KonMari and books

A few months ago I become engrossed in the series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. Of course, I had heard of her before but I had never paid much attention as I’ve always been relatively tidy and I’ve been watching my mum fold clothes to perfection since I was a child.

With a baby on the way, limited storage and lots of new stuff to accommodate, I have however been looking for a way to optimise the space around me. Enter Marie Kondo and things have definitely improved. So much, in fact, that I wanted to deepen my understanding of her method and decided to listen to her audiobook, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

This is not a post about the changes in my home though. Because of the criticism this adorable tidying expert has received for saying that she has reduced her collection to 30 books and implying that we shouldn’t need many more than that, I have decided to share a few snippets of her book-related theories along with my thoughts.

So let’s begin:

Books are one of the main things that people find hardest to throw away.

Very true. Let’s just point out that when she talks about ‘throwing away’ books, she means donating them to charity or otherwise passing them on to someone who will enjoy them. She doesn’t mean putting them in the bin. And breathe…

Remove all the books from your bookcases. You cannot judge whether or not a book really grabs you when it’s still on the shelf. Like clothes or any other belongings, books that haven been left untouched on the shelf for a long time are dormant. Or perhaps I should say they’re ‘invisible’. Although in plain sight, they remain unseen, just like a grasshopper stood still in the grass, merging with its surroundings.

The idea that my beloved books feel invisible makes me sad and I’d like to give them the life they deserve. I did remove all books from my shelves as Marie suggested and – even though it may seem like a daunting task – I feel like it was the right thing to do as it allowed me to give the same amount of time to every book. If I had left them on my shelves, I would have dismissed my favourite ones as ‘books to keep’ too quickly, without giving them the praise they deserved.

Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide if you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgement. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not. […] The most common reasons for not throwing away a book are ‘I might read it’ or ‘I might want to read it again’. Take a moment to count the number of favourites, books that you have actually read more than once. How many are there? 

While I am guilty of wanting to keep books because ‘I might read them’, I am not as deluded as to think that I might want to read them again. I am 38, I have only re-read a handful of books (sometimes by mistake!) and I doubt I will suddenly become one of those people who routinely re-read their most beloved books. I am however guilty of a new thought: My child might want to read it. Considering that my child is yet to be born and these books are for adults… how ridiculous is that?

Books are essentially paper – sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in them just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading. Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember. So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hands and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love.

I can hear the shouts of protest! Books are so much more than paper and ink. They are companions. They are portals to other worlds. And so on and so forth. However, I find that Marie does have a point. When I pick up a book I have read, it’s the memory of the experience of reading it that gives me joy. And if I haven’t read a book, it’s the possible experience that lies ahead that gives me a tingle of expectation. If a book – read or unread – doesn’t make my heart leap a little, I am happy with moving it on to its next adventure.

What about books that you have started but not yet finished reading? Or books you bought but have not yet started? What should be done with books like these that you intend to read sometime? […] Unread books accumulate. The problem with books that we intend to read sometime is that they are far harder to discard than ones we have already read. […] I’m afraid that from personal experience I can tell you right now, ‘sometime’ never comes. If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, then this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. […] For books, timing is everything. The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small.

Whether we like it or not, there is a lot of truth here. While I have no problem whatsoever in letting go of a book I have put aside with no intention of finishing it, I struggle with those I want to read or have wanted to read. I have however learnt to make a distinction between these last two categories. Regardless of when or how I have acquired a book, if the thought of reading it still makes me smile, I will keep it. If it doesn’t, then I won’t. Tastes and interests change with time and it is not a failure to admit that the prospect of reading a book you were at one point in time intrigued by is no longer exciting.

So, what have I learnt? Having followed the KonMari method to make my bookshelves lighter, I have now rehomed a good 50+ books that included both books I enjoyed (but that I won’t miss looking at) and books I am no longer interested in. There was nothing wrong with the latter but I had to be realistic and admit that – between reading them and going out to buy a new book – I would always choose a new book.

I was able to eliminate two piles of books I had on the floor and stack everything on my shelves but these still look cluttered and I am aware that 90% of the books I currently own are unread and – if I want to be completely honest with myself – most of these have no chance of being read within the next few years. The idea of reading them still holds a lot of appeal though, so they are staying for now.

Instead of being appalled by the idea of only owning 30 books, I find it enormously attractive. I will get there one day but I am not putting any pressure on myself or my books.

What are your thoughts on all this?

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