On Tidying, Books, and What Sparks Joy

I mostly write about clothing on this blog, but many of us also have a tendency to accumulate too many items in other possession categories.   My husband and I have been gradually paring things down in all areas of our home, but one area that’s been challenging has been our books, particularly mine.

De-cluttering books

Does your book collection resemble a bookstore?

A Book to Help Me De-clutter My Books?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m what one might call an “information junkie.”  For years, my shopaholic tendencies extended to books almost as much as with clothes, especially after Amazon Prime made it so easy and inexpensive to purchase books with a single click.   My husband had also amassed quite a few books over the years such that we had two tall bookshelves stuffed to the gills, as well as a smaller bookcase for the overflow.   Sure, we’d cull a few books here and there as time went by, but there were still far too many books in our midst.

In recent months, almost every blogger under the sun has been touting the virtues of Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” so I decided to see what all of the fuss was about.   Yes, another book, but I wisely ordered the digital version of this one to cut down on clutter.   I could see the irony of adding a book on de-cluttering to my already massive collection of books!   I’ve read a number of books on the topic, so I wasn’t sure if this one would tell me anything I didn’t already know, but I experienced at least a few “aha moments” through reading about Kondo’s “KonMari Method.”

The “KonMari Method” for Books

Kondo has an interesting process for tidying (her word for de-cluttering) books.   She recommends that all of the books be removed from their shelves and placed on the floor.   After all of the books are on the floor, they should be picked up one by one and held while the owner asks the following simple question:

Does this book spark joy?”

Only those books that spark joy should be retained in one’s library.   All others should be passed on to a new home.   The “sparks joy” test can also be applied to clothing and other possession categories using a similar methodology (yes, Kondo actually recommends that we line up all of our clothes on the floor!).

Putting the Method to the Test

I was intrigued, so I suggested that my husband and I use the KonMari Method with our books on a rainy Saturday two weekends back.  I told him it would only take about an hour, but I am notorious for underestimating how long things will take (he should know that by now, as should I!).  So we painstakingly pulled each and every book off the shelves and piled them up on our living room floor, as shown below (it’s a cell phone photo and a bit blurry, but you get the idea):

All of the books

As per Marie Kondo’s instructions, we put all of our books on our living room floor.

I was amazed at how much easier it was to get rid of books when they were all laid out on the floor.  We felt much less attachment toward our books when they were off the shelves, and picking them up one at a time allowed us to easily evaluate which ones still add value to our lives (“The Minimalists” version of what sparks joy).   Sure, there were still some pangs of guilt about all of our unread books, especially the business and self-help books we felt we should read.  But Kondo recommends that we follow our gut instinct about what sparks joy.  If we find ourselves hemming and hawing about whether or not to keep something, that almost undoubtedly means the item should be passed on.

The Amazing End Result

At the end of the process (which took close to three hours instead of just one), about two-thirds of our books were slated for donation.  We bagged them all up in nine grocery bags, as shown below (Sprite helped…):

Purged Books with Sprite

All of these books didn’t make the “sparks joy” cut (but the cat definitely stayed!).

Here are the books that got to stay, those volumes that sparked joy in one or both of us:

The Books We Kept

These are the books we kept after doing the “KonMari Method.”

It was very easy to group the remaining books by category and place them on our bookshelves.  The shelves were no longer jam-packed, so there was extra space available for displaying photos, cards, and knick-knacks.   Here’s how our tall bookshelves look today:

Our Bookcases Now

What our bookcases look like now – very neat and yes, tidy!

The Cost for Our Accumulation of “Stuff”

Every time I walk past the newly tidy bookshelves, a feeling of peace and accomplishment runs through me.   I didn’t realize how much energy the packed bookshelves were sapping from my soul, but it’s readily apparent to me now.   We often think that just because we have the space to store our possessions, it makes sense to keep them all, but I no longer believe that’s true.

There is a cost to be paid for our accumulation of “stuff.”   That “cost” varies from person to person, but it’s there.  We may feel guilt, overwhelm, dread, exhaustion, and many other negative emotions when faced with our clutter.  Conversely, when we let things go, it usually boosts our spirits.  Not only are we able to reclaim some of our physical space, we’re also able to let go of guilt, better utilize what we have, and contribute to others through passing on our cast-offs.

We donated our books to our local library this past weekend.  Before we took them all in, my husband asked if there were any books I wanted to “rescue.”  I have to admit that there was one book I pulled out from the donation bags, but that’s it.  Just one book out of hundreds was rescued – and only because I had actually thought about that book a few times during the past week.   I was able to let go of all of the others books with love.  It’s my hope that others will enjoy the books I either loved in days gone by or never fully appreciated.

