Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

We’ve discussed before the advantages, limitations and broader implications of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book on de-cluttering and home organization. Quite recently, I even posted pictures of my kids’ attempts to organize their dresser drawers KonMari style for the purposes of fitting everything in such a way that each item is easily visible and easy to access.

While I was impressed with the patience and skill my kids demonstrated by turning their t-shirts and underwear into an origami project, I couldn’t quite bring myself to go that far. There’s no possible way I could ever, washing two loads of laundry per day, find the motivation let alone the time, to sit and fold everything into neat little triangular shapes then line them up in the drawers.

Guess what? My kids haven’t stuck to it either. They made a valiant effort worth commending, especially knowing them as I do. The method simply isn’t realistic long term, but I digress. The merits folding one’s clothing origami style isn’t what prompted this post.

This is a blog about books, and despite the overwhelmingly positive response to Kondo’s admonition that we get rid of most of our junk, one thing which has drawn consistent howls of protest is her suggestion that those following her method scale their libraries down to no more than 30 books. Being a homeschool parent as well as a voracious reader, I dismissed that nonsense out of hand. Others however, have taken the time to dissect and contemplate the underlying implications of suggesting that we purge ourselves right out having any substantial home library at all. The delightfully poetic Rachel at Bay Boxwood put it thus:

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

Given that beautifying living spaces is what she does, I’ll defer to her authority on that issue, and agree with it wholeheartedly.  Being given to conspiratorial imaginations complete with visions of elitist machinations in smoke-filled rooms, I am immediately wary of attempts to encourage the masses to do away with hard copies of books.

Y’all can cancel the paddy wagon. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but I do consider it unwise to trap our most beloved books in digital formats which are much easier to delete or manipulate. More than that however, is that there are few things at all which spark joy, inspire thought, and disseminate wisdom than great books. I loved the wistfully exciting way Bethany Fiction said it:

Do you know what brings me joy? BOOKS! Adventures to times and places I’ll never visit in the “real” world, deep journeys into hope and heartbreak, thrilling escapades where someone won’t get out alive but I probably will, somewhat-confusing classics I had to read for school that made me a better person even if I didn’t appreciate them at the time…I love them all.

I mean, it’s great to have a few travel mementos that bring a smile every time you look at them, don’t get me wrong, but books contain whole worlds—the lives and journeys of beloved friends we’ve admired and empathized and learned from. The joy quotient is just through the roof. Libraries and bookstores spark so much joy that they might as well be actual infernos of happiness. (Is that a little Fahrenheit 451? Maybe. But you get the idea.) And if your house just happens to resemble a library or bookstore…all the better!

I especially appreciated that she invoked Fahrenheit 451.

Writing for The Guardian,  Anakana Scholfield reminds us that not every book we read is going to spark joy, and sometimes this is a very good thing:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

As for culling one’s unread books – while that may be essential for reducing fire and tripping hazards, it is certainly not a satisfying engagement with the possibilities of literature. (Unless it’s self-help or golf, in which case, toss it.) Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

Some of the most rewarding books I own, beginning with my Bible, have grieved, challenged, and stretched me in the most painful yet rewarding ways. Several are worth re-reading again and again, sharing with friends, and passing along to my children and their children.

Despite my predilection for book collection, I am a fervent supporter of local libraries and encourage their patronage for books that we enjoy exploring which are, for whatever reasons, not worth retaining in our personal libraries.

The bigger takeaway from all of this is that each of us, rather than being carried away by the cultural wave of the moment, needs to use wisdom and discretion when it comes to what we own, how we spend our money, and how we decide which experts of the moment are worth listening to.The way I feel about my books is the way my husband feels about his tools. Some of the more obscure specialty tools might only be used  yearly, but when needed, they are worth every penny and whatever bit of space they occupy.

Materialism and collection of worthless clutter is expensive and causes unnecessary stress. That’s something most all agree on. How we approach Marie Kondo’s needed invitation to examine our relationship with our stuff will be as varied as each of our homes and families.

How many books in your library are you willing to part with?



