Marie Kondo: I’m not ‘recommending that we throw books in the trash or burn them’

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I’ve been surprised and impressed by the response to stories on organization expert Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show. Kondo’s method of decluttering by only keeping the things that bring joy has changed lives. It’s also controversial in that she encourages people to let go of book collections. Some book lovers have negatively responded to Kondo’s recommendation that we only keep about 30 books in the house. As I’ve mentioned I’m ok with it as I get most of my books from the library. Indiewire asked Kondo about the uproar from book collectors, and she clarified her approach, saying that it’s ok to keep more than 30 books if they’re meaningful to you.

IndieWire spoke to Kondo to set the record straight and, no, she doesn’t want people to get rid of all (or even most) of their books.

“The most important part of this process of tidying is to always think about what you have and about the discovery of your sense of value, what you value that is important,” she said through interpreter Marie Iida, who also appears on the series. “So it’s not so much what I personally think about books. The question you should be asking is what do you think about books. If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what’s clearly so important in your life. If that riles you up, that tells you something you about that. That in itself is a very important benefit of this process.”

She approaches decluttering as a personal matter: Kondo doesn’t suggest that her preference for only keeping 30 books should be the same for everyone else…

Kondo also want to clear up any “Fahrenheit 451” apprehensions. “I do think there is a misunderstanding of the process, that I’m recommending that we throw away books in the trash or burn them or something,” she said. “I always recommend donating them, so if that’s part of the misunderstanding, then that’s certainly being mixed up…

“I grew up in Japan, and the climate there is very humid. So it’s damp and the moisture in the air causes lots of damage to the books. It’s not great to have a lot of damaged books. The books themselves won’t even open, they’re so damaged,” she said. “So if you’re retaining so many that you’re not reading, you might have to let go of some. But I’ve learned through this experience that’s very different in a foreign country where the climate is very different, and you’re able to keep the books in beautiful condition. Plus, you have more space to keep them, and that’s perfectly fine, so that’s one of the biggest things I learned through this process.”

[From Indiewire]

Kondo is so kind and disarming in person and that comes through in these quotes too. She perfectly explains why she only keeps 30 books, because they usually get damaged in Japan, but she’s not telling her clients 30 is the limit. If people like keeping more than that it’s ok with her, which seems to come through on the show too.

This reminds me that I have some cleaning up to do. I got rid of a lot of stuff in the fall of 2017 when I organized my whole house with Clutterbug’s method. (Take her test!) I’m starting to collect junk again and need to keep it in check. Yesterday I went to the Goodwill and didn’t buy anything though. That’s progress for me.

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photos credit: Avalon.com

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61 Responses to “Marie Kondo: I’m not ‘recommending that we throw books in the trash or burn them’”

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  1. Bryn says:

    People do realize that she’s just making suggestions and they don’t have to get offended right? Lol

    I love my books, it’s the thing I collect. My partner build a specific room in our house for my books. We aren’t rich, it was just something we knew we would need. I re read certain books a lot, like my Stephen king, and the passage series by Justin Cronin, and so many others. It would be different if I didn’t plan on re reading them. If I read a book that I know I won’t read again than I usually donate them to a small hospital not so far from me that’s attached to an old age home.

    • LadyMTL says:

      ITA, and I’m a book-lover and collector from pretty much the time I began to read. I honestly don’t know why people got so worked up, because I totally see her point. I wasn’t offended by her comments, though personally 30 is about 300 short of how many I have and that bring me joy (not counting the ones on my Kindle), hahaha.

      At the end of the day, if you read your books and love your books, keep them! That’s all she’s saying, really.

    • MulletWarden says:

      No, they really don’t realize that. They are not listening with their souls at all. The whole point of her approach is not “Get rid of this,” it is, “For what reason do you still have this?” If that reason isn’t, “Because owning three bedrooms full of books makes my heart sing,” then maybe pass those books along to someone else.

