A tour of my tidied bookshelves

Posted January 11, 2018 by Lory in blog housekeeping / 47 Comments

After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I got all inspired to try the “KonMari” method for streamlining my life and keeping only items that “spark joy.” Clothing was the first category, and that went well, so I was ready to move on to the next: books. And once again, I loved it! I loved going through and handling every one of my books, which are truly my most treasured possessions. I loved recalling the memories of when I had first read them, anticipating rereading some of them, and even saying goodbye to some that were no longer relevant to my life. I loved reorganizing my shelves to better reflect the contents of the books and show me where my interests truly lie. And I loved feeling the more concentrated energy of what survived the process.

Author Marie Kondo and I disagree about some things. She says “from personal experience” that unread books will never get read, that the moment to read a book is right when you get it. Well, I do think I’ve accumulated too many unread books, and I want to do something about that. But having a certain number of books that have not yet revealed their secrets, that are waiting patiently for that right moment to arrive, can also be a source of joy for a true reading fanatic, as opposed to a tidying fanatic. As in everything, it’s finding the right balance that’s the problem.

Then there’s the issue of keeping books that you’ve already read, which she finds unnecessary because once you’ve read them “the information is already inside you, even if you’ve forgotten it.” To me, reading is not merely a matter of accessing information. It’s a journey that changes throughout life, and through which both reader and book are transformed. I don’t reread any more as much as I used to, but I still do cherish those moments when I’m able to revisit a favorite book, or even one I didn’t like so much that now speaks to me in a different way.

I also ignored her advice to not open any of the books because it would “cloud my judgment.” I’m sure that’s true if you’re just trying to get rid of as many books as possible, but I chose not to rely on instinct. I gave some of the books a chance to remind me why I had them in the first place, and argue their case. Some of them stayed, and some of them went, and if that was a mistake, I’m willing to deal with the consequences.

Want to see my results? Of course you do! Here they are, in the order of the categories I chose to organize by:

I started with books on Waldorf education, anthroposophy, and spirituality. After spending 10 years as an editor for the Waldorf Early Childhood Association, I’ve accumulated a lot of proof copies, reference books, and so forth that I want to pass on now — two boxes full! I didn’t get rid of much else from this category, but I did separate out the unread books onto their own shelf (not shown) so that I will pay more attention to them. I also moved some books from other locations, like books on sacred art that wanted to be with their friends.

Then I went on to fairy tales, myth and folklore: collections of traditional stories, modern literary tales, and works of criticism. I decided to include novels based on myth and fairy tales, as well as some works on Jungian psychology and books about children’s literature in general. I was somewhat surprised to find that this is my largest category. I also didn’t discard many books here; they all feel like a part of me.

Then I moved on to “treasure books,” the books I’ve collected in fine editions because I love them so much. I did put aside some of these for selling or donating, because I realized I’d been attracted by a pretty exterior on a book I didn’t actually like, or had held onto a favorite title even though I didn’t like the format or illustrations. This is the kind of joyless possession I do think it’s important to get rid of.

I also treasure my almost-complete collection of Diana Wynne Jones books, along with Ursula K. LeGuin and some favorites from my childhood. I’ve passed on a lot to my son (another way I clean off my shelves, ha ha), but there are some “girl books” that I still feel like keeping for myself, like A Little Princess, I Capture the Castle, and A Ring of Endless Light. On the top shelf is my collection of Library of America subscriber editions, a new obsession (great for fitting a lot of books into a little space).

On the lower half of that bookshelf are Robertson Davies, poetry books, literary topics including dictionaries and word games, biographies and memoirs, and some random hardcovers I decided to hang on to for now.

Finally, I dealt with everything else: a mishmash of cookbooks, art, travel and craft books, paperback fiction, and other miscellany. Cleaning up here was most satisfying, resulting in the most discards, and left me with three empty shelves! 

One of the most illuminating results of tidying was that I gathered up all my unread books and put them in one place. I’m storing them in my bedroom so I will see them every night and not forget about them, as I tend to do when they are scattered about. The handsome shelf above has some current reads, review copies I need to get to ASAP, a pile for the Around the World Project, and Folio Society/Heritage Press editions that I’ve collected but need to actually read (or reread, in some cases).