The Books Were Just the Beginning…

So what’s next, you may ask.  Well, the books were just the beginning. We moved on to our compact disc collection yesterday and managed to pare it down by half using the process outlined above.   I also plan to use the KonMari method for my files (I have two drawers and four file boxes full of papers!) and photos (two boxes).   I’d also like to “KonMari” my digital files, blog subscriptions, and articles to read (I still have far too many of all of these things!).  Obviously, I can’t lay such items out on the floor, but I can still be honest with myself about which ones spark joy in my heart.

And what about my clothes, shoes, and accessories?  Well, my “Love It, Wear It” Challenge (LIWI) is taking care of those categories, but who knows?  I may opt to expedite the process using Kondo’s method there as well.  I can definitely see myself using it with my jewelry and scarf collections since those are easier to lie out on the floor (or I might use the bed instead).  I will definitely report back if I do any “KonMari-ing” (yes, it’s both a noun and a verb these days – it is a New York Times best-selling book, after all) in those areas.

A Life Full of Only Those Things That Spark Joy

Ideally, I’d like to only have those possessions, activities, and people in my life that spark joy.   While that’s not the only benchmark of a “full life,” it’s definitely a good start.   I’m starting with my possessions because it’s a logical – and easier – place from which to begin.   Activities and relationships are more challenging to evaluate, although I did read an article about Marie Kondo that mentioned a client who jettisoned her husband as a result of asking the “sparks joy” question (for the record, I definitely won’t be doing that!).

For years, shopping was my default activity.  I don’t think it ever really sparked joy in me, but it was exciting and compelling, plus it allowed me to divert my attention away from things I didn’t want to face in my life.   Since I’ve stopped spending an inordinate amount of time on shopping and clothes, I feel a bit like a rudderless ship.  I haven’t found a new passion to replace it as of yet, but I am gradually facing the inner demons that shopping covered up for far too long.   As I gain more clarity about these things, I will share what I learn here, but I’m still wading through the process and putting the pieces together at this point.

I may not know what the future holds for me in so many areas of my existence, but I do know that I feel lighter, happy, and freer as I shed more and more of the “stuff” I didn’t love and wasn’t using from my home and my life.  That’s a good place to start!   If you feel overwhelmed or burdened by your possessions, I highly recommend that you check out Marie Kondo’s book and give her method a try.  Some of it (like her anthropomorphizing of clothing and other inanimate objects) may sound silly, but I can attest to the fact that it works.   Even if you’re skeptical, isn’t it worth a few hours of your life to try it and see?

Before You Go…  Two Things that May Be of Interest

  • I was recently contacted by a producer who is casting for a new Lifetime Show called “My POV.” He’s looking for a person who loves to shop and takes shopping to the extreme at times.  Click here for more information about the show and contact information.  As is often the case with television, the window of opportunity is short.  If you’re interested or would like to learn more, please contact the producer by Thursday, March 12th.
  • I was quoted in a recent article in The Daily Mail called “Wardrobe Shaming: It’s the Tough Way to Cut Your Shopping Bills.”  It’s an interesting story about a woman whose husband decided to take on her wardrobe and count up how many clothes she owned.  Lots of beautiful photos are included, as well as helpful video on how to organize your wardrobe.

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Comments

  1. I think about the cost of warehousing all the stuff we accumulate in our lives: housing space, A/C, heat, insurance, property taxes, containers, sales tax, bookcases or cabinets, etc. I had a Depression glass jones for several decades, which started with trying to augment a few family pieces for myeveryday use. I slowly accumulated a lot of pieces that I seldom used. Eventually, I did less and less formal entertaining, which resulted in even the more practical pieces getting used less and less. About 10 years ago, I did two things: pulled all of it out of the antique jelly cupboard I stored it in and culled and kept the best and most practical pieces for “everyday” use (salad plates, glasses, a few key serving pieces, etc.). The rest I sold on Ebay for a reasonable amount of $$. Even the cake stand I “had” to have 20 year ago (when I entertained almost weekly) was sold. I am happier, knowing my stuff went to good homes and I’m no longer overwhelmed by thoughts of all this stuff sitting around unused. While it didn’t impact my square footage where I currently live, I would need slightly less space (and furniture) if I moved, not to mention avoiding the cost of packing and smoving a lot of glass objects! I’ve done this with books, china and other “collectibles” (oh, what a trap that word can be), and clothing. Gardening tools and equipment. Work papers, photographs, travel “memorabilia” and related “stuff.” I am currently scanning a lot of documents (tax returns) so I can ditch even more stuff. I will never be a minimalist but I have certainly tried in the past 10 years or so to streamline all the stuff around me. It’s very freeing to own ONLY what you love and use everyday. Also, I worry less about someone having to clean up after me when I’m gone. I’ve had to do this recently for relatives, and it is emotionally draining and physically exhausting.

