KonMari: Book Wars

So we’re all talking about KonMari now? I’m on board. Quick caveat: I’ve read the book, but I haven’t watched the television show yet. I’m going to, I’m sure, because I am actually really interested in the way that Kondo’s method has created conversations about our relationships with objects, the memories they hold, the ways we define ourselves through our possessions and spaces, and the diversity of anthropological connections we set up with them.1 I don’t necessarily think she’s “right” but I do like the fact that this is becoming the conversation to have.

But, of course, the issue everyone I know is losing their shit over is books. Should I throw away all my books? Well, no. Obviously not. Firstly, because I’m a writer, so books I haven’t thought of in five years often have unexpected utility when I remember them, go to my shelves, and get exactly what I need exactly when I need it.2 But secondly, I think that one thing that the KonMari method got very wrong when I read the book is its segmentation of objects. My books aren’t individual books, they’re a library. I should certainly weed my library–I never said I was without sin–but it’s a separate process from “tidying up” books because the units relate to one another, and they mean something as a whole.

For example, my completely destroyed copy of The World of Late Antiquity3 does not fit the criteria of sparking joy. But my personal library does, as a whole, and as its librarian I can say that it’s an essential member, even if I only look at it once every five years, even if I don’t need it, even if I may never get any utility or joy from it ever again.

It’s kind of like looking at, say, a violin and deciding that the E string doesn’t spark joy. You don’t play it that often, it’s your least favorite of all the strings. So you take it off, and wow: you’re a moron.

So yeah, I think the book issue can be summarized as one of scale. Weeding is a crucial skill, but it’s different from tidying, and passionate readers instinctively understand this because they look at their books as a library, not as individual books.

I have more thoughts on KonMari as a whole, but I’ll hold my judgement until I’ve actually watched the show out of fairness. I have a lot of areas of my life where this method is actually really appealing, and when I read the book, I got rid of a ton of clothes and random things, like nail polish I don’t really like any more. Not according to the method, but it was still useful. I’d really like to tidy my whole house this year, because I still have packed boxes from when I moved from Oregon to DC like ten years ago. I still have cords for technology that hasn’t worked for ages. That kind of stuff, that kind of joyless clutter that we hold on to out of irrational fear, I think is the perfect target for this system, and I’m all for having a method to handle it.

But yeah, you can pry my books from my cold dead fingers.

  1. Because I can take any topic in the world and just suck all the fun right out of it.
  2. Random Hum110 article packet, I’m looking at you.
  3. Which, as I write this, I’m realizing has been sitting on my desk for a month and needs to be put back on the shelf. You win this round, Kondo.