The start of a new year often inspires people to make resolutions: read more books, spend more time with family, save more money. It’s no coincidence that Netflix debuted Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on January 1. The eight-episode season follows organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo as she helps people find happiness through decluttering.
If you haven’t watched yet, I highly recommend it. The show is utterly delightful. It gives me the same warm and fuzzy feelings that I get from watching Queer Eye and The Great British Baking Show. But Kondo, whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out in 2012, caused quite a stir among readers when her show premiered. Kondo’s method encourages people to hold the items in their home to see if they “spark joy”—if yes, keep and if no, toss or donate. It didn’t take long for the think pieces on how to handle Kondoing your books to start pouring in. Some insisted readers should drastically cull their shelves, others said the petite and perky Kondo could pry their books from their cold dead hands.
The book world is a fascinating place. We encourage each other to own mini libraries. “It’s not hoarding if it’s books,” might as well be our collective motto. Like other bibliophiles, when I first started watching Tidying Up, I cringed thinking about what Kondo would make of my own sizable hoard. But over the course of my viewing, I began to realize that Kondo truly wouldn’t care if I kept every last title, as long as they sparked joy.
Kondo herself uncovered her love of tidying while organizing the bookshelves in her junior high school classroom library. She admittedly had been focused on throwing away what wasn’t needed, until she had a revelation that it made her happier to search for the items that brought her joy. This is what she reminds Tidying Up participants when they start to obsess over what they are or are not getting rid of.
Kondo is also a major advocate for boxes (she may be part cat). She reminds us in every episode that how we store items is important, but that items of value serve us best when they’re thoughtfully displayed. This, dear reader, is where books come in. Does every single book in my home spark joy? Maybe not. But seeing my meticulously organized bookshelves certainly does. Kondo encourages the people she works with to arrange items in a way that is pleasing. Taking a look at a few of my own displays, I’ve created one rainbow bookshelf, one all-time favorites bookshelf (sorted by genre), and a TBR shelf (sorted by pub date). These books weren’t thrown onto shelves haphazardly; they were thoughtfully curated and displayed. Kondo, I think, would be proud. After all, as Instagram shows us every #ShelfieSaturday, bookshelves can be works of art.
And, yes, I may still end up giving away some of my books. When I organized my bookshelves a few months ago (PK—pre-Kondo), I kept books that I loved (even if I’ll never read them again) and many, many books that I hoped to read. I also found books that I didn’t enjoy or that I no longer had an interest in reading. As Kondo would say, they didn’t spark joy, and I was happy to give them to friends, teachers, or my local Free Little Library in the hopes that they might bring some other reader happiness.
I’ve never read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I’ve been watching the show and what really speaks to me about Kondo is her respect for the individual she’s dealing with and their belongings. She lets people move at their own pace. She lets them decide what to keep and what to give away. She even let one tidier-in-training change the order of her trademark method to better fit the participant’s emotional state. When I think about Kondo’s own home, I imagine it to be immaculate and minimalist. At the end of each episode, the homes that she visits are likely still too cluttered for her standards. But Kondo never judges others by her standards. She sees the participants’ personal growth and change, and she celebrates that. So breathe a sigh of relief, bookworms. I don’t believe Kondo would pressure me or you or any of us to get rid of our beloved books. In fact, I think she wants to remind us exactly what a treasure they are to us.