      Thinking about all these books takes me back to college. One of my professors was absolutely obsessed with learning and reading. There was JUUUUST enough room to get into his office, and take the one vacant seat. The department where we worked had offices that featured literally floor-to-ceiling (probably 12 foot ceilings, possibly taller, I can’t recall) bookshelves on the two longest walls in the office. His were so overflowing that he’d started piles of them on the floor. It was incredible. He read all of them, lent them out constantly, and was ALWAYS looking for more. He’s a diplomat now. What a boss. :)

    • Anna says:

      Exactly! And I’m sure that whole room “sparks joy” which is exactly the point of her whole process. I swear, this whole backlash is really upsetting. I adore Marie Kondo and her Konmari technique and as a designer and one who has helped both myself and clients declutter and release for many years, her technique is quite revolutionary. I also love how it reflects a different way of relating to objects–one that honors the energy they’ve brought to your life–and gets rid of the guilt that many Western decluttering processes seem to thrive on. “Spark joy”: that is the key but somehow people just want to ignore that. I read a horrible mocking article at Apartment Therapy from a couple years ago (used to like AT and followed them since their inception, even had home and art featured) about her process that reeked of racism. People need to get over themselves and actually listen to what she’s saying (or else just shut up about it…no one is forcing them to declutter all the crap they think adds value to their lives).

  2. KP says:

    When I moved I followed a lot of her suggestions to simplify and not lug stuff from one house to the next. I love books, I love what they say about me and my home. However, I did decide to downsize my collection basically on the premise of, “why keep a book just to have a book?”

  3. Rhys says:

    Oh, please. She meant what she said – the lady doesn’t like books. I judge people by how many books they have in their house. Less then 30? All stacked with spines facing the wall? We won’t be friends.

    • MrsBanjo says:

      That says more about you than her.

    • Alisha says:

      I guess we would not be friends then, as I live in a tiny studio the size of a shoebox and only have space for one small shelf. That is why I keep them all on a kindle. Way to judge though. I suspect we would not be friends anyway.

    • Beli says:

      I own fewer than 30. I also make minimum two trips a week to the local library and use an ereader. I don’t see the point in fetishizing printed books or hoarding them, in fact I find it odd. It’s content that matters, not what you display in your shelves.

    • minx says:

      Really? I was an English/Journalism major married to a journalist and we were drowning in books. We donated all but the ones we really love and I feel great. Less dusting, less clutter.

    • Haapa says:

      Stop. You are being xenophobic. “She meant what she said”? You realize she is being translated from another language which does not translate exactly to English, don’t you? 30 is the number of books she personally keeps, she is not advocating that number for everyone. Her actual suggestion for tidying up anything you own is to “reduce until you reach the point where something clicks,” but that the “click point differs from one person to another.” Even the concept of objects “sparking joy” is not an accurate or direct translation. A better translation is something that “stirs something in your heart”. Thus, criticisms that you need objects that don’t spark joy in your life don’t fit either.

    • lucy2 says:

      If you had actually read her book or watched the series, or listened to the numerous people here who did and commented, you’d know she did NOT mean throw away all your books. Her whole approach is evaluating what you have, and keep the things that are useful or meaningful. If that’s books, wonderful.

      Judging people by the number of books in their house is not accurate, especially when many people frequent the library and use e-readers or audiobooks. I personally have my antique book collection on shelves, but all my to-be-reads are in a closed cabinet in my room.

    • Adrien says:

      Rhys, either copyright issues or it’s a studio. She practices Shintoism thus she respects inanimate objects not hate them.

      • Anna says:

        Exactly. And that is one major reason her methodology is so beautiful and successful. Western decluttering practices tend to focus on rules (i.e. throw it out if you haven’t worn it in six months, etc.) and on guilting people by foisting a specific minimal lifestyle. I appreciate minimalism, so this is not a dig on that style at all. But simply to say that she helps us focus on what the object has brought to our lives and allows the space to acknowledge and release if it no longer sparks joy.

    • leela says:

      @Haaapa – exactly!!! that is why i found that guardian article very uncomfortable. there was some underlying racism to it the way the author (Anakana Schofield) was condescending and writing with all self-righteous indignation. for somebody who loves to read books it was quite incredulous that the author became pedantic and literal. so much for comprehension, right? to me, she was deliberately being literal against a woman who cannot even speak english well. i love books. i have a lot of books but i love this tweet as well: Marie Kondo has proved irrefutably that no one is more annoying than people who think owning a lot of books is a personality.

