“Books are one of three things people find hardest to let go.”
I first read Marie Kondo’s acclaimed book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Amazon | Indiebound) sometime in late 2014, after it started the news cycle rounds. I was also in the process of a lot of transitions, having just started my saturn return and I devoured anything that helped me get the smallest dose of sanity.
As a Pisces, I am an extremely sensitive person. That sensitivity is in all levels: whether it’s in awkward situations where I can’t help but read body language and try to control the urge to alleviate it, or a movie about dogs and their emotions which leaves me with a tear-stricken face after the first five minutes.
I’m attuned to my surroundings in ways I myself find weird and interesting at the same time, like how I dislike going to certain stores if clothes or items on sale are in disarray (online shopping saved me). I’m particularly sensitive to places, atmosphere and surrounding environment, which is why I’m also the happiest in nature or when I’m next to the beach.
I treat my place / room as a sacred sanctuary, which is why reading Kondo’s book helped me a great deal. For the most part, I found it extremely helpful as I began to narrow down the things I owned. Asking the simple question of “does this bring me joy?” while trying to figure out whether to keep a certain belonging or not worked for me. It made me realize how much I can really live with less, even though I was never a materialistic person to begin with.
Kondo’s “KonMari” method relies on making a few lifestyle changes when it comes to the stuff that we buy. What she teaches is mindfulness when it comes to our belongings, and treating them beyond objects. She encourages an emotional bond wiht our belongings, like treating shoes and bags with care and gratitude, as opposed to seeing them as disposable which capitalism would have us rather be doing.
From clothes to old letters to photographs, even birthday cards, the KonMari method helped me narrow things down and really get to the core of what these things conveyed for me. I was happy with what she was teaching.
Except when it came to her method for sorting and discarding books. She instructs the reader by pulling books out of the shelves to “gently wake them up” or bring them to consciousness and lay them out on the floor. If there are too many books, she suggests piling them in categories.
Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it.
So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love.
I suddenly remembered all the books I would get at book sales which have gathered dust, books I got as gifts that I never cracked open, and other books that I’ve planned to read but haven’t found the time. I was definitely keeping books that I probably don’t even remember. I was grateful to Kondo’s advice for helping me become more intentional about what books to keep.
I started going through my shelves, doing exactly what she told. By the end of the process, I had about three boxes of books that I was ok parting with. What I realized was that the more we know ourselves, the easier it’ll be. I had so many unread books about political theories acquired over the years that I didn’t even stop to think if those were what I was really seeking. It was ok for me to give those away because I knew exactly where my politics lie at the moment.
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, they book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.
I left these boxes out on the street and by the end of the day, only a few titles were left on the sidewalk.
While I resonated with Kondo’s sentiment on timing and purpose of books, I also disagree. I kept some books that I haven’t read by the time I was sorting, books that I eventually read when I felt that it was the “right time.”
bell hooks’s All About Love (Amazon | Indiebound) was sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until I was going through a breakup that I reached for it. I was looking for a specific book on my shelf when I came upon it, and it proved to help my healing process tremendously.
Books are essentially paper — sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. Their is no meaning in their jsut being on your shelves.
I had to resist the urge to throw this book across the room when I got to this part. Instead, I smiled. This is Kondo’s lifework — tidying up — so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she thinks this way. But for a bibliophile like me and many, many others, books aren’t just paper.
They are many things to the reader, beyond just paper. They’re friends, companions, reminders, whole worlds. They represent different things to different people. When I see the spine of a specific book I’ve read before, I am reminded of the book’s lessons, where I was at that specific time of my life, who I was in those moments. And I always feel a wave of gratitude was over me, a spiritual connection almost.
I know that I will not reread many of the books I keep, but they will be there when the time when I’ll need them the most. As a book blogger as well, my bookshelves provide visceral inspiration and ideas for future book blog posts.
While I’m happy and grateful for Kondo’s method, I think of books beyond clutter, beyond paper. For people like me, they could almost amount to everything. Erasmus said it best:
When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.