500 Books + the KonMari method = ?

Here’s a way to sum up my relationship with bookshelves: I have needed to have “bookends” explained to me, because books stop where the edges of the shelves are, and even then, you can pile them on top and still see the titles.

Do I need more bookshelves? Perpetually. But the more shelves I get, the more I’ll fill, no matter how broke I am (in my past work, free or cheap books were always easy to come by), so I’ve resisted that impulse in order to keep down the count.

Enter the 95 book challenge, an attempt to read the queue of books I’ve had lying around forever and to find some books I love so I can work on curating my collection (aka, feel better about getting rid of books I “should” like by adding others I do). Of course, I’ve bought plenty of new books and I’ve read a fraction of the old ones I was “supposed” to. And now I have even more books to work through. This challenge was not made to decrease your book collection. (Although at least I’ve learned that taste judgments are kind of ridiculous.)

To get a sense of the sheer volume of volumes I have to deal with now, I took a quick count. I came up with about 500. That’s not horribly unusual to me, and I’m sure I have friends with more. But it is a massive amount of books for someone who has moved more in their adult years than there have been years (I’ve donated books every time—and yet), and it takes up a massive amount of space that I don’t have. So I resolved to finally find some way to tackle this.

A while back, a friend of mentioned to me the idea of paring down your stuff into only the items that bring you joy. At first, I thought that idea was silly—I’m not particularly joyful about my towels, after all, but I own them (among other things) for their practical use. But I realized later this was part of a method described in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and, at a loss to find a way to sort through my mass of books (and other things), I picked it up to read.

The KonMari method, as she calls it, is a little spiritual in terms of how often she calls people to trust their instincts (and fate, and the “desires” of objects), but it has a couple of key usable concepts that seem better in the long term than extended tidying challenges or complex storage. The central idea is to keep only what “sparks joy” and adds happiness to your life. She allows for some practical concerns—we all need to keep some things for our taxes—although she didn’t get much into the “What if I hate all of my plates and cups?” type of scenario. I think her advice would still be to discard them and replace minimally if some are still needed—and on that note, and regarding her idea of confronting fears about (not having the items in) the future, this method will not come off well if money is tight. It relies on the idea that a lot of people who have trouble keeping their space tidy own much more than they need or than makes them happy—but it doesn’t quite account for people who hoard because their financial fears are justifiable/genuine.

Aside from these issues, I enjoyed the way she framed her method as a way to exercise decision-making skills and to confront your past in order to determine the lifestyle you want to have now. She describes attachments to the past and fears for the future as guiding forces in all of our choices, often obstructing our ability to find what makes us happy in the moment. This is a general truth that translates into decent life advice, whether you’re thinking about objects cluttering up your space or basically anything else.

Her method simplifies the idea of object decision making, at least, into two quick steps: deciding whether to keep or discard an item, and (once all the discarding is done) deciding where to put it. Her notion is to do this all at once, by category, by taking out all of the objects of one type, going through them one by one (without noise or interruption), and then afterwards (order is key) deciding on one place to store the remaining items in each category. She doesn’t mention in this book how it’s possible to do this “at once” if you have a huge number of items (of each category, or in general), so you have to infer how to adapt this to your lifestyle, which is irritating—she would’ve done well to include some examples of how past clients achieved this. However, she says that if you use this method, you won’t have to worry about tidying ever again…a notion that’s later contradicted by her idea that perhaps you will go back to this process and decide you can live with even less, or that she does tend to revisit her tidying once a year or so. But it does more or less provide a framework to decrease the constant need to attack clutter.

This book has a lot of promoting of the method, anthropomorphism (I’m reasonably open-minded, but I’m not really into thinking about the feelings of my loafers), and personal anecdotes where I think examples of how to get through tricky situations with past clients would’ve been more useful. But this was a quick read with a method I can use, and I was surprised to find that some of the wisdom behind it provides perspective on life in general. This really is about creating space and time for a new lifestyle—and seeing what you find, both in yourself and in your tidier future.

I’m not going to get a physical copy of this book for my shelf; it’s unlikely I would use it or that it would bring me particular joy, and one bit of advice in the book is to (probably) get rid of it. (I have to at least respect a book so devoted to decluttering that it asks me to recycle it.)

But I am going to try to use this approach to tackle my shelves and try to bring down my collection to a cool 200. So, with you as my witness, I’ll be making some decluttering posts about what books do or don’t bring me joy. (You already know about some I’ve pitched in the donate bin.) Wish me luck!

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