Today, I’m going to do a post that is, probably, a month or so behind the curve. A short while ago book bloggers across the Internet were a mixture of alarmed and flabbergasted by the idea, attributed to tidying-up goddess Marie Kondo, that people should own 30 books in their collection. Of course, as with often everything on the Internet, this was a misunderstood, misquoted, and distorted version of what Marie Kondo actually advocated in her Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up manifesto. But we’ll come to that later…
Overall, I’ve always been ever so slightly skeptical of the KonMari method. I could say that it’s because I’m not a big “mindfulness” person (and the idea of thanking your possessions for how they’ve served you still is kind of iffy to me, personally) but it’s mainly because I didn’t want to face the fact that, although I don’t consider myself a hoarder, I have stuff. A lot of stuff. And probably a majority of that stuff is stuff I don’t technically need to keep. I am that person who keeps train tickets from fun trips with friends or keeps tickets from going to the cinema or the theatre so that I have some kind of tangible “proof” that I went there (other than the intangible memory of that day). I don’t have that many knick knacks really but, being a bookish person, the knick knacks I do have are all bookish. They’re collected from years of people buying me bookmarks, or me collecting key-rings as souvenirs, or buying several bookish subscription boxes and keeping the merchandise (even if it was themed around a book I hadn’t read, and probably still haven’t). So, the KonMari method was always something I was wary of but, after being prompted again by a work colleague to give her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo a watch, I did that a few weekends ago.
And I got it… even if I haven’t yet fully implemented it. I find myself unable to truly finish Marie’s first step in tidying up any home: tackling your clothing. Even just going through my stack of jeans, I was able to get rid of an alarming 10 pairs that were old, that didn’t fit me, or that I just never wore. I plan to tackle my sock and underwear section next. However, I can’t follow through on every part of the KonMari method when it comes to clothing. This is for a legitimate reason – a lot of her method of tidying up is centred around the idea of people having walk-in closets, wardrobes, dressers, or a combination of these. I don’t. My clothes are predominantly kept on a hanging rail because I don’t have the space in my room to have a traditional wardrobe or closed storage system. That’s fine, I’ve made it work for me just fine, but it means that Marie’s method of folding clothes and keeping them organised standing up inside drawers or boxes isn’t just something that I don’t want to do, it’s something that I can’t do with my particular living situation. That’s fine. So I can’t KonMari my closet completely, but I can apply her method to other areas of my life that need it.
Specifically, I can apply it to books. And here we come back to where this post started. As I understand it, a lot of Marie’s method when it comes to objects such as books is to recognise what place these have in your life and whether they “spark joy”. When I watched episode 5 of the TV show, one of the guys had trouble in grasping the “spark joy” mantra when weeding out his closet, but he quickly understood it when he turned his attention to his book collection. For him, and for a lot of book lovers out there, books hold more emotional weight than other possessions. Books are the things that we turned to in times of sadness or boredom or a need to feel seen and understood by someone else. Books are the things we clung to when real life wasn’t all that great and they could provide an escape for just an hour or two. Books are the things that educated us, provided us with a different perspective on the world we live in, taught us lessons, helped us to understand a tricky situation more clearly.
So I collect books. I’m a collector. You know when people say they collect stamps or records or football cards? I collect books. I buy books as souvenirs if a place I’m visiting has a bookshop. I buy books to treat myself after a difficult day/week at work. I buy books on the recommendation of other bloggers whose opinions I trust when they say ‘you HAVE TO read this, it’s fantastic’. Some people might consider my book collection out of hand. Recently, a colleague of mine screeched with surprise and mild alarm when I admitted I owned 600 books, of which I’d read only about half of them. She couldn’t fathom my way of collecting up (/hoarding?) books. Instead, I saw it as an indication that we’re not the same kind of readers and we place different kind of weight on books. Neither of us is “right” or “wrong”, it’s just a different perspective.
So, I’m happy to have a large portion of my bedroom taken up by books because a lot of emotional and personal weight is held within those blocks of paper and card, lined up neatly (or not so neatly) on my bookshelves. A lot of those books do spark joy, because they remind me or a particular place or memory or they’re fantastic escapism or an incredibly well-crafted story or they contain a story I haven’t read yet but know I am likely to adore. And I’m fine with weeding out less of these in my collection than other people might on their own shelves. But I can (and do) go through and do a cull every so often because books that I’ve previously collected now don’t pique my interest. I’ve also learnt to be a lot more honest with myself about whether I am actually likely to read a book or not – Down the TBR Hole has helped enormously with training my brain to think like that. And, despite what misquotes on Twitter would have you believe, Marie Kondo would be fine with that too.
It seems to me that the point of the KonMari method is not to persuade people to get rid of their belongings and to live a minimalist lifestyle – that sweet little respectful woman doesn’t want to force you to weed down your entire book collection to only 30 books, that works for her, but likely might not for you. Despite the various guides online and tidying up videos, I’ve found that, for me personally, the true value in Marie Kondo’s method isn’t actually in the culling of belongings but rather it’s in recognising my relationship to the items I choose to own and keep in my house. It’s in recognising which objects actually mean things to me and which ones I’ve mistakenly attached more value than they actually truly have – those are the objects which I can happily say goodbye to.
As for the books left in my collection? They can stay. They bring me joy.