Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books

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From BookRiot:

New year, new resolutions, new approach to life! Now might seem like the perfect time for some life-changing magic, and perhaps the time to begin with some tidying up. Maybe even using the Konmari method that everyone seems to be talking about lately.

Marie Kondo’s ‘Konmari’ approach to tidying up has taken the world by storm, with the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up published in English in 2014 (it was originally published in Japanese in 2011). A sequel, Spark Joy, was published in 2016, a graphic novel version, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, released in 2017, and a new series on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, began airing in 2019. The main premise of her approach is to discard everything that does not spark joy and you will eventually surround yourself with only things that you love.

I love the idea, and when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the graphic novel version of the book, I was inspired to think about what my life and home would look like if I adopted the Konmari method. But there were some elements to her method that I disagreed with, particularly the ones related to books — actually, in retrospect, only the ones related to books. I think I could adopt her approach in every other part of my life. Probably.

. . . .

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

The criterion for whether or not to keep a book using the Konmari method is whether or not you experience a thrill of pleasure when you touch it — whether the book sparks joy.

. . . .

But for me, there are two parts of this that do not work. Her premise that if you don’t read a book when you first encounter it then it has lost its moment and you will never read it is wrong for me. And you know what book most clearly exemplifies this? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Yes, the very book about this approach. I find that quite amusing, actually. I bought the book in mid-2016. I had just moved to America, and my husband and I were trying to fit everything I had brought with me into his already-established apartment, and I thought the book might help. I read a chapter, then closed the book and didn’t finish it. You might think that the book lost its moment.

. . . .

The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t work for me is her argument that you will not reread. Because I do reread. Maybe not often, and maybe not every single book I own will be reread (and those are ones that I *would* be willing to part with), but I reread enough of my books that this criterion doesn’t work.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

Let us start with the premise that PG is not the tidying up type, at least in the manner envisioned by Ms. Kondo.

As he analyzed his tidying or anti-tidying behaviors, he realized that at Casa PG, he unconsciously divides the interior space into common areas and private areas AKA lairs.

The common areas represent spaces where visitors are likely to exist and PG is more prone to tidying behavior around locations like the front door, the living room, spaces a visitor might be able to peer into from the living room, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best example of a lair is PG’s office.

In order to enter PG’s office, a visitor would have to go through the living room, move to a different level of Casa PG and beat PG to the door of his office before he closed it. There is even a lair lock on the door.

On a micro level, PG’s office is approximately rectangular in shape. The door to his office is at one corner of the rectangle and PG’s desk, computer equipment, etc., is at the opposite corner of the rectangle, as far from the door as the size of the office permits. PG spends the most lair time in the deepest part of the office.

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean.



The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Should PG conduct a scientific audit of the microbiologic residents of his office, he is certain the results would demonstrate that the life forms which flourish in the Sunlight Zone differ substantially from those in The Trenches. Tidying up this exquisitely balanced little world would undoubtedly trigger a microbial mass extinction.

PG has no desire to be held up as an example of the worst sort of the speciesism which is already too prevalent in our society.

As a responsible steward of his office environment, PG hereby pledges to allow life in all its kaleidoscopic beauty to continue to live undisturbed and evolve in peace.

17 thoughts on “Why I Disagree With the Konmari Tidying-Up Method for Books”

  1. My method of tidying up involved moving. If I had something that I hadn’t used in the last year, I gave it away or trashed it. There are many exceptions, such as dishes used only for certain occasions (Passover, for instance), and things that you may not have a need for but will never get rid of (photo albums).

    On the other hand, I’m a bit of a clutterbug. I recently did a massive cleaning and discovered that my rag basket came to three (sigh) large trash bags of material. The trash and recycling companies helped me tidy up considerably. And it cost me nothing but time and effort!

  2. The author, at least based on the description in the linked article, seems to have very odd ideas about how bookish people act, and a very limited notion of what sorts of books are out there. My hobby interest is early baseball and football history. I have many books that are essentially reference material. This includes some books that are very bad. I certainly feel no thrill around them, but that is so not the point. As for purely recreational fiction, yes, I do reread.

    During my occasional purges I consider a book and ask if there is any likelihood I will open it in the next ten years. Anything more aggressive and I would have regrets later.

      • To my own post I have to add a “However”…

        Having friends and relatives in Ithaca, New York, that we visit periodically allows us to drop off any of our excess books at the wonderful, professional-level recycling program operated by the Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library. The volunteers there operate a large and quite organized warehouse where one can donate books for three days every week except during their two big multi-day sales that they hold for three weeks each May and October. Proceeds from the sales go to help the county libraries and to local literacy programs.

