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Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

Meet my middle-grade shelves. 

One name has been all over my Twittersphere of late: Marie Kondo.

 Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is the latest hit on Netflix. Every episode follows a household as they de-clutter their home according to Kondo’s principles. We are in the age of Instagram where everyone is conscious of how they look and how their homes look and basically about the image they are putting across, so maybe it is no surprise that the programme has been a hit. What is surprising is how so many people seem to have been affected by it on a deeper level. Kondo’s basic principle, that every item you own should spark joy inside you, has been revelatory.

It is like one woman has given us permission to clear stuff out.

As a lover of objects and collections, I was certain the programme wouldn’t be for me. Ten minutes in and I was hooked. What sold it to me was Kondo’s respect for every object. She encourages her clients to take time to acknowledge the function every object has played in their lives, and to be grateful for what they have. Tidying out doesn’t have to be depressing. It doesn’t have to be a sad parting. It can be about letting things go to a person who can use them better.

Even with my acceptance of Kondo’s central principle, I wondered how her methods would go down in the book community. The fact that she owns no more than thirty books at any one time particularly seemed to go against the values of many of my bookish friends. When I logged on to Twitter, I expected riots. I expected full-scale rebellion.

Everyone was having a tidy out. Myself included.

So what’s different about sorting books?

I didn’t apply Kondo’s rules to the letter and that was what inspired this post. Maybe they need tweaking for bookworms. Sparking joy is a dubious principle when you spend more time with books than you do with actual humans. You learn to value books for different reasons. Books may be objects, but we need to respect them as tools of communication, art forms and gateways to empathising with whole new sets of people. By tweaking the rules to recognise this, you will make the job less of a battle.

Here are some of the reasons I came up with for keeping a book:


It is a great example of a genre or writing technique:

the work that goes into constructing a piece of fiction is vast. Behind every book is years of practice, years of trial and error and pieces of writing scribbled in notebooks. An author’s first book might be their fifth manuscript. Over this time the author accumulates knowledge of writing, and this makes existing texts the best teachers an aspiring writer can have. I am forever looking for strong examples to emulate. From genre conventions to character development, I could never improve my writing without learning from other people’s work. This is a valid and totally acceptable reason to keep a book. It is another way of accessing and appreciating the author’s work.


There is a specific memory attached to the book:

As I was sorting my adult mass-market fiction, I realised there was a specific sub-group of books to consider. The books which had a specific memory attached to them. The characters and worlds we read don’t end when we close the book. We can spend weeks, months or lifetimes thinking about them. Maybe a certain book helped you through a hard time. Maybe a book gave you the courage to confront your feelings and move forward. When I was sorting my shelves, I piled these books together and tackled them as a separate group. Certain books just couldn’t go because they are part of my make-up. Part of my human experience.


You may yet read it:

Many of us can name a book which has sat unread for too long. Those books become a running joke among book bloggers. Book blogging is so heavily about promotion that, consciously or not, we are often keen to move on to the newest thing.

My advice? This is the point at which to take Marie Kondo’s advice. Instead of holding the book to see whether it sparks joy, open it up. Read the first page, then read a couple of random pages from about a quarter of the way into the book. Do you like the prose style? Did the subject hook you? Are you intrigued by the characters? Personally, I think we have a strong intuitive feeling for whether or not a book is for us. Take time to try these books out and don’t feel guilty for hanging on to something which has been unread for too long.


There are currently stacks of books on the landing awaiting my final verdict. One last look over is fair because distance gives you time to feel the absence of the books you have sorted. My tip – before you have that final look, close your eyes and name any of the sorted books which stand out in your memory. This will give you a good indication of anything you may not be ready to part with.

I am still sorting my books, but my newly tidied picture-book shelf and middle-grade fiction bring me nothing but delight. I can find the books I want, access my collection to browse and most importantly there is room for growth as I choose to keep books from my review pile. It is easier to dust, the #shelfies make better pictures and it is once again a pleasure to sit in the study and read.  


Have you been watching Marie Kondo? Can you think of any great reasons to keep a book? How does tidying-up enhance your life? I’m here to chat in the comments below.


10 thoughts on “Chat: Adapting Marie Kondo’s principles for a book collection

  1. I’ve watched a couple of episodes, I get the whole perspective aspect. Marie Kondo isn’t a book person, I am, someone who collects vintage tea sets/table wear won’t want to part with their collection just because someone says so, it brings us joy we don’t have to ascribe to the same standards, she’s saying we need to SET our own. My Pratchett collection alone breaks the 30 book rule, and I’m fine with that.

