I binge watched episodes of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up on Netflix last weekend. Kondo is a small woman with a big mission. She teaches people to sort and tidy their belongings in ways that she says will bring joy into their lives. In every episode, I saw people change as they worked through Kondo’s tidying process. But I had to go through Kondo’s process myself to feel the change, to understand the burden related to carrying the books with me, and to experience the joy and freedom when the tidying was done.
I love books. I prefer to buy rather than borrow books because I enjoy having them around me. Like many book buyers, I intend to read every book, but half of them go unread. They’ve sat on shelves throughout my house, some for YEARS, waiting for me. I’ve never felt any guilt about buying and not reading them. They don’t spoil.
The Japanese have a pretty word that describes stockpiling books that are never read: tsundoku. The word doesn’t carry any negative stigma in Japan according to Prof Andrew Gerstile, who teaches pre-modern Japanese texts at the University of London.
Over the years I’ve bought, shelved, boxed, and moved, from one house to another and from book case to bookcase upstairs and downstairs, hundreds and hundreds of books. These are books from one bookshelf. Some are already in bags to be donated or sold. The piles grew over the weekend as I added books that I collected from other rooms and from the basement. Kondo recommends sorting by category (books, clothes, etc.) rather than by room and placing all the alike items on the floor in one room. The purpose for gathering things in one place is so we can see how much we actually have.
As I cleared the shelves and sorted my books into piles to keep or not, I followed Kondo’s guidance, and asked myself two questions:
- Is this book and it’s contents something I want to bring into my future?
- Does holding this book bring my joy?
If the answer to either question was no, I put the book into a donate/sell pile. After all was done, I’d moved eleven bags of books out of the house.
I had more books than I could read in ten years, and not so long ago, I believed this:
The Way to Joy
In three days of sorting and tidying books, I’ve reduced my book stash to only those books that I believe will bring me joy today. Tidying up also freed up space in my mind and that gives back to me time that I’d committed to reading. I can create more.
Moving and sorting books revealed something I wasn’t expecting, though.
Sending the books away uncovered a big question
Almost since I began reading, I’ve believed I could write. Writing became a driving force in my life. Suddenly, as I considered and appreciated all the empty space in my bookshelves and felt relief from the burden of reading books that no longer interested me, I had the thought: Do I still want to write?
That question needs more thought. In the meantime, I’ll still buy books. And I’m OK with that.
It’s easy to get caught up in obsessions, like reading is for me, and forget to check in with yourself about what is exerting influence in your life. Stacks of books were exerting influence and pressure on me. But we can control what has influence in our lives.
You most likely know what is influencing you. Do you need to interrupt the pressure? Do you need to tidy up something in your life so you have more time to feel creative? I’d enjoy hearing from you.