The KonMari Experiment: Breaking Up With My Books
I stood staring at my most prized piece of furniture. It held all of my favorite memories, my daydreams, my ambitions, and my best friends. I was staring at my bookcase, and attempting to steel myself against the knowledge I was about to clean some of those beautiful books out.
When my boss suggested I read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, I thought Sure, why not? I love to clean and organize. I never thought the book would include advice for decluttering and organizing in a way I had never heard of. And I certainly didn’t expect it to tell me to clean out my bookcase. My books are like my children (25, single, and actually childless over here). To remove them from their hallowed shelves, choose favorites (pretty sure that’s a parenting no-no), and then simply kick those less-loved pages to the curb? Sacrilege, I say!
But when your boss asks you to test something out and write about it, you do it. That’s how I found myself standing with my arms crossed in front of my bookcase, wearing sweats from two boyfriends ago, rocking a messy bun, and doing my best to suck it up.
The main premise of Marie Kondo’s approach, called the KonMari method, is to only keep the items that fill you with joy. This rule applies to pretty much everything aside from items like medical records and birth certificates. She requires you to go through one category at a time, pull every item of that category out onto the floor, and then take each item in your hands. If holding the item doesn’t spark joy in your heart, then it no longer serves a purpose in your life, and you need to let it go.
It sounds like the easiest thing in the world, especially when applying it to things I don’t want. That old sweater my sister-in-law gave me two years ago and I’ve never worn? Deuces. Applying the rule to books however, gave me heartburn. I’ve always been so proud of my book collection. I love when people come over, see my books standing sentry in the corner, and ask “Have you really read all of these?” I love nodding back that yes, yes, I have read them all. Many of them are from my childhood. Even though I’ve rarely gone back to reread most of them, I love having them there to remind me of the stories that enchanted me into becoming a bookworm.
Nonetheless, I had to at least try to clean some of them out.
Step 1: Unload the books.
Ignoring the panic clawing up through my esophagus, I started removing all of my books from the shelves and laying them out on the floor. I didn’t try to lay them out in any specific way. Books from the same series ended up split up, books by the same author were on different parts of the living room, and it looked like sheer chaos.
Step 2: Pick up each book to search for joy.
I decided to just grab books at random. The first one I picked up, a book I received from my internship with The Oxford American Magazine, didn’t cause any stirrings of joy. I had never even read it. (I realized I had been lying when answering my friends’ questions. Dammit.) Much to my surprise, it didn’t hurt to lay it in a corner to start the donate pile. Then I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and my chest got all warm and fuzzy. It was a definite keeper.
So I continued on this way through all of my books, until I reached the books I had kept from my college literature classes. Some of them I had adored, and others I had abandoned halfway through in favor of a pre-class SparkNotes recap. As a writer, it felt like treason to kick these classics to the curb, but the KonMari method says anything you keep needs to spark joy. These books definitely did not spark joy, and I never once reread them after class ended. I marched them over to the donate pile, and I felt the shame each step of the way.
In a matter of 20 minutes, all of my books were divided into three camps: Keep, Donate, Let Nieces Choose From. Marie Kondo says not to give the things you don’t want to other people, BUT my nieces love to read, and the books that I loved when I was a kid will find a good home with them. I feel like books can be the one exception to this rule. Plus, I’m not going to force the books on them. I’m going to let them choose which ones they want and take the remainder to donate.
Step 3: Cry.
Just for a short, hot minute. Even though the books in the discard pile no longer inspire joy, they did at one point. I remember cradling each of them in my arms as I carried them home from Barnes & Noble. I was practically bursting with joy.
Once those 60 seconds were up, I grabbed a tissue and got back to work.
Step 4: Reshelve books.
Before I began reshelving, I took a moment to look at all of the books that made me happy when I held them. Even though I still felt a little bad about donating the other books, I couldn’t deny I enjoyed seeing a pile of books that truly appealed to me. I quickly placed them all back on the bookshelf next to their partners and cousins.
Once everyone was back in place, I stepped back and smiled at them all. I knew removing books would mean there would be more space, but I had to admit the shelf looked better with some breathing room. My books were no longer crammed and jammed on top of each other.
Step 5: Thank the donation books.
Marie Kondo says that when you get rid of an item, you should thank it for its service to you and your life. Even if you didn’t use the item, it still taught you what you don’t like. That service should be recognized. To make sure the books understood they weren’t being rehomed because they failed me, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them and thanked them each for their work. I thanked the school books for my education. I thanked the silly young adult books for entertaining me when I was a silly teenager. I thanked my childhood books for introducing me to the world of reading. And I thanked all of the books I barely read for teaching me the genres I just don’t like.
After saying my thanks, I was done KonMari-ing my bookshelf. My collection was condensed down to the books that inspired and moved me. Surprisingly, I was hopeful for the books I wasn’t keeping. They would have a chance to find a home with someone else. I realized they deserved a chance to be read and appreciated, and they weren’t going to get that from me.
I was completely skeptical of cleaning out my books. I flat-out did not want to do it. Twelve hours after the fact though, I’m not sad about it. I don’t even have a desire to place the donate books back on my bookshelf. My book collection feels more representative of my tastes in literature. It feels more me than it did before. I guess this makes me a convert now. Although, let’s see how I do with the rest of my apartment before we get carried away.
Last modified on February 6th, 2019
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