Here I put German-language books (ignoring KonMari’s advice to discard books from unmet learning goals), and the books on anthroposophy and spirituality that I removed from the other room.

And here is one more TBR shelf, with (left to right) nonfiction, fiction, and books I want to reread before probably passing them along.

That’s a lot of unread books! I’m giving myself three months to read exclusively from these shelves, and then I’ll decide whether some of them need to go, and look at how to face what’s left. But I definitely feel much better with them all out in the open and organized by category. At least I know what I’m dealing with now. (And if you’d like to help me knock at least one book off my TBR list, you can enter my fourth-blogiversary Make Me Read It giveaway.)

I hope you enjoyed this (somewhat blurry) tour of my shelves. I certainly enjoyed putting it together, and look forward to more tidying adventures.

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47 responses to “A tour of my tidied bookshelves

  1. Well, you know what you need to do now that you have three empty shelves….

    I did enjoy this. It is interesting to see what is basically an overview of your reading interests. I need to do something similar. I sorted out books and donated a lot a few years ago but I never managed to completely organize my shelves.

    • Haha…I actually have used the three empty shelves already as part of the next step, organizing my papers. They’re right next to my desk so it was great to get the mounds of stuff off the floor.

      I think clearing out my four TBR shelves will produce in me the wish to acquire more to fill those, though…

  2. I loved reading this – having just been through my own major book cull it’s so interesting to see how other people tackle it. Your counter to Marie Kondo (who I have read and who I also disagreed with on the topic of books) was spot on, but then I suppose if you’re a genuine book lover and the focus is on joy, you’ll inevitably make different decisions. I’m also a little envious of your books! I have a fledgling fairy tales etc. collection but I’m coveting yours! That and the Diana Wynne Jones books…

    • What I would really love now would be a uniform, beautifully bound and illustrated edition of Diana Wynne Jones (hello, Folio Society)? If I were a millionaire that’s one thing I would like to fund. I fear it’s unlikely to happen otherwise.

  3. I’m sorry, even though in general I sympathise with the decluttering movement (I’ve seen a couple of hoarders’ properties overflowing with paper and debris, and it’s not a pretty sight) I do draw the line, in fact several lines.

    I do like to see bookshelves full of books: that sparks joy for me, and the sight of all your individual bookshelves separated out into categories and laden with books sparks joy for me; it tells me that here is someone who values what books contain and what they stand for and what they look like.

    I also dispute the same issue that you point out: She says “from personal experience” that unread books will never get read, that the moment to read a book is right when you get it. That’s her personal experience: it’s not mine, it’s not yours, nor is it for many people. I get new-to-me books because I want to anticipate reading them, not drop everything to consume it immediately. That anticipation sparks joy for me. And the fact that we’re always obsessing our TBR piles usually results in our tackling them and reading those books that she claims will never get read, even if it’s only incremental.

    Anyway, loved these pictures! I’m inspired to do a bit of reorganising … but not just yet, I’ve got these books to read …

    Next is that debatable assertion that when you’ve read a book “the information is already inside you, even if you’ve forgotten it,” and that justifies discarding it. B*ll*cks! I say! That’s absolutely not true, and anyway, what’s the point of having “information inside you” if you can’t access it? That why there’s an external information resource there, and it’s called a book! Non-fiction or fiction, you can’t assimilate everything that you read, which is why we retain books, consult them, reread them. And we all know that when you reread a book it effectively turns into a new one when you discover things you missed first time round.

    Anyway, what’s wrong with these shelves, at least a third of which contain books I’ve yet to fully investigate? https://calmgrove.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/shelfie.jpg

    • I think the “KonMari” method is more flexible and less dogmatic than it may at first appear. In her second book she mentions some times when people went against her “rules” and it was fine because they were still finding joy. That’s really the point.

      I totally agree with your disagreements! Books are a special category, not like clothes or knicknacks. I think she just does not get that because she’s not really a book person.

      What I liked about the process was penetrating more fully the books I’d been neglecting just out of inattention and lack of time, whether I ended up discarding or keeping them. That’s a process I’d like to do on a regular basis. And your bookshelves look fabulous!

