Books be gone?

She’s cute, organized and here to ruin your life: Marie Kondo wants you to get rid of your books.

Kondo is an author who was previously best known for penning the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a bestseller that explains Kondo’s method of cleaning up your house, and inevitably, your life. It sparked a companion book, Spark Joy.

Here’s the premise: things are allowed to have a purpose in your life for one season, and then not in another. You are allowed to thank those things for the role they played in your life, and then let them go. If they no longer “spark joy”, they shouldn’t be in your life.

It’s a fine idea, except for one thing: Marie Kondo thinks you should keep fewer than 30 books.

Now, to a non-reader, that might seem quite reasonable. Who reads that much, anyway? But here at King’s, where if you’re not reading ancient texts you’re reading the news, being a minimalist when it comes to words is a revelatory idea. But it shouldn’t be.

I am somebody who has an absurd amount of books. It seems unfair to say I was raised that way, but, well, I was. Growing up, our bookshelves were stuffed with picture books, then chapter books, then at least four copies of Twilight. Now, those shelves are almost toppling under the weight of all those words.

My own shelves have well over a hundred books, and that’s after I did a major clear-out a couple of years back. There’s currently books piled up on my dresser, my desk and even the floor.

The problem is that so many of these books aren’t needed, at least in my own life. That’s an expression I’m loathe to say, and who wouldn’t be? Words, and therefore books, are always needed; they aren’t disposable.

And yet that isn’t always true. Case in point: I’ve kept a copy of the book The Nest by Kenneth Oppell on my shelves for nearly four years. I got it at a publishing event, and it was a pre-release copy so I felt kind of fancy. But brilliant a book as it may be, I never read it because the premise didn’t really interest me. It was only a couple months ago that I took the steps to give it a new home. The book didn’t spark joy, so it didn’t have a place in my life.

There’s a practical element to this, too: eventually, there won’t be enough space for all these books I want. In the world of internet book lovers, there’s a sense that you have to be buying books al the time in order to show that you’re a great reader and that you love supporting authors—even though libraries do the exact same thing.

Marie Kondo isn’t crazy. Okay, maybe you don’t have to keep only 30 books (I certainly won’t), but you should look at your book-hoarding habits and figure out if they’re out of a genuine affection for that particular word, or a sense that the written word is important in general. If it’s the former, have at it; I certainly won’t be giving up my collection of Anne of Green Gables books, or all the other books that have memories tucked away inside. But if it’s the latter, here’s a few ideas:

Tip #1

Go to the library. Libraries are an incredibly important resource for both books and community life. If you’re worried the library won’t have the book you want, you can request that they order it in. You still get the book for free, and the author still gets the sale. Win-win. (Also, you can borrow e-books and audio books from your library through apps like Overdrive. Which brings me to my next point…)

Tip #2

E-books! Ah, how the mighty have fallen. Once thought to take over the world of book publishing, e-book sales have actually fallen in recent years. They have a bad reputation, too; I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that someone can’t read an e-book because they miss the feeling of a “real” book. But e-books are better for the environment, better on your wallet and they don’t take over your room. Obviously some books won’t have the same effect on e-books, but if you can do it for the majority, you’re making a start. (And consider a service like Audible or Kobo audiobooks, if you prefer listening to your literature. It’s a good deal if you’d shell out $15 per month on books anyway, and you’re drastically reducing the amount of paper in the world.)

Tip # 3

Give away your books. This one hurts a little, but if that book isn’t sparking joy, it doesn’t need to be in your life. Give them away to second-hand shops and charities. (Skip libraries if you can; they’re often inundated with donations they don’t need.) I feel the same way about clothes, too. If you don’t like it, get rid of it. Someone else may be waiting to fall in love.

You’re not a bad person for wanting a lot of books, and you don’t have to listen to Marie Kondo. But consider the idea that something doesn’t have to be owned for it to be valued. We can love books, we can appreciate them, but we don’t need to possess them. The written word is meant to be shared, and there are better ways to do that than letting it collect dust on your dresser.