    • Deborah (Deby) says:

      I am the only child of two hoarder parents. My father died 3 years ago, and my mother lives with me because she is physically handicapped. My mother insists on keeping their house (as is) as a monument to her continuing independence. It is a disaster area of mostly worthless junk that she thinks is valuable. I dread the day when I actually have to clean it out. Because my mother’s physical handicaps have worsened over the past few years, she cannot get in and out of the house easily now because there are steps to negotiate. I am wondering if I ought to start a plan of clearing it out now while she is still alive. Its doubtful she will go inside again. Any thoughts on how to proceed?

      • Deborah (Deby) says:

        I forgot to add that I am not a hoarder myself. Growing up with hoarders was enough to cure me of any tendency that way. While I don’t consider myself a minimalist, I am very conscious of only keeping things that rotate in use, and passing other things along to new homes if I find I don’t need them. Over a period of time I have whittled things down quite a bit, so that my home is always orderly. I have no “hidden” clutter. If its not being used, it finds a new home!

        • I would start on her house by removing anything that might harbor pests. So old newspapers, boxes, etc. Also make sure things aren’t stacked against walls or otherwise in places where they might encourage mold or mildew. Old cleaning supplies or toxic chemicals. Those kinds of things could be a starting point and less missed than collectables or furniture.

          • Good ideas, Juhli — do it in stages and start with things that are potentially hazardous, buggy, or easy to get rid of (magazines, etc.). Then maybe you could work on stuff that has little or no value (old pots and pans, inexpensive dinnerware, towels and sheets, etc.) or is “hidden” in cupboards and closets (less likely to be missed by Mom). Then, as time progresses, you could tackle stuff out in the open: knickknacks, clocks, wall calendars, inexpensive art with no intrinsic value. Throw rugs, old curtains, books, old lamps. I’d tackle this like it was my own stuff and I had to move it all, starting with the “lightest” layers first and working down to furniture. But I’d limit the amount of time for each foray — 2-3 hours, say, so you don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. At some point you may get down to carpet/flooring, bare walls, and key pieces of furniture and you may need to decide if the house is worth investing some $$ in (new flooring, fresh paint, some basic repairs or easy upgrades, etc.) or whether is will need to be sold “as is.” This may be a decision some time in the future, but Juhli makes a good point about avoiding mold or other damage.

            I did 4-bedroom house (including attic, basement, dining room, den, living room, study, 2-car garage, kitchen, breakfast room) over a long weekend — 15- to 16-hours days spent cleaning out stuff, plus a 14-hour-long drive at each end. I recommend that you think about how to avoid such a physical and emotional marathon.

            I found it’s much easier to jettison stuff when you are not in the throes of deep emotional loss.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I have never had to go through anyone else’s stuff after a death, but the stories I’ve heard from others have given me pause. I would hate to be a burden on someone else in that way. My husband and I will have our hands full after my mother-in-law passes, as she has a lot of stuff. Thankfully, she’s started to slowly pare down recently, so maybe it won’t be that bad. It seems like you have your hands full, Deby. Juhli gave you some great advice and hopefully others will chime in, too. I think it’s great that you did not also become a hoarder. I think it’s probably very common for people to follow in parents’ footsteps in that regard, so good for you for breaking the cycle.

      Dottie, it seems you have really done well at paring down in multiple areas. My papers and photos will probably be more challenging than the books, as will the digital clutter. My husband and I probably have 1/4 of the stuff we had when we first moved to San Diego almost 13 years ago. At the time, we just took everything with us (from Lake Tahoe) without question. We’ve come a long way, but there is still much more left to do. One day at a time…

  2. I loved that book as well, but life has gotten in the way of dedicating much time to following her process! I really enjoy posts like this and am very happy you posted this- please do more on this as you do more! 🙂

    I feel I’m the type of person that needs to have two sort sessions. The first gets rid of the excess, the second (or even third) helps me really focus on that ‘joy’ aspect. It’s hard for me to let go of things in one fell swoop- but on a second or third round, I always find that I can let go of things much easier.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you liked this post, Meli. I plan to continue to update you all on my progress as I proceed, as I know that many people who read don’t just have too many clothes. Those of us with too many clothes often have too many things in other areas, too! I think your idea of having two or three sort sessions makes sense. I tend to pare down in cycles, too. I think we were just ready to tackle the books, but I think more paring down will happen as time goes by. We have gotten rid of many books before, but not so many at one time. It was usually a bag or two at a single go. The KonMari Method will be there for when you have more time to tackle it! Best of luck with starting your new job soon. That’s very exciting for you!

