I used the KonMari method on my bookshelf and this is what happened.

Marie Kondo made me break up with my books.

If you haven’t heard of Marie Kondo, then you must be living under a rock. She’s sprung into popular culture, firstly with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – and now she’s hit mainstream with her Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Everyone I know is doing the KonMari method (which, when I first heard this, caused a bit of confusion because I misheard and felt pretty certain that throwing pot pourri about your flat isn’t going to help clear things away). The KonMari method is built around the idea that you should only keep the items that you love – or as she says, the items the “spark joy” – and treasure them. Don’t treasure them? Thank them for their service and break up with them – bin or donate, up to you.

Maybe you’re a bit sick of Marie Kondo and this sudden obsession with tidying things away. Maybe you’re like me and you really like being surrounded by the items that reflect you. Maybe you’re like me and one evening you’re sitting on the sofa wondering how you’re going to fit another five books onto your bookshelf when it’s already spilling over – and it suddenly dawns on you that you probably don’t need those academic textbooks on the pottery of the Bell Beaker people anymore. Or that copy of Les Chouans you’ve been promising yourself you’ll read since 2011. And then suddenly all the thoughts you’ve had about the KonMari method come flooding into your head and before you know it, you’re on your hands and knees pulling out book after book like some kind of literary maniac.

Theoretical philosophy of the 1930s? Probably not needed. Complete works of Plato? Wishful thinking that I’ll ever get round to reading that one. Ten Cicero speeches? Crikey.

Once I had a mountain of about 150 books piled up in front of me, I stopped. Partly because I was beginning to feel a compulsive need to throw absolutely everything away (dictionaries – who needs them?) but mostly because I was, er, running out of floorspace. Piling them up into eight haphazard stacks, I pondered. What now? I was filled with dread at the idea that I might have to carry all of these to the charity shop. And the last time I took things to the charity shop, they refused to take any books. What on earth was I supposed to do with 150 of the things?!

One quick gander at Google later, and I had a solution – a company called We Buy Books which did exactly that. I downloaded the app to have a play around. Seemed kinda nifty. I set up an account with them, and clicked around until I found the barcode reader and proceeded to hold it up to every single book within reach. I transformed from Exhausted Book Hoarder to…Overexcited Woman With Technology. 

BAM! £0.10 for Mindy Kaling’s terrible Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and yes Mindy, they probably are, talking about how awful your book was, soz). BAM! An impressive £0.90 for a book on human bone archaeology that I bought in my second year at University and probably haven’t touched since. BAM! I quickly reached the lofty heights of £2.81 for a book from the 70s filled with pictures of rocks with carved pictures on that I have legitimately never opened in my life.

Forty ‘BAM!’s and about one hundred and ten ‘sorry, we don’t want to buy this book from you hun’s later, I was done. Wicking away the sweat from my forehead I triumphantly examined the carnage in front of me and held my phone aloft. My eyes were drawn up to the rest of the books, the ones that had not been selected through the KonMari method, and I scanned the rows for any books that looked like they might be worth something. It took all in my power to let them pass. For now.

I guess this is a warning to you. Scanning books is completely addictive and I’m surprised I didn’t just BAM! the whole lot. I am a BAM! addict.

I know what you’re thinking. So? How much did you get for 40 books? Millions, yeah? You must be so rich now! You better believe it. That netted me a whole £40.91 mate. I was thrilled about this until I submitted my books for ‘trade’ and had one of those moments of elation – followed by complete depression. Good news? They would pick up the books for free, from my house! Bad news? I had to print out the labels, and package up all those books into two precisely-sized parcels. Which would be fine if I hadn’t just taken out all the recycling and had no cardboard boxes handy. And how on earth was I supposed to fit all of those books into two parcels? Forty books is a lot!

I’ll tell you what I did. Luckily, I’d bought a shredder (I KNOW, I AM AN ADULT NOW) before deciding to rip apart my book collection, and repurposed the packaging as it was just about the right size. Let’s just pray I don’t need to return the shredder. Phew, one down. One to go. For the other, I nipped out to the Post Office and picked up a small parcel box, and prayed they would both fit the mountain of books in them. One excruciating game of Tetris later – all the books fit, jammed into place securely with a few Tesco carriers (you can keep those, We Buy Books) and labelled up. Hermes (AKA courier service sent from the devil himself) picked up the parcels the next day. The trickiest part was getting them to the door as they were pretty heavy but all in all, it worked pretty well. Now I’m just smugly waiting until my books arrive at their destination, they’re verified as being correct, and the money pops into PayPal.

It was only after I sat back and stared tentatively at the spot where those 40-odd books had been that I thought about the KonMari approach. Had I just thrown away years of memories and ideas in a fit of madness and greed? What if I suddenly needed to read some Balzac?

After proudly sharing the gaps in my bookshelves, some bright spark reminded me that Marie Kondo’s approach isn’t about throwing everything away and having nothing. ‘You don’t need to throw away your books’ says IndieWire. Seems a bit extreme doesn’t it, the suggestion that people are throwing all their books out? I think it’s a bit misunderstood, her approach. And although a little extreme, I don’t disagree with the idea that you should keep items that spark a sense of joy in you. I wouldn’t say that I find the dictionary particularly arousing, but I do on occasion flick through and hunt out unusual words – not for any particular reason, other than I find it fun, and that brings me joy.

I think I’ve actually learned a few things through this whole experience, things I wasn’t even aware I needed to learn.

  1. I’ve let go of some things that will genuinely find a better home elsewhere, someone who will love those books in a way that I either once did or once wanted to.
  2. Deciding what items to keep in your life is a great approach. If you’d get rid of toxic people in your life, why wouldn’t you get rid of that ridiculous beekeepers outfit in the wardrobe Brian? You don’t even have bees! Giving thought to the things we keep around us reminds us to stay current and reflect on what we really wish to give time to. I’d love to say I’m an expert in mid-century philosophy but the truth is that I don’t care enough or commit enough time to be one. Sorry Foucalt.
  3. I have learned that I can squeeze space for more books into my life by shifting out the ones that I don’t read or don’t care about. And you know what that means? YES. I CAN BUY MORE BOOKS.

References and resources

Book : The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo) 

Book : Spark Joy (Marie Kondo)

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