      • Anna says:

        Yes, I mentioned this above with regard to an article I read on Apartment Therapy a couple years ago (which I used to like and support) which reeked of racism.

    • Shan says:

      One person looks foolish in this scenario you’ve presented, and it’s not the person you’re saying you won’t be friends with.

    • Persistent Cat says:

      Isn’t there some saying about books and covers…..

    • Joy says:

      Well you clearly haven’t watched her or read anything she’s said.

    • Virtuosity says:

      “no one is more annoying than people who think owning a lot of books is a personality.”
      - A million upvotes. How judgey and stupidly elitist is that! I’ve read Life-Changing and she doesn’t hate books at all.

    • Amanduh says:

      Ummm…what do you barge into people’s homes and demand to see their library before you befriend them?
      You think you’re in the upper echelon of society because you own more than thirty books?!! I don’t think there are a lot of people lining up to be your “friend” 🤣
      but…but…at least you still have your books, right??!! They’ll be your friends forever!

  4. SlightlyAnonny says:

    I have no idea why this step in KonMari is so hard for people. I first tried it maybe a couple years ago and I still struggle with clothes and shoes but books? Easy cheese. And I am a voracious reader, read every night before going to bed. But my bookshelf was also overflowing with books that I *thought* I should be reading and hadn’t touched. They didn’t spark joy. So that bright, shiny, it book that everyone is reading and I haven’t touched? On it’s way to Goodwill. If I really want it, I’ll borrow it from my library. Those well worn copies of Parable of the Sower, Jane Eyre, and Anna Karenina that I have read cover to cover and could probably recite passages of from memory? Safe and sound on my bookshelf. Why? Because even just thinking about them makes me happy. It’s not rocket science unless it’s a book on rocket science.

    • Thirsty Hirsty says:

      Love your response!! I took a box of books i *thought* I should be reading to the Salvation Army yesterday and am glad. I’ve cleared that shelf more than twice and still kept them. Ms. Kondo’s method of sparking joy gave me freedom to admit I’m not likely to read them, so they moved on, and THAT gave me joy. I kept a couple that I do really want to read, I just need to be in the right head-space. I also have a book “mothers and sons” a ‘coffee table’ book….but I don’t have a coffee table anymore and haven’t displayed it for almost a decade. I’m going to take it to my doctor’s office (gen practitioner) so the parents can enjoy :)

    • Esmom says:

      Yes, this has become my method of deciding what books to keep. I now never have more than can fit on the two bookcases that I have. If I do buy any, I cull some old ones. I love the library and for at least 10 years now that’s where I get the majority of my books, just like when I was a kid. The reasons are different…when I was a kid we didn’t have disposable income. Now I have more money but don’t want to feel bogged down by too much stuff.

    • Virtuosity says:

      SlightlyAnonny, your post touches on exactly why Kondo’s philosophy appeals to a lot of people: we all seem to hoard a lot of stuff, and the “spark joy” test is a good way to help us let go of things and respect them by making them available to someone else who’d get more out of them.

    • goofpuff says:

      That’s an awesome way to think about it. I need to do the same.

    • Anna says:

      I love that you mentioned Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower!

  5. Unmade_bed says:

    I find it very unlikely that intellectuals, who truly benefit from their book collections, would need such arbitrary advice from a stranger on how to arrange their lives.

    • Alisha says:

      Unmade bed you would be surprised. My father was an intellectual and he was also a bit of a hoarder. Our CEO’s office looks like a half hazard goodwill. There are many intellectuals who struggle with organizing their own lives.

    • MrsBanjo says:

      Wow, talk about putting others down to puff yourself up. Good grief. Plenty of “intellectuals” struggle to let go of things and fall into hoarding habits. It’s a pretty common, normal trap to fall into.

    • Unmade_bed says:

      No, I know. I don’t mean to say that no one would ever need help with organizing from anyone. However, discarding as trash anything that does not “spark joy” is antithetical to the meaning of life (and of most, if not all, great books.) I think that’s why this person has annoyed so many people on this subject, in particular.