  3. Debbie, I did this with my book collection last year and it was so freeing to be rid of all that weight– literally! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve moved in the last 10 years, and the worst part is when you get to those HEAVY boxes of books! I’ve gone mostly digital now, even though I do enjoy the occasional paperback on vacation or textbook that you can’t get digitally. I still have a long way to go on my craft supplies though.

    One other thing – the second article you posted left a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps it’s because of my Catholic upbringing which had a lot to do with shaming and guilt, but I don’t think this is a good way to make permanent change. The article did have a lot of good insights, but I absolutely do not agree with the approach her husband made. Or perhaps it was just sensationalized for the article (it is the daily mail, after all). Anyway, my point is that people need to address their problems at their own pace. As you know, there are a lot of underlying issues and just clobbering the symptoms rarely helps. Having it shoved in your face so you feel embarrassed is a sure way to pile on even more psychological issues.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I used to lug all of my books (and everything else) from place to place without thinking of it, too, Sarah. When we next move, there will thankfully be a lot less stuff to cart along with us and I’m very grateful for that. I’m buying fewer books these days and going digital whenever possible. I still like physical books of some types, but it’s almost all digital now.

      I see what you mean about the Daily Mail article. When I get asked questions for such pieces, I never really know how they will turn out. I wasn’t very familiar with the Daily Mail before, although I had heard of it. I agree with you that it’s best for people to address their own problems at their own pace. I wouldn’t be happy if my husband had done what the husband in the article did, but maybe it worked for them with their relationship dynamic. I was surprised at how little of what I wrote made it into the article, as she asked me a lot of questions and I answered them at length. I guess that’s the way it works with such publications, though. I’m just happy to be considered somewhat of an authority on the topic such that people ask for my opinion!

  4. Deborah (Deby) says:

    The “sparks joy” concept is very similar to my “30 seconds to make a good impression” test on evaluating clothing!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Agreed, Deby, and your approach has really helped me to pare down my clothes. I think your approach is actually better, as it involves trying things on. Unless I’ve worn something recently, it might be hard for me to know if it “sparks joy” just by holding it in my hand. But I haven’t tried it (with clothes), so I’m not going to knock it, either.

      • Deborah (Deby) says:

        Yes, I agree about the clothing, but I have used the “sparks joy” concept in whittling down my furnishings and just about everything non-wardrobe related in my home. My closet was the last bastion of clutter in my home–I came to its purging late in the game after I had substantially reduced my home furnishings after moving into a new house. I hung onto my closet as a vestige of my former self, I suppose.

        In purging my home, I would call it “being in love with (something)”. If I didn’t feel that I loved a particular furnishing or decorative item, I would give it to someone who would love it, or else give it to charity.

        Sometimes I got a little enthusiastic in my home purging, and a few times gave away things I regretted because I needed them later…like a traditional drip coffeemaker…but that’s another, somewhat humorous story!

        • Debbie Roes says:

          My closet has been one of my last areas to pare down, too, Deby, at least in terms of am extreme overload of stuff. I like the way you characterize “being in love with something” in terms of home furnishings and decorations. I continue to pare down in that area, too, and notice that things I used to love no longer do it for me. I would love to “hear” the coffeemaker story. Sounds like a good one!

          • Deborah (Deby) says:

            OK, here goes. A few years ago, I decided that I was more of a tea drinker than coffee (it tends to give me heartburn), but I also needed to have a way to provide coffee for my guests who were always asking for it. And, not being a coffee drinker, I am not particularly adept at the nuances of perfect coffee brewing, as I am with tea. The idea of brewing coffee and having others grimace at the taste didn’t appeal to me!

            So, I decided to cut to the chase and buy a K— machine. Immediately, my coffee drinking friends were enthralled and began gifting me with all kinds of flavors of coffee and other drinks in those little plastic “k cups”. Since I didn’t drink coffee, the k cups stockpiled in my pantry, waiting for guests. (After awhile, I began to dislike the k cups because they took up so much storage space.) And all I ever used the K for was to make hot water for tea!

            Meanwhile, I had a perfectly serviceable old school drip coffee maker that I decided was redundant during a fit of kitchen purging, so I gave it away. I was to learn that was a mistake!

            The K had (yes, past tense) a two year warranty. Two weeks past its 2 year birthday, it up and quit. I tried everything possible to fix it myself. I ultimately learned it was not fixable. Having worked in manufacturing engineering for part of my career, I am all too familiar with built-in obsolescence in product design. (How else could they keep churning out new models if the old ones didn’t break down irreparably?) Given my background, I can’t say I wasn’t warned in a sense.

            But what really made me angry (at myself) was that I had bought into the hype of the K like a lemming, only to get burned with a less than stellar product. And secondly, I was mad at myself for purging a perfectly useful item because I wasn’t thinking ahead.

