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.