About a month ago, I learned about KonMari, a unique method of taking stock of all your stuff and purging what you don’t need. Developed by Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning expert, this method is simple but powerful: touch each of your possessions and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” If it does, keep it; if it doesn’t, it’s time to say farewell. According to Marie, the best order for decluttering is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany,) and mementos. I’ve written an introduction to the KonMari Method and posts about sorting my linens, clothes, and shoes and accessories. Today, it’s all about the books.
I’ve done several rounds of book purging since I moved into my condo in 2008, including selling or donating all the books in my classroom library and many teacher resource books. The remaining books are on shelves in my living room, in a closet in my second bedroom, and in a cabinet in my garage. One of the principles of Marie’s method is that the more you purge, the easier it is to identify what brings you joy. I found this to be true. Fresh from the experience of wardrobe purging, I didn’t have a hard time deciding which books I wanted to keep and which I wanted to donate.
Some before pictures:
The living room is one of the only places I have shelves. I like to decorate with books, and I keep some just for their covers so I can group colors together.
All the other books are in a bookcase the extra bedroom. I want to get an etagere for my master bedroom so I’ll have more display space, but for now, this is the only other place to store books. The boxes above hold magazines going back several years.
I got rid of most of my professional books when I quit teaching, but I held onto some, thinking I would use them for tutoring.
I started by putting all the books from the closet and living room on the table in the second bedroom (which I use as a sitting room.) Believe me when I tell you this is less than 10% of what I used to have.
It’s important to take all the books off the shelves and place them on the floor or table. Books stored upright are dormant; you can’t judge whether or not a book sparks joy while it is still on the shelf. The physical act of moving the books from a shelf or pile to another location “wakes up” the books, allowing you to feel their energy.
In her book, Marie addresses several stumbling blocks you may have to overcome when sorting your books. The first is holding onto books that you might read “someday.” This includes books you bought but never read, books you started reading but quit halfway, and books you’ve read that you might want to read again. I love her take on the “someday” books:
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, 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. There’s no need to finish reading books you got only halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway. So get rid of all those unread books. It will be far better for you to read the book that really grabs you right now than one that you left to gather dust for years. p. 91
As for the books you’ve read that you might read again someday? Chances are, unless they’re books related to your profession or hobbies, you probably won’t reread them, so they can go, too.
The other obstacle you may have to overcome is deciding which books to keep in what Marie calls your reading Hall of Fame. These are books you absolutely love, the ones that make you smile when you see them on your bookshelves. I kept Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, and Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl because I really enjoyed reading them, and they conjure good memories. There are many other books I could put in my Hall of Fame, from To Kill A Mockingbird to A Prayer for Owen Meany to the Harry Potter series, but when I really thought about it, I realized I don’t need the book to retain the pleasurable memory of reading it.
I have to confess that I did break a few of the rules: I kept some books that I bought a long time ago but haven’t gotten around to reading. Some, like The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, are novels that friends have recommended. Others, like Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and Eat Move Sleep by Tom Rath, are informational books I will read at some point. Even so, I understand what Marie means when she says that “the moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.” By keeping my book collection small, I increase the chances of actually reading the books I have, which is the whole point, right?
On the left are bags of books and magazines from the closet, ready for donation; the bookcase, once full of books, now holds a few that I want to read; and this is all that’s left of my professional books. I think my supervisors approve of my choices.
I kept a few novels, some home decorating books, and several non-fiction books. Handling each book and considering whether or not it brought me joy proved to be a good strategy for sorting. I didn’t keep anything “just because.”
I’m excited about the books on my nightstand. The Girl on the Train is my book club book. I’m currently reading Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and I can’t wait to read my friend, Chris Cander’s new novel, Whisper Hollow.
Sorting books is easier than you might think. Once you’ve made the decision to keep only the ones you love, the books sort themselves. One of the things Marie says is that you should reduce until the point that something clicks, until you know you have the right amount of something. I feel this way about my books now. Everyone will have a different point at which they are done. For some, it might be 30 books; for others, it might be 300 (although if you’re keeping 300 books, you might want to revisit the criteria.)
The beauty of the KonMari Method is that you completely finish a category before you move onto the next one. I have no more books to sort. I might find a few buried underneath my next category, papers, but if I do, it won’t be hard for me to choose whether or not to keep them.
Click here to read more posts in this series.
Quotes are from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Act of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.