the library, and it was neat to get enough cash from my boxes of books to purchase one beautiful book of photos from Araki. But the thing that makes me unequivocally believe that Marie Kondo was right – that you should do this too – was how it felt to look at my shelf.
The Best Party Ever
Imagine you go to a party, and you are looking forward to it – but when you get there, the person opening the door is your best friend, who is happy to see you. Next to them is your best friend from years ago, who you hadn’t seen in a long time, but they’re happy to see you too. As you move through the gathering, you realize everyone there is your best friend, from some point in your life. There is no one there who you don’t know and love, and who doesn’t know and love you in return.
That’s what your bookshelf is like when you KonMari it.
Literally any book on that shelf will make you happy when you pick it up. No more “oh, there’s that book that I really should read…but I don’t feel like it.
And yes, exactly once there was a book that I had given away that I later wished I had. Guess what? It was at the library. And at the bookstore. And on kindle.
Now, it only marginally helps with ”tsundoku” – the Japanese term for acquiring piles and piles of books that lie unread in your house, either because you feel you should read them or because you think someday, maybe, you’ll want to read them. And I’ll be honest – as I write this, I am realizing that I’m overdue for another purge of the shelves.
But honestly, I can’t wait. It’s both a freeing experience and a joyful one, and I’m not “getting rid” of books – I’m setting them free so that they can find new readers who will love them better than I can.
I know. You love books, and the thought of losing them is scary. Trust me: they’re not lost. They will be there if you need them. And in the meantime, your space – both mental and physical – will be the better for letting them go.