“Hello, my name is Rebecca and I am a book hoarder.”
My husband and I own Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown, PA and we consider the store an extension of our own collection. I am also a huge fan of Marie Kondo, also known as KonMari, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and host of the new Netflix reality show based around her tidying system.
Because of the response to the show you've probably seen the articles and memes, you've gasped at the headlines, and now you are convinced that KonMari is a book-hating monster who wants all of our books rounded up and burned. You may have gone to your bookshelves, book piles, and boxes of books to reassure them that you won't ever give them up and no Japanese tidying expert can make you commit such a sin.
I'm here to tell you that everything is going to be all right and KonMari is a very nice person you wants you to love your books MORE.
If you have only watched the show or skimmed the articles I implore you to stand by the book-lover's mantra “Don't judge a book by its movie or TV show”! I first picked up The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up several years ago when the first wave of its popularity reached the U.S. I've read it several times and never felt judged or pushed to go against my own heart and mind. I can honestly vouch for the system's effectiveness. I still fold my clothes and I am far better about not buying things for convenience's sake or keeping clutter just-in-case.
There are several major points of her system that are barely mentioned in the show. The main one that some people don't seem to get is that your belongings should “Spark Joy”. The idea is to connect with your possessions and confront the reasons you keep them. You are the only person who can define that feeling, therefore YOU are the only person who can decide to discard something. So if that wall of books Sparks Joy, keep it!
Her category system is also a lot more flexible than it appears in the show. Her five categories are Clothes, Books, Papers, “Komono” which is everything that isn't included in another category, and Sentimental Items. It's hard to believe, but many people consider books to be merely utilitarian. This is a reason KonMari recommends keeping a certain number of books. I think there may be a bit of a cultural difference between Japan and the United States in that many Japanese books are very utilitarian. They are not designed to be beautiful or collected, they are viewed as more ephemeral (like magazines).
My husband and I consider many (possibly all) of our books to be part of the most difficult category, “Sentimental Items”. Books are a way bibliophiles will measure their lives. They have clear associations with times, places, and people. It is impossible for us to judge them with the simple questions that are used for other categories. For example, “Clothes” as a category can be judged by utilitarian questions such as “does it fit”, “does it do its job”, or “does it suit me”. For a reader, each book can bring up complex memories and emotions that are not easy to sort through.
There is a lovely moment in one of the episodes where a young man finally “gets it”. It's when he is holding his beloved copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It's not a particularly pretty or valuable copy, but it is important to him and connected to his life in many different ways. That moment is the one that KonMari wants you to have with the possessions that you keep. It is a way to tell the “spirit” of the object “Thank you for being in my life, I promise to care for you as you deserve.” And isn't that how we should appreciate our books and libraries?
Over many years of book collecting, multiple moving experiences, and finally owning my own new and used bookstore I have had to come to terms with getting rid of books. Life-Changing Magic put a lot of my own conclusions into a clear process. And I will now present to you my own tips for how to give up a book with love and care.
KonMari has her clients visualize the life they want to have in detail. This process has helped me understand if a book, particularly with informational books, really should be part of my life going forward or if it's time to move on and make room for new information. She also has her clients gather everything in a category together in one place. I highly recommend doing this. It's very easy to forget about books in random corners and closets. This can be eye-opening when you realize that you have four different copies of the same edition of a book. And isn't the act of dumping books into piles and forgetting about them just as bad as throwing them away?
My husband and I each have a primary rule of thumb when we consider whether to keep a book. My question for myself is “Do I remember anything about this book?”. If I can't remember how a book made me feel or think, then it can't have meant that much to me and needs to move on. My husband asks “If I lost this book in a fire, would I pay to replace it?”. When the answer is “no” to these questions, then it is time for those books to go on to new lives.
I remember when I fully broke the “I can never get rid of a book” mentality. And the process was exactly what KonMari describes when confronting an object with emotional ties. I was in a bad relationship for several years, so bad I shudder to think of what could have happened if I hadn't left it. He had given me a beautiful antique book of fairy tales. When I looked at my book collection I automatically lumped it in with this group of objects that I loved as a whole. This resulted in my keeping the gift for years because it was part of “The Collection”. Later, during a round of packing and moving, I picked that book up and really thought about its impact on my life. When I looked at it by itself I would feel a wave of anxiety and depression that was associated with the old relationship. That's when I knew that it had to go. Even though it was a beautiful, magical book, it would always make me feel bad. I sold it to a book store and thought about how it might go on to become a joyful gift in a loving relationship. Since then I have been able to be far more honest with myself about why I keep a book.
KonMari recommends thanking an object for its role in your life before you let it go. I have found this type of closure to be very satisfying. And now you and the book can go on with your lives. One of the best aspects of centuries old, paper book technology is that a book will work for years, over and over again, for dozens of different people in its lifetime and never run out of power. One of the worst aspects is when you realize just how many books there are in the world and unfortunately they ultimately will need to be disposed of.
The ideal way to remove a book from your library would be to gift it to someone who needs that book in their life. Little neighborhood libraries have been wonderful for books that are ready to be read by someone else. Next, do your best to find a place that will give the book a new home. Used bookstores are great as are many charities. Do not be afraid to ask what the store or group does with books that they don't use. At our store we do our best to send them to places where they will be used, but if they are done with their lives as books we recycle them. Do some research, find out what shops and charities will take, and distribute accordingly.
The goal at the end of this process is to know what books you have, to care for them all as they deserve, and to feel the joy of a library that demonstrates your true love of books.
#KonMari #LifeChangingMagic #TidyingBooks