            So I put the K out for recycling and went off grumbling to buy an old school drip coffee maker. I found a beautifully sleek and serviceable stainless steel model for a fraction of what I paid for the K.

            As I debuted the new coffee maker for the first time, with Colombian coffee my cousin brought from Colombia, I was nervous. I served up the coffee and waited for the verdict. To my astonishment, EVERYONE said, “this coffee tastes better than anything that came out of that K!”

            I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream!

          • Debbie Roes says:

            Thanks for sharing the story, Deby! I’m glad I didn’t get one of those K machines. I really wanted one, but my husband was wiser than I on the topic. He didn’t want to be beholden to have to buy the expensive “K cups” all the time. So we kept our drip machine that dutifully worked for us for many years. I didn’t know that you used to work in manufacturing engineering. You’ve definitely done a lot of things! I can see that a lot of things these days are not built to last, which is very sad. I’m glad you now have a coffee machine that works better for you AND makes better tasting coffee!

      • I did this with my clothes and other assorted stuff a couple of months ago (only the kitchen left now!) I found that the “does it spark joy” questioning simplified the process in two ways: 1) did I actually like the piece of clothing on the hanger? If yes, went into the try-on pile. If no, it went directly into the giveaway pile. Easy. 2) It also eliminates the various formulas and such that are always suggested, such as “did you wear this in the past 2 months, does it go with 4 other things in you closet, etc?” I enjoyed being able to go “you know what, I’ve had this shirt for years, never liked it, but kept it because a friend gave it to me. I’m going to pass it on now!”

        • Debbie Roes says:

          Good way to approach the process, Melissa. I agree that the “sparks joy” concept makes more sense than some of the other commonly mentioned criteria for clothing. I have some pieces that I love (and definitely spark joy) that I don’t get a chance to wear very often due to my casual lifestyle. But I would be sad to let them go. I also have items that I wear fairly regularly but think are just okay. Those are the types of things I aim to get rid of with my LIWI challenge. Good for you for using the KonMari Method to get rid of so many things. Good luck with the kitchen!

  5. Stephanie D says:

    Congratulations on re-homing your books! This quote from Courtney Carver really emotionally resonated with me and has allowed me to once again start letting go of stuff. “The joy of books isn’t found in organizing them alphabetically, storing them on shelves or in boxes, or moving them from home to home. The joy is in the words, on the pages and in the hearts of authors and readers.” http://bemorewithless.com/bookjoy/

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I remember that quote from Courtney, Stephanie, and I loved it! We can love books and still pass them on joyously. Some of the books I let go of recently were ones I loved, but in being honest with myself, I knew I wasn’t going to read them again. So why not let someone else enjoy them?

  6. This topic is one of my favorites to read about. More please! And thanks!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Glad you liked it, Amy! I will definitely share more on this topic, as there is a lot more de-cluttering for me to do in areas other than clothes (and clothes, too).

  7. Thank you so much for the photos. While I am an avid reader, I mostly read books from the library. My husband is a writer and author and his collection of books is huge. It is very hard for him to let go of books and he keeps buying them to support his fellow writers. I already told him about the KonMari method, but I think the photos will resonate with him. I’d also love to see more from you on this topic.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I think it’s great that you read books from the library, TAGgirl. I got out of the habit of doing that years ago, plus I’m usually reading several books at one time and have trouble finishing them in three weeks. Bad habit, I guess! I hope this post and my photos will resonate with your husband. It may take a few rounds for him to pare down, but it really makes a big difference to pull the books off the shelves and lie them out on the floor. It sounded silly and like too much work at first, but it was quite magical really!

      • OK, more confessions. I too have lugged boxes of books from state to state and house to house. I love books. But 10 years ago, after I tackled my Depression glass, I said, “What else can go?” I was a bit ruthless (got rid of some things I wish I had kept — but have not NEEDED). Books, especially cook books, were trimmed, and I also sold some “extra” furniture seemed superfluous (plant stands for my plant-less house). Within less than I year I sold over $5,000 of stuff on Ebay and in garage sales. And I have vowed not to replace any of it. (I’ve been pretty good in this area). My house looks “airy” and inviting. My basement has a water heater, a few furnace filters, and a furnace in it and that’s it. (My furnace guy says it’s the cleanest basement he’s ever seen.) I rely upon the library and e-books so I seldom buy books any more. I still have work to do (stuff in my garage) but I’ll be having yet another garage sale later this spring, and I hope the last of the stuff I no longer need will be sole (or donated). There are a number of people who come to my garage sale each year, which is very interesting! I have also off-loaded clothes, jewelry, shoes, and accessories at consignment stores or have donated stuff to charity. I am planning now for a more serious down-sizing in 8-10 years.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          Thanks for sharing this story, Dottie. How great that you were able to earn so much money through Ebay sales! We tried a garage sale a few years back but mostly attracted really cheap people who wanted bargain basement prices. We mostly just donate our cast-offs now. Garage sales seem to vary a lot by region. My ex-sister-in-law used to do really well with garage sales in Lake Tahoe (for both buying and selling), but I must live in a cheapo neighborhood or something! Congrats on having a clean basement. What the furnace guy said was a very high compliment, as he would know!

