A Book, a Potentiality

November 14, 2014

“A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.”
—  Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home

Just one of the places in our house that is overwhelmed by books

Just one of the places in our house that is overwhelmed by books

There’s a new book out about getting rid of clutter, and it seems to be taking the reading world by storm.  Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up brings a Japanese sensibility to the art of living a clutter-free life.  [Aside:  Why is it that foreign aesthetics seem so much more romantic than our down-home American ones?  Think of dining alfresco, “in the fresh air.”  Or bella cosa far niente, “it’s beautiful to do nothing.”  Or moritsuke, the traditional Japanese rules of food arrangement, making the presentation pleasing to the eye.  Or how a kimono embodies yugen, “the beauty of suggestion.”]

Kondo’s advice rejects other popular strategies, the ones that recommend tackling one room at a time, or doing a little each day, or discarding one item a day.  She advocates for tidying up in one big go, admittedly, one that might take six weeks or longer.  [The Japanese word for this is ikki ni, “in one go.”] Her advice is to start by discarding everything that does not “spark joy.”  Then finding the right place for each remaining object.

Tidying up in this way should be tackled in a certain order: first clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous, and finally mementos.  I find it interesting that there is a special category for books, because that is one of the things in my life that seems to grow unrestrainedly (or out of control).  I know I would feel unburdened, lighter, and maybe even freer if I took Kondo’s advice and simply gave them all away.  Would I really miss them?  Perhaps not.  But I’m still reluctant to get rid of my unread piles of books because, like the opening quote, I see them all as potentialities.  Until I actually crack them open and start reading, I won’t know if they will spark my mind and influence my life in good ways.  Will they speak to me? Energize me?  Once I read them, I have no problem passing them on.

So I hang on to my piles of books because they have not yet fulfilled their purpose for me.  Check in with me again a year from now.  One of these days I may change my point of view.



7 Responses to “A Book, a Potentiality”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Shall I make a list of things which, for me, spark no sense of joy at all? The colander. The litter box. The extra sheets and blankets. And so on. Not only that, while I appreciate the fact that they’re around when I need them, I can’t imagine them ever bringing joy. My lack, perhaps.

    The first thought that crossed my mind was, “Apparently Ms. Kondo has the money to replace all those joyless items she suddenly discovers she really does need.” But I’m a little cranky these days, so that may be unfair.

    Far better, I think, the wisdom of William Morris: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” That’s a guideline that makes better sense to me.

    • Rosemary Says:

      I was surprised, too, how Kondo’s book ignores huge categories like kitchen things, gardening things, holiday decorations, camping/travel things, etc. Apparently those are all part of the miscellany category. I think it’s possible to do without many, many of these things, but then I would have to live my life differently. That’s the point, I guess. Kondo devotes other parts of her book to storage — how to fold clothes and stack them sideways. And she has the odd/endearing/off-putting ? habit of talking to her possessions, thanking them for their contribution to her well-being, etc. It really was quite unlike other anti-clutter books I’ve read.

  2. Although I can admire and enjoy a visiting a pared-down aesthetic, it is not my own. I love living surrounded by books, both read and unread.

  3. Alice V. Shoemaker Says:

    I say Keep those books! Only exception is if you have read it or finished it and want to pass it on to someone who might like it. You should see my large collection of watercolor books — I am trying very hard to keep them together (organized, you know) and not to buy anymore. Someday I hope someone will like to have them. Like my cats, all my books are a comfort and joy.

    • Rosemary Says:

      So far the books, read and unread, energize me rather than drag me down. Always a good benchmark for what to keep vs. get rid of.

  4. Elisa Says:

    What if those books are like throw blankets strewn about for warmth and comfort of those in the house and visitors, they beckon like beacons. If this is the case, then they are not clutter.

    I can say that I did and have sorted out my books. I emptied one bookshelf in a precious spot where the energy felt right and made it the keepers shelf. I touched each book and made a keepers, don’t like it/will never read it/give it away, and then to read piles. I emptied out two shelves of the five to the ceiling shelves this way. I have one large basket of to read books by the reading type chair and the bed. I have another for library books. I sort of stop bringing in library books when that one is full and then ‘catch up’. I read one from the ones I own when I am called to do so or can’t get something juicy at the library.

    Good reads to reads from library X helps me remember which ones at which library I might want and helps to keep the piles down but yet i don’t fear forgetting what grabbed my attention.

    I think too that a good pile of books contain lots of energy much the same as some good kitchen magic 😉

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