    I have sort of Marie Kondo the girls playroom we installed 2 more Kallax units to sort all the toys, educational toys & workbooks and a new taller bookcase which is sorted by HB picture books PB picture books, board books, middle grade but the early chapters are in a basket in the lounge etc.
    I’ve donated books we don’t enjoy that have been gifted by well meaning relatives and they can both access the collection easier!
    I would say since replacing and thus sorting the bookshelf they’ve both spent MORE time with the books just sitting soaking them up as they are rediscovering old favourites etc.
    That’s worth the effort even if there’s only a handful less than before!!!
    It’s kinda like Feng shui the energy has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exacatly what you mean. It is like the room can breathe again. 😀 I couldn’t do 30 books as a rule. Or … or even 300. (I’ve not counted reccently. But I couldn’t sign and agree to one number.) I do think understanding for myself why I am keeping a certain book is healthy though.
      Hope you guys enjoy your tidier book space. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t counted my books since I was 8 for a maths homework and the teacher didn’t believe me so mum wrote a rather spiky note!
        Tidier is nice but a stretch after Tinyfae got herself excited about books this morning


  2. This sounds like a sensible way to do it. I did a big book sort out last year when I got a new bookcase and while I kept a lot, it was a good way of making myself think about whether to keep a book or pass it on rather than just popping straight on the shelf with books I got afterwards. That said, I know I’ll still need to give it a trim and a tidy every so often as I’ll slip back into keeping everything!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand. Books can be hard to part with because we remember the person we were when we read/bought them. In theory I would keep them all but I have a generous book space and that was feeling uncomfortable, cluttered and honestly quite unloved. I found books I was never going to read again and had to make that call. I’ll doubtless let them mount up again at some point in the future … 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read Marie Kondo’s book when it first came out and a lot of it really made sense for me, especially when it came to clothes, paperwork and other items.
    Yet, it can be difficult to let go of books, like you mentioned, because of the memories they contain and the chance that you might want to read it again. Those of us with dreams of libraries also like being surrounded by lots of books!
    The ‘no more than 30 books’ thing is a meme and not attributable to Marie Kondo – she has always maintained that things that ‘spark joy’ should stay and, for some people, that will be their collection of 3000 books!
    As we are hoping to move house soon, I’m going to try to take it as an opportunity to let go of some books I have which I no longer want to hold on to and buy copies of some I love (maybe I’ve read them on an e-reader or through the library), so that I can fill the new bookshelves with books I truly love!
    I love your shelfie by the way – give us a bookshelf tour on the blog sometime?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry about the 30 books.
      I found it attributed to MK in
      so many places, but shows the importance of checking the primary source.
      I will edit to say it has led to people imposing stricter rules on their bookshelves.
      I try to think of it as ‘pruning for healthy growth’. I do worry that I can’t make a fair judgment on my adult fiction at the moment.
      My head has been so much in children’s literature for the past two years since I started the blog that I am not up to speed on my tastes in adult books. I did it the wrong way round. Lots of the adult bookclubby type stuff I read from 14 – early 20s is no longer what I read.
      I do worry that sorting so many books is decimating my collection but I’ve done it before (last 4 or 5 years ago) and I only ever replace one or two books.
      A bookshelf tour could be arranged. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She may have said it in an interview or something as her personal aim, but she always emphasizes in her books that each person has to find what’s right for them e.g. she would have zero baseball cards, but, if you love baseball cards, you might have 100 as your target. No need to apologize! I just saw so many memes with her being quoted as saying this and people getting upset…
        I put three books in a bag to go to the charity shop yesterday and it was hard, even though it shouldn’t have been as they are all books that I have read and don’t intend to read again. They’re not suitable for the school library and I don’t know anyone who I would give them to, so they’re in the ‘donate’ pile. Yet some part of me still wants to hold onto them! I have books on my shelves which no longer reflect my taste, but they still have memories so will probably hold onto them…
        I will be looking out for the bookshelf tour – love having a nosy at other people’s shelves!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What I took from the book and the TV show was that she’s freaking adorable, and if it makes you happy she won’t judge you for having as much of it as you want. You love clothes? Have 17 wardrobes/dressers. You love shoes? She’ll help you store your 146 pairs so you can appreciate them. Love books? That’s fine, keep them.
    But honestly applying to my books was so freeing. I did save it for last as it’s what means most to me, but to be honest a lot of it was common sense and charities and free libraries are going to benefit from my cull of books I won’t ever pick up or reread.
    Cora |

    Liked by 1 person

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