KonMari-ing the Library and Other Blasphemous Things

When I first read about the controversy on Marie Kondo’s advice to throw out all your books that don’t bring you joy, my first thought was a cynical one–that this was promoted to generate buzz on her new show on Netflix. One must admit, the timing of the controversy and its availability on the streaming service was a little suspect.

I had heard of Kondo’s book when it first came out a couple years ago, but I paid it little mind, assuming that it was just one of many offshoots of the current minimalist trend. I didn’t need to read about something that I already quasi-practiced. I’m more on the pro-minimalist side of things, but this is about half due to necessity–I’ve moved around a lot and discovered that having too much stuff to move around is just a pain in the ass. Philosophically, I don’t attach too much of myself to things. I’m more of an idea person. So basically moving everything online–communications, writing, reading, research, entertainment–wasn’t a difficult transition for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people have an emotional attachment to things. There’s history behind those objects–and I think for some people it’s easier to keep those things around than to try to capture those feelings into words, photos, and three dimensional schematics and upload those documents into the cloud. If people don’t want to throw X, Y, and Z out even though they take up quite a bit of room, I wouldn’t really care as long as they don’t try to store X, Y, and Z at my place.

Anyways, after thinking about this some more, I find it hard to get worked up about this. I don’t really agree with Kondo’s methods (Why throw something out because it doesn’t bring joy? Why not use utility or some other quantifiable method as a criteria for throwing things out?), but I don’t see why I should use up so much emotional energy getting worked up about her notions on throwing books away when she’s not physically coming into my home to toss stuff out. (Although judging from some parody tweets on Twitter, maybe she is.) I think what’s really happening is that marketing a certain aspirational lifestyle that has its origins in one culture is clashing directly with the lifestyle philosophy of a different culture.

So why am I framing it as a clash of cultures? Well, take Kondo, for instance. Her methods are very much rooted in Japanese style and the way she advocates throwing things out harks back to the animist beliefs that still pervade the country. From her Wikipedia page, she made a statement to the effect that she sort of had a religious experience that set her on the path of becoming an organizational guru. In light of that, I think she’s fashioned herself into an organizational Joan of Arc, saving people from being besieged by their own stuff. Only instead of being burned at the stake for her heretical notions about books, she’s being pilloried on Twitter.

I also want to note that it’s individual books that are considered and then tossed if they don’t bring joy. For people who are outraged at this notion, it’s not so much that the books are individual, but they are part of a greater whole–the personal library. If you subscribe to the personal library as an entire entity, tossing books out is akin to, say, chopping a tail off a pet cat because you reason that the tail is not essential in keeping the cat alive and why not amputate because that would save space. But we all instinctively know that that is inhumane.

Books are also not just about joy. They bring all sorts of emotions because writers try to capture the totality of the human experience in words. So if you are throwing out everything except the joyful books, aren’t you metaphorically cutting off all your emotions except the happy ones? (It does not escape my notice that Japanese society is also a lot more conformist than others. Many emotions are hidden–to the detriment to mental health–in order to avoid conflict and to keep everything in harmony.)

For some strange reason, this whole thing reminded me of one of the books in Jayne Castle’s St. Helens trilogy which were futuristic romances written in the late 1990s before the whole paranormal romance thing blew up and took over bookstores. The conceit of these books is that human colonists landed on some weird planets (that somehow bear an uncanny resemblance to the late 20th century Pacific Northwest) and over time, developed psychic abilities or talents. In one of the books, the villain turned out to be this lady who had the talent to organize everything. Her downfall was that she was too obsessively organized. Anyways, the point of that digression is that it’s probably okay not to be perfectly tidy. Do what works for you. And if people are pushing some method or another, well, just assume they’re trying to take over the world. Or at least make a cash grab.