      • Oh thanks for the compliment, Lory, and also for the clarification about breaking the ‘rules’! And the thing about reassessing, I originally only did it when a move was imminent but now do it regularly on a shelf by shelf basis, whenever I feel like it!

        Oh, and I’ve just spotted a paragraph out of place in my original comment, must’ve got distracted at that point!

        • No prob, I think your point came through. I loved this part: “what’s the point of having “information inside you” if you can’t access it? That why there’s an external information resource there, and it’s called a book!” That made me laugh, as well as being utterly true.

  4. Ren

    This is so interesting! I’m not at all sure I could follow any of her principles but I’m very impressed with your organization.

  5. Wow. I hardly ever get rid of a book, but that’s because (at least when I’m mobile) I try to read library copies before buying a book to keep.
    In the last couple of years, when I’ve had months I couldn’t walk or drive, I accumulated some books that I read and didn’t want to keep, so we put them aside to take to a local chain called Half-Price Books where they give us trade-in value, which we use for more books.

    • For years I was great about not buying and keeping books because I had a tiny apartment with no space. (KonMari’s “only have thirty books” practice makes sense there.) But then I got a bigger place, and more shelves, and most of all, got into book blogging. Book explosion! I think this tidying project will help me keep things under control.

      And I love Half-Price Books – I always go there when in Seattle. 🙂

  6. Lovely! I do think it’s valuable to go through and reassess the shelves. I did a few months ago and got rid of FIVE bags of books, which I never would have expected at all. My shelves are still on the overcrowded side but it’s better now, and I like your description of ‘more concentrated energy.’ I also agree with you that folk and fairy tales are pretty well off-limits for weeding.

  7. What a great idea for a post! I’ve read the Tidying Up book, but as far as books go, I found her to be off base, especially for bibliophiles and avid readers, and writers as well. Many readers are also writers or teachers, for example; I need to refer to books read in the past when I write or when I teach. Her approach, I found, was rather ruthless and not well thought out when it comes to books….perhaps it’s ok for the average reader….but I don’t even like to use the phrase “average reader” ….not sure who that is, ha ha! Maybe better to say it works for some readers…..

    • Yeah, I just kind of took her main principle (spark joy) and made up my own guidelines for books. I would say those in the tidying book are for people who are not really readers but somehow collect books in their house.

  8. I like your modifications of the Kondo method. I agree with you that all books don’t need to be read ASAP and previously read books can stay! For some readers books can be beautiful objects the same the way a vase or a picture is…they can still “spark joy” years after having read it or as potential future joy. As you pointed out in one of the comments, she is probably not a “reader”.

    Great post and thank you for sharing!! Between you and Thomas at https://hogglestock.com/ who is also blogging about sorting through his books, I am in book nerd heaven!

  9. It is good to tidy up and reorganize. I also think that I agree with a lot of Kondo’a advice on a lot of things, but when it comes to books not so much. I agree with you about unread books. On multiple occasions I have read books that have sat on my shelves for over ten years.

    I also agree that empty shelves mean room for more books 🙂

    • I disagree that the right time to read a book is necessarily when you acquire it. Sometimes I get ahead of myself, and the right time is still to come. I have learned this FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, Ms. Kondo.

  10. I really admire you for taking this method seriously, yet going with your gut when it comes to books. What I got from the quotes you posted about books leads me to believe Marie Kondo is just not a book person, because I think there are different rules for books…or am I just too biased?! At any rate, it does sound like with your modifications of her method, you felt successful. And that’s the point!

    I have spent the last couple of months getting serious about my books. I inherited my grandparent’s library and the emotional tie with every single volume made it impossible to look at them seriously, even though I knew at least half I would never read. Finally, I was able to see them more clearly and have donated boxes and boxes to several ‘friends of library’ groups.

    Now I have so much more room….uh oh…..

    • Emotional ties do make books difficult to discard. That’s why for me they are more like “sentimental items” (which KonMari considers the hardest category and the one she saves for last). They are so much more than just objects.

