On the Move: How I Kondo-ed my book collection
Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30
Growing up, there were few books in our house. I had a couple of dozen in my own little collection (the Malory Towers and St Clare's series by Enid Blyton, mainly), and there were textbooks, encyclopedias and a few classics but not much else. It wasn't that we didn't read, but that library visits were a regular Saturday morning excursion.
My mother read around her. Political biographies, family sagas, legal thrillers, Jane Austen, the Brontes - her tastes were wide and varied. By the time she retired, she said that she had read everything that the local library had to offer and permitted herself the indulgence of purchasing the books that she wanted. But as soon as she had finished one, she would walk down to the bookshop in Dalkey and trade it in against another.
I tend to the "books do furnish a room" school of interior decoration and have struggled to understand why my mother didn't hang on to even the books that she liked. Her friends all knew that she could read, she told me, and she saw no reason to keep books that would only take up space and gather dust. I kept on hoarding.
Now that I'm faced with the task of culling the books on the shelves in preparation for our move ("Do you really want to spend thousands on built-in shelving to hold books that you'll probably never read again?" asks my pragmatic husband), I have arrived at a better understanding of my mother's rationale.
As an RAF wife, she had moved house dozens of times and had become an expert at the editing of the family's life down to a few boxes and suitcases. She viewed packing books as another chore. Why on earth would you transport them from one side of the world to the other only to look at them? If you desperately wanted to read one again, you could always buy another copy. The exceptions were her Austens and Brontes, her art history books, and slim volumes of poetry by Yeats and Ledwidge.
I picked up Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying to see if it might help. I know that I'm coming late to this. There's a section devoted to books, and I now see that my mother was a woman ahead of her time.
Kondo says that you must first pile all your books in the middle of the floor, and then "take them in your hand one by one and decide if you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is . . . whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it . . . Make sure you don't start reading it. Reading clouds your judgement. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you start asking whether you need that book or not. Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn't that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?"
I'm going to give it a go.