  8. Very interesting, I keep hearing about the KonMari method, but I have not read the book (yet). Impressive what you and your husband have accomplished with your book collection!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks, Jessica. I think we were just ready to make a change. We’ve been reading a lot of books on minimalism lately and want to head in that direction. We’ll probably never be minimalists in the truest sense of the word, but we’re certainly not “maximalists” (is that a word?) anyone, either.

  9. First, I love this photo with Sprite in the action. Years ago when I began on my “journey toward less” I did what you are now doing, and I agree, it’s so freeing feeling to release what doesn’t bring joy and peace of mind. And even though I live a basically clutter free lifestyle, with a small wardrobe and less stuff in general everywhere, it’s amazing how fast the little things can begin to add up. I find that once a month I need to walk through each room, open each drawer, scan the pantry shelves in the kitchen, eyeball the bathroom cabinets, and release any unloved things that have begun to take up residence. Lovely post Debbie, and nice writing too.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, Sprite likes to get involved in everything, Terra. He’s almost 3 but he thinks he’s still a kitten 🙂 Coco was involved, too, but more as a casual observer. I think your practice of walking through your rooms each month to release unloved things is really smart. Things don’t usually get out of hand overnight, so being vigilant about paring down is the right way to go. I don’t ever want to go back to the level of clutter that I used to have. I’m still not where I want to be yet, but I feel much, much better for what I’ve done thus far.

  10. I loved the second article. I think his point was that some people are visual learners and need to see things to recognize a pattern. Why wouldn’t you want someone that loves you to point out obsessive behavior. He didn’t yell or berate her. I think he was trying to tell her she was enough and whatever she was searching for wasn’t going to be found in her closet. I mean really, just look at the picture with her reddish shoes. I have learned that sometimes we settle for cheap multiples instead of buying the perfectly fitting longer lasting more expensive item. It causes a hunger that can’t be satisfied and then we continue to buy the next sub standard goods again and again. It was a hard lesson to learn. I find this is true with other things in our lives. Food comes to mind. Instead of great nutritious healthy food we sometime opt for fast sup par eats.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good points, Kathy. You are right that some people settle for cheap multiples instead of just finding one really good item that will fulfill their needs. That’s definitely been true for me. I’m sure there could have been many photos similar to the red show photo for my wardrobe. Black shoes, black pants, jeans, striped tops, the list goes on and on. There is definitely a parallel with food, too. I actually learned the food lesson before the clothing lesson (that I’m still learning over time). I don’t feel good when I eat fast food or even processed food, and the same is true with cheap “fast fashion” clothing. Very good analogy!

  11. Thanks for this post, Debbie. Neal is going to renovate my studio this summer, and one of my pre-renovation tasks is to cull my books. Taking them all off the shelves seems like a sensible approach!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It really works, Beverly! I “pooh-poohed” it at first, but decided to take a leap of faith and give it a try. It makes a huge difference in terms of being able to evaluate everything more objectively. I wish you the best of luck with your renovation and culling your books!

  12. I’ve used a similar method — all the books off the shelves and organized together (I store them by subject or author anyway, so this part is easy). Then I decide which — if any — gardening book I need (vs. searching on the Internet), and so on. (Actually, I no longer have any gardening books — they went out the door a number of years ago.) I cut my cookbooks down by 2/3 and have NOT replaced any! The books I absolutely will not part with (yet) fill a few shelves, and then I have the next tier of books that are not as precious but are still used a lot. I try to arrange by books artfully (I have some objets d’art displayed along with my books) so they are pleasing to look at. I’ve done a cull like this about once a year for more than a decade. It’s funny how your opinion changes over time and it becomes easier to let go of stuff that’s, well, just stuff.

    If I had too, I could live in 500 SF. I hope I don’t have to, though. I’d have to make some tough decisions about my antique furniture. (I have pared down some but everything left is very much a joy to behold and use.) But I do think these things once in a great while. Weird, right?

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that our opinions on books (and other things) change over time. It’s gotten much easier for me to let go of things in recent years. We live in a place that’s about 750 SF now and it’s plenty of space for us. We prioritize location over having a big place (we live in an expensive area, as many know) and love living near the water. We could stand to do more downsizing for sure, but we recently removed all of our extra stuff from my mother-in-law’s house (she lives less than a mile away) and that feels like a great accomplishment. It feels good to have all of our possessions in our own home. More paring down to come…

  13. Great post! I have to try it. So many of the books my husband and I have gathering dust on our shelves are out of date and useless. I doubt my library would want them. Our recycler doesn’t take books because of the glue in the bindings. Any thoughts about what to do with them besides putting them in a landfill?