  11. Oh really enjoyed reading this! I love seeing other’s libraries. I do get rid of books but I also have keepers that I will hold on to. Like you, I don’t agree that books you bought and haven’t read will never get read. I have shelf-sitters that I have “discovered” after a decade and I just assume you get to them at the right time. That said, I do need to work on my TBR shelves though because at this point there are bookcases of TBRs! 🙂

  12. I can only echo what’s already been written — your reorganizing is admirable (and enviable). I can’t bring myself to do a major cull of my collection (nearing 3K books, and I keep checking for more at my local Little Free Libraries — there are 5 near me), but it’s long overdue. Now that I’m (ahem) retired, I’ve put it on this year’s list of projects.

    I understand Kondo’s point about a book being “within you”, but I suspect she doesn’t understand that each book can be more than one experience to any reader. Each rereading drops a different version into my mind-heart, and for certain books I’m unwilling to lose the opportunity of that expanded understanding — not just of the book, but of myself as well.

    PS: Did you know that Dodie Smith co-wrote the screenplay for the The Uninvited (starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey)? What an amazing woman!

    • 3000 books — whoa! That would take a long time to take out and decide about each one individually. However, I found I really enjoyed giving each one of my books some love, even the ones I decided to discard.

      I don’t know the film The Uninvited, but will certainly check it out. i know Dodie Smith was a successful playwright and would like to read some of her plays too.

      • Lizzie Ross

        The Uninvited, which features a haunted house on the Cornish coast, is a great film for a dark and stormy night, and the book, by Dorothy Macardle, is well worth the read. Pair with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and you have the perfect Halloween double feature.

        • I’m always looking for movie recommendations – we’ve gone through a lot of those old classics but it’s great to hear of one I didn’t know about. Thanks!

  13. I loved getting a tour of your bookshelves. Partly because I’m nosey about what other people read and have on their shelves, but also because it inspires me to go through my own. I’m really not good at getting rid of books, but every so often I give it a try and manage to gather up a bagful or two. What I need to do mostly, though, is organize my shelves! I just add books as they come, but other than that, there’s not much order. It will be a big job!

  14. Gosh, well done! I’m glad that it was such a pleasant task and I’m really impressed. Like everyone else here, I enjoy seeing other people’s book collections, and yours is very nice. I like that fact that you and Kondo found a nice way to work together, as it were.

    A year or two ago I decided to entirely re-organise my books and I found that very pleasurable although lengthy and I soon began to suspect I had not chosen such a great way of organising the fiction after all. I had planned to shelve it chronologically, I think you can guess the problems that arose and I ended up fudging quite a bit. I was so busy with this system that I didn’t get rid of as many books as I’d hoped.

    I wonder sometimes whether I should return to alphabetical but the thought of doing it all again is too daunting. However, handling and looking at your books does remind you why you have them and love them, it is a satisfying process I agree.

    • I could certainly do more fine-tuning, I tend to sort by category and then let things fall more freely within that. But I’m so glad to know at least which area to turn to when looking for something.

  15. I love seeing other people’s bookshelves! I’m quite a clutterer at the best of times, and I’m unlikely to start getting rid of all my unread or read books (if she says you shouldn’t keep either, which books do you keep?!) but I did give away 350 when I moved house, and it felt surprisingly good.

    • I love bookshelf tours too, just as I immediately peruse the shelves in any new house I enter. They’re all different, and so revealing of the personality that created them.

      Which books to keep if you don’t hang onto either read or unread books? Almost none, is KonMari’s philosophy. She says she has only 30 books and stores them in a closet. This is obviously not possible for me, so other criteria have to be found.

  16. Well done, Lory! I applaud you—it’s a challenge to let go of books. I need to prune my bookshelves as well… a mammoth task, as I have 14 of them (plus four that are my daughter’s and one that is my husband’s.) Plus at least 3 boxes full of books that don’t fit on the shelves. I’ve got a lot of mass-market paperbacks that it’s time to let go of because the print is too small (though I’ll keep some favorites that have been my companions for 30 years or more.) But I have a much tougher time deciding on the others…

  17. What nonsense that woman can talk – she seems to view books as an encumberance rather than a joy. Sure a periodic clear out is a good idea but to say once you have read a book then there is no point in keeping it is just ridiculous. Some of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had have come from re-reading

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