Decluttering Books: How to Figure Out What “Sparks Joy”

Marie Kondo has been in writing-community newsfeeds recently because of her statement that most people she’s worked with tend to end up with 30 books or fewer. (Or, for writers and others who work with books, like 100 books.)

Now, if you’re currently saying, “Yeah, there’s no way I would get rid of that many books,” then withhold judgment for a few minutes. Maybe you’re right, especially if you say that because you have 200 picture books so that you don’t have to read the same one to your kid 300 times a day.

But you also might be surprised to find that you don’t benefit from a giant home library like you thought you did. For example, I have about 75 books on my shelf right now. I’m in the process of donating roughly 200. This is weird for me. Here’s a sampling of Kondo’s advice for decluttering books and how I’ve used The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy to get rid of about two-thirds of my collection.

  1. Create a Vision

One of the first steps of the KonMari method is to imagine the kind of home you want to live in. Think concretely.

When I imagine my ideal home, I imagine a lot of light. I like clean surfaces. I want space in which to exercise, relax, read, write, and cook without having to spend too much time maintaining my space. And because I rent, I also want to be able to think about moving without drowning in despair.

  1. Have a Dialogue With Yourself

Kondo says that to develop your sense of what sparks joy for you, you need to have a dialogue with yourself. You need to reflect and think about your possessions and how you relate to them as you handle each item. Eventually you’ll declutter to the point where something clicks, and you’ll have a feel for what amount of stuff enhances your life.

Kondo also has some ideas to jump-start your dialogue. Here are some of the ideas that don’t need their own section of the post:

  • Identify the top three books that you know spark joy, and then identify the books that give you the same feeling.
  • Ask yourself what purpose this book serves in your life and whether it has fulfilled its purpose.
  • Choose just the books that qualify for your personal Hall of Fame.
  • Consider whether the book supports the kind of life you want to have.
  • Consider whether the words that jump out from the covers of visible books evoke the feelings you want to live with.
  • Avoid keeping items out of obligation.

Note that books can spark joy even if they’re sad. If a book is tragic but makes you happy in that it expands your worldview, then the book can still spark joy.

As I went through my books, I realized that having lots of books in my house stresses me out. This surprised me because I window-shop in bookstores or browse in the public library to feel better. I don’t need to buy or check out anything. I walk among books therapeutically.

But books in my house represent unfinished business. Even if I’ve read all the books, I low-key feel like I need to frequently re-read them to justify keeping them.

  1. Deal With the Past and Future

Kondo says that many people use their possessions to express excessive attachment to the past or cope with anxiety about the future. So as you go through your books, think about whether keeping a book prevents you from moving forward or entrenches control issues.

For example, I let go of some books that I love because they helped me through dark times. While the books once helped me be happier, their presence in my house kept me tied to those times and feelings.

With the future, a common focus is a library for future children. With picture books, I think this impulse is fairly rational, especially if you get discounted books as you find them at library sales and such.

But once you get to chapter books, remember that your children may hate everything you love. And even if they love said books, they may steal and never return them or accidentally ruin them. If those scenarios mess with your plan, then maybe focus on your own collection. And then buy your kids books they actually want at holidays and commit to frequent library visits.

That’s all for now. Next week I’ll get into the ways I’ve personalized Kondo’s method to better suit my life.

Have you decluttered your books? How many do you currently keep?

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