    • Hi Misty,
      I don’t know if you have a used book seller in your area. In Washington we have Half Price Books where they buy your unwanted books, https://www.hpb.com/. I’m sure you could find something similar. Amazon also buys books, but are geared towards student textbooks etc. Hope that helps!

    • If the books are really old and useless they might still be useful to crafters for altered books if they are older hardcovers or are cool looking. Your local library might be actually willing to take them for their book sale (mine will take literally anything, even really worthless books, although some may still end up in the landfill). Goodwill may take them, but again, if they are truly worthless they will end up in the landfill. Unfortunately if books are completely outdated and not attractive, or if they are even the slightest bit moldy, they really don’t have any value any more. Books are extremely abundant these days and an awful lot of them are pretty worthless.

      • I head up my local Friends of the Library group that runs book sales. Yes, libraries will take anything as a public service but many, many have to be binned as they are too old, marked up, filthy, etc. We spend a tremendous amount of time going through books donated that aren’t acceptable. Old textbooks, test preparation books, etc. are usually worthless too no matter how good the condition. That being said, homeless shelters and prisons will take lots of the fiction that is not in good enough condition to sell.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad that others have chimed in with suggestions for your old books, Misty. We donated all of ours to the library, but I suspect that they won’t actually use all of them. The do have a used book store in the front and there are some rather tattered books for sale there for $1 or less. I hope very few of our books will go to the landfill and that our library will pass on the things they can’t use to a homeless shelter or prison like Juhli mentioned. Good luck with paring down your books. You’ll feel really good after you do it!

  14. Good job!
    I really liked the idea that she talked about that if something you read or a course you took had a real impact of your life that you would have absorbed it into your thinking and it would change you, so you don’t really need to keep that book or those notes. And if it didn’t, or you never continued that line of study or read that book, why would you keep that either?
    Taking everything out of its storage space to sort and declutter is hardcore but really makes a huge difference. It becomes about choosing what you want to have on your shelf instead of looking for things to take away.
    I’ve started borrowing kindle/downloadable books from my local library which makes it easier for me to read in bed before I go to sleep, and easier to carry a selection of books around all the time, but also eliminates overdue fines and due dates – the book returns automatically when the loan is due, but if you don’t have the wifi on, the book won’t leave your device until you choose to synch it.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      The first thing you mentioned really resonated with me when I read the book, Joanna. I have read so many books and taken so many courses and always think I will refer back to my notes later. But as Kondo noted, I rarely do. She’s right that we mostly gain what we need to while we’re taking the course or reading the book and will generally take another course or read another book rather than refer back to the old material. One of my next projects is to get rid of papers, which should be interesting…

      Good idea to borrow downloadable books from the library. I hadn’t thought about that, but I will look into it. It’s an even better option than buying the Kindle version in many instances.

      • Good luck with the papers! That’s a hard one. I know a lot of people scan them and then still never refer to them! That would be me…
        Definitely check out your local library for downloadables. Your librarians would love to help you figure it out. Not that it’s very difficult, especially with the kindle. Let me know if you have any issues – I’m an amateur librarian and my friend is the digital specialist for our library.
        btw one of the coolest things is that if you “highlight” sections the book will remember that if you check it out again or opt to buy it later 🙂 I was also able to get reciprocal cards from neighboring library systems and borrow downloadables from them too. Sometimes Seattle has books that my local library didn’t buy as ebooks.

        • I also read a lot of downloadable books from the library.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I have definitely been tempted to scan the papers, but I know deep down that I likely won’t refer to many of them, if any. I’m going to try to be ruthless with letting things go, but I know that it will be hard. But maybe since it was easier than I thought with the books, the same will be true with the papers. But I will be alone in that project, as my husband does not accumulate too many papers. Just me in that regard…

          I love the highlight feature of e-books and that the library system will remember what each person highlighted. What a cool feature!

  15. Personally, I don’t think all books are meant to spark joy. I think I would have to use a different method. Nevertheless, my book collection is an area I need to tackle and one of the hardest areas to declutter. I do love books. I think I would do it in terms of “Would I pick it up and read it again or reference it (such as canning books)?”.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that “sparks joy” question doesn’t always work, Miss Bee. That’s why I also like the questions that “The Minimalists” use: “Does this add value to my life?” Your question is good, too, and I kept that in mind, too, while I went through my books. I found that many of the books I thought I would reference or read again just sat there gathering dust on my shelves. I wish you the best of luck in paring down your books. Let me know how it goes!

