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