February 26, 2015

The life-changing magic of organizing your book collection


curtained-bookcaseMarie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering expert, has been sweeping the globe with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her secret? Hold each item you own and determine if it “sparks joy.” If not, get rid of it. Her advice has been a breath of fresh air for pack-rats and hoarders, and has been popular and radical enough to inspire some recent backlash.

In the book, Kondo goes through each category—from clothes and socks to photos and Komono (Japanese for miscellaneous items)— and instructs the reader about how to best go about this process. For example, it’s best to start early in the morning, to organize everything all at once, and to start with sorting through clothes and end with papers (spoiler alert: she says you should throw out all of your papers, with very rare exceptions).

The most interesting section for book lovers might be the three short sections she devotes to personal libraries. Those sections are titled “Storing books,” “Unread Books,” and “Books to keep.” Since she describes physical books as “essentially paper—sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together,” I worried books would fall into her paper category, which would mean she would advise getting rid of as much as possible. But instead, her advice is more nuanced. Here are ten tips:

1) Books are hard to let go. But you should apply the KonMari Method to all books, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love. That includes this book, too. If you don’t feel any joy when you hold it in your hand, I would rather you discard it.”

2) Keep only the books you love and the ones that inspire joy. “You read for the experience of reading,” Kondo explains. “Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember. 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.”

3) Take books off the shelf before organizing them. “Do not skip this step,” Kondo warns. “You cannot judge whether or not a book really grabs you when it’s still on the shelf.”

4) Whatever you do, don’t start reading a book while you are sorting through them. “Reading clouds your judgement. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not.”

5) If you have a book on your shelf that you plan to read in the future, Kondo bets you probably won’t get to it. Give it away. “Unread books accumulate. The problem with books that we intend to read sometime is that they are far harder to part with than ones we have already read.”

6) Did someone recommend a book to your or did you purchase it years ago without getting a chance to read it? Time to part with that book. “You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.”

7) Are you worried that you will give away a book and regret it? Kondo says not to worry. “If you want the book so badly after getting rid of it that you’re willing to buy another copy, then buy one—and this time read and study it.”

8) Books you love can become part of your “Hall of Fame.” “In my case, first on the list was Alice in Wonderland, which I have read repeatedly since grade one.”

9) Kondo recommends a well-curated, small collection of books, which will correspond to one’s improved ability to recognize and increase the impact of information. “For books, timing is everything. The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small.”

10) Visualize the final result. “Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?”



Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.