Touting the gospel that tidiness is next to godliness, Marie Kondo’s method of ‘decluttering’ your home has been hailed by all and sundry as a revelation. It is predicated more or less on the idea of throwing everything you own on a pile, picking through it and keeping only the things that “spark joy.” Everything else is gone. Out the door. It’s supposed to make you feel reborn.
I can grok this, up to a point. God alone knows I own more than a sufficiency of a lot of things. But this “sparking joy” thing? She keeps on using that word. I do not think it means what she thinks it means.
Let’s start with an easy one, t shirts. I have a heap of them. That t-shirt I bought at my first Worldcon. That one makes me laugh. That one was a gift from a dear friend who knows me all too well. That one I bought at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. That one was given to me after I did a presentation at a world-class writing workshop. That one I wore when THAT THING, you know, that thing, that I remember so well, happened. That one…
Do I feel insanely happy when I look at a t-shirt. I do not. But I wouldn’t toss a handful of shirts just because they don’t make me feel insanely happy. I wouldn’t want to be insanely happy all the time, anyway. that would be exhausting.
Or shoes. A pair of cowboy boots I bought while I was at the Launchpad astronomy workshop for writers is not the same as the pair of boots I got for pennies on the dollar on a desperate sale because they were apparently too damn narrow for human feet (but fit mine) is not the same as the comfy pair of booties I pretty much wear all the time in winter is not the same as the sheepskin-lined deerskin boots I bought in Banff when the temperature outside was equivalent to a domestic freezer. Which of these would you like me to toss? And why?
And then we come to the biggie. BOOKS.
The tidy guru lady has said that she keeps no more than 30 books and apparently thinks that’s more than enough. I’m sorry, but at this point I”m not willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater. *BOOKS ARE NOT CLUTTER*.
In an article in the Guardian, Anakana Schofield writes, “I can’t imagine what a blank collection of physical books I’d be left with if they had to spark joy. (Goodbye Jelinek, Bernhard and Kafka, hello books with photos of hippo feet)…. I’d like to suggest another: it should be obligatory that all living spaces come with built-in bookshelves. (And a hammock).” (***Link below)
I found myself bouncing up and down and shouting, yes, yes yes!
Books ARE joy. They are not meant to “spark joy”. If they were you really could throw out anything that challenged you, mentally or spiritually or emotionally. Out would go the reference books on genetics and string theory. Out would go serious academic studies, or works on history, or someone’s biography (why would you care about someone else’s life? would it spark joy in yours?) Out would go books that make me think and make me cry, like “The Sparrow”, like “Les Miserables”, like “The Left Hand of Darkness”, like “Set This House In Order”, like “Bridge on the Drina”.
Books are never clutter
Books don’t “spark joy” for most of us, but they are the breath of life for some of us, and they are never never NEVER clutter.
There was this one time my father and I were looking for a house to buy and we went in to see this one place and it gave me the shivers. I didn’t understand why for a moment or two until it dawned on me that THERE WERE NO BOOKS IN THE PLACE. No books, no shelves for books, not even a bible on a nightstand. Nothing. The place was so soulless, so eerie, that I couldn’t wait to get out of there, never mind the remote possibility of imagining myself living there. Books are the soul and the spirit of a home.
Yes, I do understand that some folks these days listen to audio books (my husband does, because he finds it hard to hold a book these days) or read on electronic readers. I prefer a ‘real’ book, but reading is reading and I have no beef with that preference, so long as it doesn’t impinge on the existence of physical books in my own orbit. Living without books – in the tidiest, most joy-sparking house of all – is not living. There is ZERO joy in that, Marie Kondo. Zero.
If you cannot understand that, and treat books just like pots and pans, or tea towels, or socks, or even t-shirts – then we are on parallel tracks that will never meet and there is no use even going there.
There are a few books I bought, or were given, that do not measure up and I’m willing to give up. For example, there is a novel by a writer I like on a subject that would ordinarily make me pant with anticipation – but this is a novel that I picked up three years ago, read four chapters in, put it down to finish later, and never picked up again. That can go. There is a novel that manifested in this house for Christmas this year, by a writer ALL of whose other books I own and have read and loved, but this book is TERRIFYINGLY bad. It is probably going to go.
But would I ever EVER empty my bookshelves, discarding books which don’t immediately “spark joy”? Never. The books on my shelves are my friends, my family, my spiritual kin. They came into my life for a reason. They’re staying, Marie Kondo, and there are considerably more than 30 of them, thousands in fact.
This is my life.
These are my books.
ALL of them are my joy.
***The Guardian article by Anakana Schofield can be found HERE