        They gladly accept:
        • books and other items, in any language, in good condition, clean, dry, mold-free.
        • commercially recorded items: music CDs, audio books on CDs or cassettes, movies on DVD or Blu-Ray.
        • software and manuals.
        • vinyl records (LP’s, 78’s, 45’s).
        • some magazines in specific categories.
        • sheet music, calendars, unused cards/postcards, and blank books.
        • sewing patterns.
        • puzzles and games.
        • general encyclopedias published before 1920.

        If you have questions: 607-272-2223 or info@booksale.org

        I wish that more communities had the active volunteers available to do things like this.

        • Many libraries have this sort of program. Google for friends of the library in your town. Near me, in Milpitas, the library has repurposed a book deposit slot in the building to accept book donations.

  3. PG’s comments on this post gave me the heartiest laugh I’ve had in weeks! Our house has a similar common areas + lairs arrangement, and everything he says makes perfect sense. I particularly appreciate the oceanographic diagram.

  4. I’m with the OP. I love the Konmari technique, although I have yet to make it all the way through my house with it. But I feel no hesitation at modifying the book part of Kondo’s prescription. I re-read all the time. I’m an inveterate re-reader. But I also know when I won’t re-read a book again. So I need no special method for my books. I keep most of them, give away the ones I know I don’t want.

    (Although—for me—the part about not reading books that I set aside is probably accurate. I don’t really tend to collect books for later. But occasionally people give me books, usually when they are decluttering their shelves, and those I tend never to read.)

    I wrote about my experiences with some of the other categories of the Konmari technique. If you are interested, here’s the link to my blog post…


  5. Life is so complicated. My wife and I try to keep the public areas civilized. We have an open plan, six steps into the front door and you see our kitchen sink, which enforces a level of Kondo discipline around the breakfast dishes and washing up after dinner.

    My office is up a stairs and through a door. There you find stacks of books, messy piles of 3×5 cards, and a tangle of connected equipment that suggests confusion. But descend to the file systems and cloud repositories, you find military order.

    Physical neatness oppresses me, but I obsess over compute order.

    Go figure.

  6. 1000% positive Konmari method writer is not a book person. Nor a collector of any kind. And I’m also all into lairs. I didn’t realize it until PG so eloquently pointed it out.

    • I long for the day when my “lair” can only be accessed by toggling a sconce, or a book in a bookcase, which will open up the secret passage that leads to said lair 🙂

      Put me in camp re-read. Hmm. Perhaps the entrance to my lair would have a trapdoor, where the victim would fall into a convenient dungeon. This would mainly be for those folks who want to take my books, or otherwise interrupt my writing time, etc. I could turn it into a House of Usher III escape room, where the only way to survive is to demonstrate literary genre savviness

  7. I agree with those who reread. Besides, two more points:
    a) What about research & reference? Toss out my dictionaries, thesauruses (or thesauri), histories and biographies, and crime-related books for writers? What about travel books?
    b) What about books I want to share with my children and anyone else who might become part of my household?
    c) If you really don’t want to collect too many physical books, buy ebooks.

  8. There is a vast difference in our house between books that are for rereading/reference books, and disposable entertainment. Just as most people have no desire to own the seasons of television they’ve sat through for mild entertainment, nor do they need to own copies of every football game they’ve watched, so we don’t keep the disposable entertainment around.

    Ebooks are wonderful, in that they allow things to be read for entertainment without cluttering up the house while waiting to go to the friends of the library, and terrible, in that when I go hunting for something ebookish I want to re-read, if I don’t remember exact title or author, I have to scroll through the equivalent of every television show I’ve ever watched, or even just skimmed and then flicked to another channel.

    But that still leaves the problem of having eight bookshelves stuffed with good books that are excellent reference or great to re-read, and still piles of books growing on side-tables and on the mantle of the fireplace. And just when we start thinking about performing a cull, the very act of picking up books devolves into sitting on the couch, enjoying them again, or my husband muttering to himself about how this could solve the problem in Chapter 13, and a stack goes off to his office. (Which is very akin to PG’s, as far as organization and clutter. I believe my husband follows the geological filing method – but as long as the common areas are clean and tidy, he’s free to file things as he feels like in his own office.)

    …I think the temporary solution, if I want fewer piles of books, isn’t to try to cull them again, not unless I’m suffering writer’s block and need to solve that while failing to tidy. I think I just need to buy another couple bookshelves.

  9. > The second part of her approach to books that doesn’t
    > work for me is her argument that you will not reread.

    Some people don’t. Once they’ve read a book once, they’d no more read it again than they’d re-use a wad of toilet paper.

    A friend of my wife’s simply dropped finished books in the trash. And she wouldn’t read a used book; new books only.

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