The Magic of the KonMari Method: Editing Your Book and Paper Collection
Keeping only the books and paper that spark joy in you right now is key to the second category of tidying up and organizing, using the famous method
My mom used to tell me that I could spend more money on two things: books and food. That piece of advice gave me the license to eat anything I craved for, and cram my bookshelves to the brim.
To start with the second category of the KonMari Method, I took the books out from the shelves and on the floor, which was a tedious (not to mention heavy and dusty) process, but a necessary one, according to Kondo. She says, “Just like the gentle shake we use to wake someone up, we can stimulate our belongings by physically moving them, exposing them to fresh air and making them conscious.” She gives four categories to divide the books in corresponding piles:
- General – books you read for pleasure
- Practical – references, cookbooks, etc.
- Visual – photograph collections, etc.
Since most of my books went to the general pile, I nixed the category idea early on. Kondo also has a “touch, don’t read” rule, which was difficult to follow, and easy to forget. It’s a book—it’s automatic and common sense to flip through the pages when you hold it. After much physical and emotional struggle, all the books were finally in piles almost as tall as my three-feet tall toddler.
The tough task at hand: Figuring out what sparked joy and what didn't. I found Kondo’s stance on books rigid and wasteful; or perhaps for a book lover like myself, I started this category on the defensive, thinking that parting with a book would feel like a painful breakup.
Why would you let go of books that you've had for years?
Kondo says that the information from the books that you've already read are already inside you, so you don’t need to keep those; while the books you’ve been keeping to read someday will remain unread, because “sometime never comes.”
Her solution: Build a "Book Hall of Fame"—where you keep only the books that spark joy.
As I held book after book in my hands, most of them did spark joy, even the books about World War II, controversial personalities, and books that were left unwrapped. I started to get sentimental, especially over the books that got me through challenging moments. I connected most of my books to particular points in my life.
*Actual before and after photos of the author's bookshelf.
Sorting papers and was far easier for me than doing the books. Kondo’s rule of thumb for papers is to discard everything. But, if you must keep items, Kondo suggests keeping only those that fall in these categories:
- Currently in use
- Needed for a limited period of time (like warranties)
- Must be kept indefinitely
For inboxes, she says that there are only two categories that you should follow:
- papers to be saved
- papers that need to be dealt with (should always be empty by the end of the day!)
For years, I’ve adopted the “first touch” rule, meaning when I’m done reading and taking note of anything important on an invitation, press release, or official letter, it goes straight to the trash. The only paperwork I’ve kept (that aren’t of sentimental value) were hospital records, life insurance policies, government records, running warranties, and the like.
I used to keep billing statements, but I ditched them in seconds when Kondo made me realize that I indeed never referred to them in years. She also says to get rid of old checkbooks and payslips, too. I kept everything in my filing folders, which I figured was in line with Kondo’s suggestion to keep all paperwork in one spot, in clear plastic folders.
Comparing the two categories, this “books and paper” one was harder for me to execute. Letting go of books, no matter if it was unused or useless, was painful. But when I started to organize the books that only sparked joy, with each book passing through my fingers again, putting it back in its home, the feeling of pain started to subside.
I stepped back, with a finished, complete bookshelf, and felt a wave of happiness wash over me. It made me feel kilig that there was a lot more room to be filled up, and this time around, with only the books that made me happy. Perhaps, that’s what makes the pain of letting go worth going through, because in the end, you’ll be left only with what makes you happy, with more room for even more happiness.
(*Ed's note: This story is the fifth in a ten-part series of articles on the KonMari Method).
All photos are courtesy of the author.
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