10 thoughts on “Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

  1. hearthie says:

    I KonMari’d my books a few years ago. Keep 30? Pish and Tosh. I agree with Bay – I LIKE books. But I’d developed scads of books that were just here because as books they had the status of sacred cows. I filled up the back of my car (no joke) and took them to the thrift store. Rearranged things, and ended up with two empty shelves of space, which I was able to repurpose to deal with other (necessary but unsightly) clutter.

    The project benefited me greatly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elspeth says:

    I recently did a book purge as well, and it was a good thing.

    There’s just no way for me to ever get down to 30 books. Or even down to 100 books. There are too many books that are well worth keeping!


  3. hearthie says:

    I’d really really like to Konmari the stuff we keep on display… but honestly? We just need a bigger house. (Scoffers will note that I have a family of four in a 1200sqft living space and two of us are makers/repairers of things). KonMari that car back to SIL, that would help a lot…. :p

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bike Bubba says:

    30 books? Hah! I’ve got that many signed copies that I inherited from my great uncle. They’re not going anywhere if I can avoid it, with the exception of “in my hands to read them.” Same thing with other old books I’ve picked up, including Bible sections closing in on their 300th birthday. Count me firmly in the group of those who are very willing to part with less used clothes and furniture well before getting rid of books.


  5. smkoseki says:

    Fun post. Enjoyed it.

    Our goal remains 0 physical books. Prob take a decade as many of our technical/professional books yet to go digital. But I will take very great pleasure in trashing them when digital is in hand as they are so superior for searching/scanning/TTS.

    But the real advantage going to 0 is mobility. I only wish we could “go digital” with our tools (auto/house/sewing); we must keep these, I’m afraid. But we still adhere to the “use within the last year or out it goes” rule.

    E:…digital format…easier to delete or manipulate.

    I don’t think so. Physical books are far easier to find & burn than private digital PDFs (which can be stored in multiple locations, thumbnail size). And books rot/age. Plus digital is also TTS with a click (I listen to about half my books while working) so this big. Honestly, I cannot find a single advantage to physical books anymore (for adults) except the “historical” or “feel” aspect (like those guys who love original records or 8-tracks/tapes for the nostalgic…going back to scrolls or parchment is prob next.

    I’m not on the RonMari bandwagon though; too practical & RM sounds artistic. I’ll have to read RM though maybe I’ll be surprised…


  6. Bike Bubba says:

    Regarding books rotting and aging, sure, but the 1726 and 1728 printings of the Torah and books of history of the Berlenburger Bibel that I’ve got on my shelves are still in great condition. What is not in great condition are a lot of books I’ve got from 1850-1980, when most book paper was prepared using a process that left lignin and acid in the mix.

    We might say that having a physical book is an advantage over magnetic/optical media simply because you can hide it, and all you need to do 50 years from now to read it is to open it. It will degrade, yes, but CDs degrade in 10-100 years, too, and the technology to read them changes. So if you can keep fire, termites, and mold at bay, it’s a serious advantage to have a few physical books.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Elspeth says:

    @ smk:

    Fun post. Enjoyed it.

    Thank you, sir! I am not at all surprised that you disagree with my overall premise as we have discussed this before. I can appreciate your fervor for eliminating physical books, and you make a decent point about books rotting over time.

    It may just be that we have an irrational and passionate nostalgia for what physical books represent, because they do represent something beyond an unnecessary use of space and a thing that can be replaced by pdf files.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. no display name says:

    It is extremely important to have physical copies of books and other papers and pamphlets because they last. Libraries have lost decades of archived newspapers, many providing valuable historical context and research because of technophilia leading to the originals being thrown out and the digital forms unreadable/inaccessible within a couple of decades. Nicholson Baker has written extensively about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elspeth says:

    @ CMH:

    I am not familiar with Nicholson Baker. I’ll have to look into that. Thanks.

    It just seems to me instinctively there is a safety inherent in maintaining physical copies of important works both literary and religious.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. bayboxwood says:

    Our books legitimately needed to be dusted and reorganized, but I only got rid of two (titles we had in paperback form, then I found decent hardback versions at the thrift store). I’m okay with books, for books sake.

    I’m reading a goofy novel for book club – it’s pure formula (a war, a forbidden love, a class divide, a predictable scallywag, etc) but a vast Forbidden Library is the best character in the story, and makes the rest funny and engaging. I appreciate that. Books tell their own stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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