I hate clutter. Useless trinkets, gratuitous décor, and drawers stuffed with take-out menus and last year’s Christmas cards fill me with a level of annoyance that borders on rage. It’s not so much how objects are organized or displayed; it’s simply the existence of too much stuff. Except when it comes to my books.
The science behind the benefits of minimalism is clear—we are happier, healthier, and altogether fulfilled when we’re not surrounded by “things.” We have more time to spend on activities that are meaningful to us, and more money to spend on experiences, rather than objects. But for all the science behind it, I just can’t seem to give up my books.
I knew I had a problem even before Marie Kondo cast her minimalist spell on the world with her bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s not that I have a compulsive need to acquire books—it’s simply that once I do so, I’m unable to discard them.
I currently own multiple copies of several books for one reason or another. Various editions of a classic. Books I received as gifts. Some books I purchased twice because I merely forgot I already owned them. I also have a small library of works I simply can’t part with, despite no functional use in my day-to-day life. Novelty books gifted over the years. Foreign language novels with enchanting covers. And my small arsenal of history books amassed during grad school. At present, I have more books than bookshelves, resulting in piles upon piles of strategically placed books on chairs, end tables, and dressers.
So one day, after cleaning every square inch of my home and still feeling weighed down by clutter, I decided to sit down and eliminate some of the excess from my library. Hours later, I had a single box with 12 books to be donated (and even that caused some inner turmoil). During the sorting process, I couldn’t help opening many of the older books I had read during my early years and teens, and reliving the memories associated with each story. The narratives grew more alive when I got to those purchased in my wandering early twenties, each one reminding me of where I was at certain points of my life. Some I purchased at airports en route to destinations filled with opportunities. Others I picked up in the height of excitement in a distant city or the lowest throes of boredom and uncertainty.
Each and every book—from the most tear-jerking autobiography to the silliest comic gifted by a charismatic aunt—carries a memory that is meaningful.
To me, being surrounded by people’s stories, classic literature, poetry and history brings meaning to my life. Being able to lend a beloved book to a family member or friend brings me happiness. And pulling out the books I reread each year and seeing the wearing away of those pages that affect me lends a sense of personal history.
Moreover, I think the presence of a personal library in a home is important to all its inhabitants. I have a young daughter, and in a society in which young children are becoming more interested in playing with their iPads and iPhones than reading a book, I think it’s important to not only be a good example, but also provide her with a sanctuary in which to foster a love of books and reading.
So Marie Kondo may have de-cluttered my kitchen, closet, and bedroom—but the library is off limits.