      • leela says:

        do not be literal – its antithesis to intellectuals.

      • MrsBanjo says:

        Thing is, if you paid any attention at all to her methods and what she’s said time and again, “joy” isn’t literal “OOH THIS GIVES ME HAPPY FEELS.” It’s,”does this evoke a passionate response in you?” If you’re reading books, re-reading books, immersed in the books, keep the damned books. But find a way to organise said books. If you have books you’ve had for years, read them only once, have little to no intention of reading or rereading them, you don’t need to keep them. It’s not that difficult.

      • Unmade_bed says:

        Maybe I’m having déjà vu, but wasn’t there someone who came out a few years back with the exact same advice to the exact same public reaction? If her philosophy is more thoughtful than what is presented here and elsewhere online, then never mind. I have not watched her show.

    • lucy2 says:

      LOL, I don’t think I ever saw a professor’s office at my university that wasn’t a cluttered mess, overflowing with books and papers.

    • Virtuosity says:

      Unmade bed, I don’t like self-help books and was super snobby about Kondo’s book until I read it. It was a really charming read and helped me realise I was hoarding things even though I didn’t think I was. One self-help book self-help haters should check out. Also she’s not prescriptive so apply her advice as little or as much as you like whether you’re an academic/intellectual or not.

    • LT says:

      Unmade bed,

      Hmmm…I’m not sure if I would consider myself “an intellectual,” but I do like to read and I’m definitely a bit of a nerd – and I SUCK at organization. Horrible at it. My mother, who is very much an intellectual is a hoarder, as was her father before her. I havent read her book because I don’t particularly want to get organized – it’s not that important to me. I know I could use her help…I just don’t want it :-) .

      My fiancé, on the other hand, is a whiz at organization (I would say he has OCD). I’m going to have to get more organized in order to make this marriage work, so I suppose I’ll check out her book sooner or later.

  6. YesImHere says:

    Good grief. Only extremely stupid people would believe she was recommending they throw away books. She never advocated for any material possessions to be thrown away. Can’t believe this was ever a conversation.

    • Jb says:

      Please see above comments from those who really interpreted it as “THROW YOUR BOOKS AWAY BOOKS R SO DUMB and claim only smart people can truly appreciate books and having less than (inset their own #) makes you not smart”!!!! It’s actually kinda funny- sad.

  7. Sal says:

    I couldn’t believe how worked up people were about this. It’s like, chill. She’s just telling people about her method. You don’t have to do everything she does. Take it or leave it. Besides, do I still need those books I have in my basement about the Atkins diet that I got at a garage sale one time? They bring me no joy, lol. Not every book is precious, you know?

    • Virtuosity says:

      I think a lot of this “controversy” is just the internet “news cycle”: a story looks mildly interesting (i.e., has a little controversy potential) and 20 million bloggers and journalists jump on it right away. Also people on Twitter love appearing to be outraged.

  8. steen says:

    It’s nice to donate books to give other people a chance to read them if you will not again, no?

    • Esmom says:

      Definitely. In fact in Chicago there’s a nonprofit called Bernies Book Bank that collects children’s books and distributes them to at risk children who may not otherwise have much access to them. It will, I believe, make a difference in the educational outcomes for these children.

      They also get some adult books among their donations and places like women’s shelters and nursing homes are happy to take them.

      • Anna says:

        Also in Chicago, please check out Chicago Books for Women in Prison. It’s amazing and they serve so many women who would never have access to such texts. Please consider donating and even sending if you’re not in Chicago/out of state.

  9. Who ARE These People says:

    It’s hard to understand that anyone could react to another person’s housekeeping guidance, even an expert housekeeper’s guidance, with such vehemence. But it’s nice that we love our books – and it’s the book lovers who would also be likely to be vocal about the guidance being after all people who like words.

    I realized I never counted our books. Yeah, we exceed 30 by far. But we don’t overflow and the next step would be to get rid of an entire nearly 6′ bookcase, so it’s either massive purge or status quo until the next move.

