As a self-described “book collector” you can imagine that I am quite attached to my mini-library. And you’d be right! My book collection has been carefully built over many years and hauled literally thousands of miles to be what it is today. I still feel bad about the time a friend asked if she could borrow a copy of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to read and I was so protective of all TEN copies I own I ended up just getting her her own copy. It’s not that I didn’t trust her, it’s just that those books were too precious to me to let out of my sight for an extended period of time.
I, like many folks in the book community, were forced to confront our hoarder-like ways this past week when professional organizer Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” hit streaming services on January 1st. Kondo came under fire for suggesting that a person should ideally not have more than 30 books in their living space, and should get rid of all of the books they own that do not “spark joy” in their lives.
Based on the reaction this simple ideology sparked across the internet, you would have thought that Kondo asked you to burn your books in the town square and keep only the ashes in a decorative mason jar to save space. The very idea of getting rid of some of your books ignited a passion in people that I rarely see in the book community, a typically chill corner of the internet. But here’s a hot take for you – Marie Kondo is right.
Being a collector is a bit of a family trait in my experience. My sister collects sneakers, and my dad collects F1 racing memorabilia. My paternal grandmother collected salt and pepper shakers for a long time, and my maternal grandmother had a cardinal bird theme going on for a good while as well. I understand the love and joy that comes from being a collector. The feeling I get when I find a new vintage Penguin orange classic, or edition of Jane Eyre that I had never seen before, is one that I can only compare to a Disney’s True Love Kiss Moment™.
I haven’t bothered to count the amount of books in my collection currently, but they are certainly more than 30, so right away I break Marie Kondo’s “rule”. But here’s the thing – the number is not a strict principle with her. Her whole ideology is based on only keeping things in your life that “spark joy”. If you are a collector, that most definitely sparks joy for you and thus it passes the test. When I look at my bookcase however, I don’t just see the books I love. I also see books that I’ve had for years that I still haven’t read. I see books I finished with a shrug and never thought about again. And possibly worst of all – I see books that I do like being squished and crushed against each other in an effort to make space for everything on my shelves.
In the numerous articles and tweets written in anger against Marie Kondo’s suggestions, many people reference their piles and stacks of books precariously placed around their apartment. Arianna Davis of Oprah Mag brags about how her piles of books not only impede her friends from being able to walk around her apartment, but also how the piles have begun to act as furniture, replacing bedside tables. Is this how we should be treating the books we love so much? I personally shudder more at the idea of the inevitable crushing damage that comes to a book placed on the bottom of a 20+ book stack than at getting rid of some books I will never read again. Why are we as bibliophiles more inclined to subject our books to spine-ruining damage instead of face the task of decluttering?
Perhaps it has something to do with the shame of admitting that we just didn’t like some of our books. I once found myself with the entire “Rabbit Run” series by John Updike only to find that I absolutely hated it. I felt a bit of guilt over this – it’s supposed to be a classic! A cornerstone of literature! The man won a Pulitzer for heaven’s sake! But the fact of the matter was that those books certainly did NOT spark joy in me. I actively hated those books, so I brought them to my local used bookstore where I traded them in for store credit to get a book I actually did like.
Getting rid of books we didn’t like or aren’t of any use to us isn’t just good for the feng shui of our homes, it’s good for our local book community too. Used bookstores can rely greatly on the people of the community to donate and trade in books to keep stock fresh, and local libraries will often accept books in good condition as budgets get tighter and tighter. These places are important cultural cornerstones of the neighborhoods they inhabit, and as booklovers we owe it to them to do what we can to make sure they stay around for a long time.
Marie Kondo might be pushing it a bit when she suggests keeping your collection down to 30 books, but at the heart of her message is something to seriously consider – books that have served their purpose to us can be passed on to serve others. You don’t have to get rid of all of your books, and you certainly don’t have to throw them away. Consider giving back to your book community, find your local library, and possibly most importantly of all, make space for some new books!
Do you ever donate or pass along books that you feel you don’t need anymore? How do you manage your book collection, if at all? Share your thoughts in the comments below!