      • Thank you Debbie. As with paring down my wardrobe… I found I had to be careful not to use a vague rule to decide on what to keep and what to let go of. For me, I had to get more specific. Otherwise, I could probably justify keeping all my books or clothes. 🙂

        As for keeping unused reference books. I think the key would be to keep only those that I actually do actively reference. Making such decisions really does require one to be honest with oneself.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          Yes, I used to justify keeping pretty much everything. It does help to have some more specific guidelines to go on. I’m getting better at letting go of pretty much everything, but it’s been a gradual process. I still have too much in multiple areas, but as long as I’m making progress, I’m happy.

    • I agree!

  16. I have made several international moves so I am pretty good at keeping a pared down household. Even though I have been in my current country for several years now, I still try not to keep unwanted and unused possessions, at least to keep them to a minimum.
    My last move cost $20,000 for the smallest 20 foot container. When considering the enormous cost, it really forces you to ask if the possession warrants a place in the container. In fact, this is THE question I still ask when I am deciding whether I want to keep something: Would I pay to have this shipped ????
    More than that though, and this is an experience all my international friends have had, and that is when the container finally arrives and you open it up to find all these useless and stupid things that you had long forgotten about and wish you had left behind. So the next question is : Would I want to be reunited with this item at the other end?
    I know exactly what would be shipped in my next move and it includes my paintings, favorite antiques, favorite vases, crockery and kitchen ware, linen etc and not one single piece of IKEA or books I will never read again.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Carolyn. I’m amazed at how costly it is to ship things internationally! I can see going through something like that would impact how many of your possessions you opt to keep. I love the “Would I pay to have this shipped?” question, as well as “Would I want to be reunited with this item at the other end?” I’m sure you’ll save yourself from keeping a lot of clutter through using those questions.

  17. Sarah S. says:

    I really think I need to buy that book! I’m glad to see your comment that it was a lot easier when the books were off the shelves. I have an excellent opportunity for paring down my “stuff” over the next year, as the boyfriend and I are talking of moving in together. This will probably involve two moves for – me into his house while we sell my house, and then both of us into our new house. The thought of moving (well, mostly all the prep work beforehand, packing, and unpacking twice) has been filling me with dread. But if I could take time every week starting now to make sure that what is left are only those things that spark joy, then it would make the process a lot easier.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I think it’s great that you’re thinking of these things now, Sarah. When I moved in with my now husband after we got engaged, I just brought everything along with me. And when we moved from Lake Tahoe to San Diego, it all came with us, too. I wrote about this in a guest post on “Be More With Less” (http://bemorewithless.com/simplicity-in-action-debbie/). Moving is no fun, but it can present a good opportunity to let go of things we no longer use or love. I think your plan to do it a bit at a time is a good one. I recommend reading the Marie Kondo book and designating one area to address each week. You will build momentum after you see how great you feel from letting things go.

  18. My husband built beautiful custom oak bookshelves to house my collection and I enjoy seeing them every day. I do occasionally weed some out, but mostly I have stopped buying as the shelves are full. I used to buy far too many multiples/duplicates but now only allow myself two of any one item (usually two different colors of a staple basic). Like you, if I consider something and am not sure, then the answer is no. This has definitely simplified my life as I used to agonize over deciding whether I really wanted to buy/keep whatever it was.

    At my age I am counting on attrition to pare down. When something wears out I don’t replace it unless it is a real necessity. Rather than hauling tons of stuff out of my house at one time, it is all slowly being worn out or used up. That works better for me than a radical sweep.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I think attrition can be a good way of paring down, Tara, as long as one stops bringing new things in. I will likely do that with many of my clothes and shoes, as some of the ones I love are starting to wear out (that never used to happen when I have 300-plus items in my closet!). I definitely feel that if we have to talk ourselves into buying or keeping something, we have our answer right there!

  19. Marie Kondo is particularly good at recognizing that our love for many of our personal possessions is bond up with the way they confirm our sense of identity. I am a “book person,” as is my husband, and we have hundreds of books, all of which do not perhaps individually “spark joy” but together create a library we do really love. Nonetheless, I was able to get rid of about 25 boxes of books thx to Kondo, for reasons a writer above listed — lines of research I didn’t follow, or books I never read and just felt guilty about, etc. Maybe when we are older, we will unload them so our kids don’t have to!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your Kondo success story, Kate. How inspiring that you were able to let go of 25 boxes of books! I have long considered myself a “book person,” too, and letting go of my books used to feel like letting go of a part of myself. It really was amazing how I felt so much less attached to the books once they were on the floor instead of on the shelves.

  20. nutrivore says:

    Ha ha Debbie, I recognize the coloured Staples file folders. They are the best.

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