The New Year is the perfect time to reorganise your bookshelf and make room for all those new books on your reading list. Decluttering expert Marie Kondo offers her top tips on tidying your books, with this extract from her new book Spark Joy.
Advice for those who think they can’t part with books
If you believe that books are the one thing you cannot possibly do away with and have been avoiding tidying up for this very reason, that’s a terrible waste. Tidying up your books is the best way to increase your sensitivity to joy and your ability to take action.
The most common reason people can’t bring themselves to discard a book is because they might want to read it again. But if a book doesn’t spark joy for you now, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll never read it again some other day. We read books because we seek the experience of reading. Once read, a book has already been ‘experienced’. Even if you don’t remember the content completely, you have already internalized it.
As for books you’ve only read halfway, or ones you haven’t yet read at all, get rid of the whole lot. Precious books that belong in your personal Hall of Fame or ones you need right now can, of course, be kept with confidence. When you’re left with only those books that you love, you’ll discover that the quality of information you receive changes noticeably. The room you make by discarding books seems to create space for an equivalent volume of new information. You’ll soon see that the information you need comes just when you need it, and when it does, you’ll find that you respond to it immediately in a new pattern of behaviour that wasn’t possible when you were hoarding books and neglecting the information they contained.
As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book you own off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them. If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.
Manga, comic books and other series are normally tidied up under the category of ‘general books’, but if you have a large volume, make this a separate category. When dealing with a series, it isn’t necessary to hold each one in your hands. You can check whether or not they spark joy by piling the whole series together and putting your arms around the pile as though hugging it, or by just taking the top volume in your hands.
The risk for distraction with this category is extremely high. To avoid wasting the entire day reading them, the trick is never to open them. Check for joy by simply touching them. During private lessons, if I make the mistake of mentioning my clients’ manga, they are quite likely to launch into a long and passionate explanation of the series’ charms.
Magazines and coffee-table books
Books that have a strong element of being ‘fun to look at’ include not only magazines and photo books but also catalogues, art books and the like. Keep with confidence those that belong in your personal Hall of Fame, that is, those you would not even contemplate discarding and that you know without a doubt spark joy. Magazines are short-distance runners with a very brief ‘season’. If the magazines you buy regularly or to which you subscribe tend to accumulate, I suggest setting a limit on the maximum number of issues that you can keep.
If you are only attracted to certain photos or articles in a book, cut those out. You do not have to put them in a scrapbook right away. Store them temporarily in a clear plastic folder. It’s quite common for people to look at these clips later and wonder why they kept them, so sort through these once again when you get to the paper sorting stage.
Storing books attractively
I have my clients store their books in a bookcase or on a set of shelves placed out of sight in the wardrobe, in a storage room or in a cupboard. The basic rule is to keep items of the same category together, but for books that are used in a specific place, it is fine to keep them where they are used, such as storing cookbooks in the kitchen. Don’t stack them in a pile. Be sure to stand them up.
After you’ve finished tidying your books, you may wonder whether you should have kept so many, but don’t worry. As you continue tidying, you will hone your sensitivity to joy. If you notice anything later on that has served its purpose, you can discard it at that time. And it’s such a pleasure to have lots of books that spark joy. If you have picked them up one by one and determined that these are indeed the books you love, then keep them with confidence and make up your mind to cherish them.
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, by Marie Kondo (Vermillion) is available now.