Hands off my books, Marie


Who is this monster and what does she want?

Book lovers are not happy about the way organization guru Marie Kondo recommends handling books in her new Netflix series “Tidying Up.”

Based on Kondo’s wildly popular book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” released in 2011, “Tidying Up” follows Kondo as she helps regular people transform their living spaces through the minimalist organization.

Dubbed the KonMari method, Kondo’s organization system focuses on tackling categories — books, clothes, papers — rather than rooms.

Kondo instructs cleaners to pick up each item they own and ask themselves if that item sparks joy. If it does, she says, keep it. If it doesn’t, thank it for its service and toss it.

In her book and on the show, Kondo says the value of books lies in the information they contain and that “there is no meaning in them just being on your shelves.”

If you have a lot of unread books or books you hang onto in the belief you’ll reread them one day, Kondo recommends getting rid of them.

She says that as a result of practicing the KonMari method herself, she owns no more than 30 books. Kondo personally considers that number ideal.

In her book, Kondo writes that she once ripped relevant pages out of books that she found sparked some joy. It was an experiment that ultimately didn’t work for her and resulted in those pages being discarded later.

Well, guess what? My iron, the ironing board, the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner don’t spark any joy in me – and they do take the room which could be better used for something else (like more books) – but I think I’m going to keep them all in any case. Actually, I lied a bit; I love my Dyson; it’s definitely staying.

Listen, I’m all for uncluttered living spaces; no one should die under a collapsing pile of old newspapers they hoard and stack all around their house. Let’s not go to extremes though. Particularly with books. I imagine I have about 150 times Kondo’s ideal number of volumes scattered all around my place, from the garage-cum-library to a special collection in my study (and by that I don’t mean erotica but collectables), and even if I can, and often do, get rid of some of them, by and large she would have to pry any of the books number 31 and higher from my cold dead hands (most likely to be successful after I have died under a collapsing pile of old books I hoard and stack all around my house). Any and all of Kondo’s contentions about books and their value are highly questionable and contestable, from “books-as-information storage devices” to tearing out relevant (“joyful”) pages, the sheer stupidity (if not barbarity) of which she has eventually realised. There are of course myriads of reasons to keep more than 30 books at home, not least because you collect them the way other people collect paintings, samurai swords or butterflies, or because you have a sentimental attachment to them. And while I hate people who buy books by the running metre or select for spine colour, books can be a very nice, not to mention tasteful, decoration – as long as you have actually read them first.

Maybe you do have too much shit at home. Or maybe not. That judgment is largely subjective anyway (what if the clutter as a whole sparks joy because you associate it with the warmth and love of childhood often spent at your grandparents’ place?).  Minimalism might make your house easier to clean but might not meet any of your emotional or aesthetic needs. Let’s remember that the Japanese minimalism in particular comes from a tradition where houses have walls made of paper, people live crammed together like sardines, and space is at such premium that most of it is multi-use (for example, the beds, or rather the thin mattresses are folded away after use to make room for daytime activities). The problem in Japan has always been too many people, not too many things. Maybe Kondo should declutter Tokyo first.

Let us also remember that tidying up, when combined with ruthless cleansing (such as that of larger libraries or wardrobes) merely shifts the problem elsewhere:

While op shops usually welcome unwanted — quality — items, major charities have had to issue reminders they’re not a substitute for the tip, and they don’t want or need your broken or damaged stuff.

They services are run by volunteers who spend their time trawling through the overload of items you’ve purged in your Marie Kondo-verdose.

And what’s worse is Aussie charities are paying $13 million a year to send unusable donations to landfill.

Lifeline says about half its stores across the country can’t accept donations at the moment because they’re at capacity…

Another TV series that had a huge impact, ABC’s War on Waste, taught us we have a huge problem with waste, not just in Australia but across the world. Australians send 6000kg of clothing to landfill every 10 minutes.

The National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations estimates 60,000 tonnes of unwanted items are sent to landfill each year, and that was before the Kondo effect took hold.

With charity bins around Australia overflowing, tidying converts have taken to leaving discarded clothing outside donations bins, making them likely to be classified as “contaminated” and end up in landfill.

On the second thought, rather than Tokyo, I would love to see Kondo sent to deal with any of our landfills.