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Surrounded by Books; Not "Decluttering" Literature

Quite often, people considering the eventuality or imminence of their deaths begin ridding themselves of possessions. They shed their familiar—even treasured—objects, their clothing, their furniture, their souvenirs from trips, kitchen utensils, even their books.

Marie Kondo wrote a New York Times bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and a good many people followed suit, pun intended. One has to wonder at the length of Kondo’s title that could, ironically, use a little decluttering.

Kondo has been joined by an array of professional life-organizers who follow the creed of less is more. What is now termed the KonMari lifestyle, this widely accepted guide to hyper-organization asks followers to embark on a “tidying adventure” which is code for getting rid of nearly everything. If you like bare walls and empty rooms devoid of both clutter and personality, this is the perfect guide for you.

I could follow the logic for some of Marie Kondo’s suggestions for decluttering, but when it comes to ridding homes of books, I baulked. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “One episode [of Kondo’s show has her] advising a woman to part with books that she had already read or likely never would.” There are a lot of books I have read that I have read again and a third time.

Among the suggestions from this new group of professional life-organizers is one that recommends not only ridding a home of books but not buying new books. Writers, in particular, should toss out Kondo’s idea of ridding their lives of books. Every writer who has ever experienced an episode of writer’s block knows the best antidote for this affliction is reading another writer, often one read before, in order to restart the engines, to inspire, to model a how to, or simply just to breathe in the richness of the literary experience.

At this point, I have to confess to having an abundance of books. We have a library, but we have filled bookcases in our bedroom, in an annex leading to our bedroom, in our children’s rooms, in a kitchen cupboard, in the living room, and in the dining room, neatly stacked on a couple of tables.

During the time I was teaching full-time in high school, I gave gifts to my students at the end of every year, often finding just the right book to inspire that student. Many of the gifts I gave away were my favorite books. I always felt a twinge of pain at the loss but was happy to share the work. More often than not, I would find myself searching for that book a year or two later before remembering I had given it as a gift. The choice then became, do I buy it again? After giving away Louise Glück’s Faithful and Virtuous Night poetry book to a dear student, I realized, much later, that I really wanted to read Glück’s work again. I resisted for a period of time before ordering it online. I read it again and again after that night.

A word to the life-pros, this recommendation of ridding a house of books is particularly ironic since every one of these experts has a new book out detailing the paring-down process.

I may attempt to declutter my house from time to time, but it won’t be books I will be purging.

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