Justin Tadlock

The life-changing magic of sorting books

Bookshelf lined with a little over 100 books.

There’s been a lot of backlash against Marie Kondō and her KonMari method of tidying in the last week or so as the crowd of folks making their way through the program get to Lesson #2: Books.

And, rightfully so. Many of us take our book collections seriously.

I’m an avid believer that we should fill our lives with as many books as possible. I’ve seen homes with stacks and stacks of books coming from the floor because the owner ran out of shelf space. I love it. I’m amazed by it. My mind doesn’t immediately think clutter if it’s books.

I admit that when I was reading the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I felt different about books than Kondō did. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through the process. I failed in my attempt to discard books in 2018. Was this going to be the stopping point in my journey for 2019?

The one point where I vehemently disagree with Kondō is her position that most books will only get read when you first purchase them. While I can see that being true for many, it’s simply not the case for me. I’ll often look through my unread books on a rainy weekend afternoon and start reading something that’s been awaiting its moment to be read. The perfect time to read a book is whenever you pluck it from the shelf and open the first pages. I just read Eragon because I found it during this tidying process.

For some people, many of their books may more appropriately fit into Lesson #5: Sentimental Items. Jumping from what’s typically an easy category like clothes to something near and dear to your heart, like your book collection, can be a daunting process. If parting ways with books will be a huge struggle for you, I’d almost recommend doing it as the last part of the tidying process and skipping ahead to Lesson #3: Papers.

After spending a year with my Kindle, I don’t foresee buying many new physical copies of books unless they are special. This has lightened the load on me.

Still, I struggled with this process. A good 80% of the books I touched sparked some sort of joy within me. I couldn’t just let them go. However, the question I had to ask myself was whether a particular book was something I could see as part of my life going forward.

There were two things that got me through this process:

  1. I wasn’t going to let myself feel bad about anything I wanted to keep, which is in line with the KonMari method.
  2. I broke things down into steps and thoughtfully worked through those steps over the course of the week.

Step 1: Discarding

The easiest way to kick-start this process was to get all my books out. Then, I grabbed a tote. I proceeded with the KonMari method of touching each book and awaiting a spark of joy. If it was something that I didn’t like, it went into the tote.

By the time I was done, I had overfilled my tote with things that I wouldn’t ever read again. Things I wouldn’t lend to a neighbor. And, things that I simply didn’t want to keep on my shelves. Recognizing titles that I absolutely didn’t want was crucial first step.

These books are now ready for donation to Goodwill or the public library.

Step 2: Giving

During the initial process, I also started making several stacks of books that I wasn’t sure about. Many of them I enjoyed. I was in this gray area where I couldn’t see myself letting them go but probably wasn’t going to read again.

So, I made two boxes. One for my sister, which was mostly fiction. One for my dad, which was mostly religious and gardening books. My sister has since gone through her box and took about 90% of them. My dad will get his soon.

This made the act of letting go easier. I may one day have these books returned to me as the family rotates books around. And, if I never see them again, that’s okay. I know they’re going to a good home where they’ll be read, which is the most important thing for a book.

Step 3: Sorting

In the photograph above, there’s a little over 100 books. These are titles that I haven’t read yet, have read but want to read again, or just want to display. The top shelf is devoted to reference books that I can quickly grab when needed.

It’s nice having the things I’m most likely to pick up all in one place. This was the biggest benefit of going through this decluttering process with books. I hated going through unpacked boxes attempting to find something. And, yes, it’s been several years since I’ve moved without unpacking some stuff.

The rest of my books are on other shelves or in a box in the closet for the moment. I need to get proper bookshelves at some point in the future.

Final thoughts

While I didn’t do an official count, I kept about half of my books. Probably in the neighborhood of 300. I’m sure there are others with much more massive collections. This was a tough enough job for me.

I feel good about where I’m at. The goal was to tidy my books. To organize them. Keep titles that sparked joy. I’ve accomplished that mission.