  10. Unmade_bed says:

    Looking around, it doesn’t seem like we need any other reason to get rid of books and/or thoughts and ideas that make us uncomfortable.

    • Anna says:

      That’s not the point of her practice *at all*. You can deliberately continue to misunderstand or maybe take time to read her books and then see if it’s more clear what she is advocating.

  11. Adrien says:

    mrsbanjo, I don’t think you are allowed to be a slob if you are living with other people. You can do that in your own space. I have had graphic artists roommates who cannot function if their things are not in disarray. You are allowed to make a mess at some point but you are also expected to clean up and get rid of useless things that take space.

  12. Shelley says:

    I think she is very kind and I like her idea of keeping things that give joy. For me, I love books. But not ALL my books give joy. So they can go. I love thanking your stuff. Frees me to let go.

  13. Trillian says:

    I don’t understand the hype. It’s quite easy to have a tidy house if you just throw everything away. The trick is to organize the stuff you have because with me it’s like whenever I throw something out, I will need just it the next day. So I like to keep stuff orderly. I am a great fan of boxes, they always look tidy and you can just toss all your stuff in.

  14. Mel says:

    I watched her show out of current first and kept going because I found it soothing! SHE is soothing and the dubbing voice also gives that feeling. I felt super relaxed and serene. Also, it was very emotional. The episode with the widow? I cried like a baby! There are plenty of sequences in the show where you see that people are donating and not throwing away and I imagine it’s the same for the books. I like the places where you exchange books. My sister’s doctor has that in his waiting room. A large shelf filled with books, encouraging people to take one and bring one back the next time they have an appointment.

  15. Himmiefan says:

    She didn’t recommend that people throw away their books, but even if she did, it’s okay for her to have her opinion and for others to have theirs. No need for drama.

  16. LT says:

    I have thousands – I mean, THOUSANDS- of books. To make room for my fiancé and his daughter (who DO bring me joy :-) , so I need to keep them), I wanted to clean out my house. I donated over 30 banker boxes of books to my church’s bookstore. I probably have 20-25 boxes left, but they are the books I truly cherish.

    I have collected children’s books for years. There are so many beautifully illustrated ones that, to me, it’s a way to collect art. I kept the really lovely ones or the ones that my kids enjoyed. The other ones got donated.

    I am unapologetic that I love books – but not every book is equally valuable to me.

  17. maddie says:

    I haven’t seen or read her book yet (they’re both on my to-do list), but so what even if she did mean it. You don’t have to do everything she says, just do what works for you.

  18. Virtuosity says:

    She’s lovely and her first book (haven’t read the others) was so charming and Japanese-style animistic (everything has a spirit) that it reminded me of my teen years watching Hayao Miyazaki films. I think she’s a big hit overseas partly because it’s so practical and deceptively simple, partly because we just have so much stuff, and partly becauase of the Japanese animistic philosophy underlining her methods. Can see both sides of the argument here. I donated about 350 books that I knew I would never read again or finish reading. It was great and freeing. These days I try to buy more digital books as they’re more space efficient and I can easily travel with thousands of digital books.

    She’s obviously not anti-books at all and her 30-book rule probably reflects the smaller spaces many Japanese people live in as well as the weather, as she mentioned. After reading her stuff and just being more aware of the environmental disaster that is Planet Earth today, I not only keep things that “spark joy” but also try to “be capsule” everything in my house and rethink every non-food purchase at least once before I decide to buy. I can’t believe how much wastage our industrial and consumerist civilisation continues to create despite the seas being filled with plastic and our mountains of unrecyclable “recyables.”

    • goofpuff says:

      Most people didn’t bother to actually finish reading the entire quote and just stopped there and threw a hissy fit because they like being melodramatic for no reason. It was clear to me that she meant she liked to keep 30 books for herself and you should only keep things that give you joy. Just watching one episode of her show makes that clear. She doesn’t tell people to get rid of everything, just anything that doesn’t give you joy (aka you could care less about).
      this is much ado about nothing.

  19. Tiffany :) says:

    I feel like I need to reach out to this woman and apologize for all of the misinformed hate that has been directed her way. SMH at all of the ignorant outrage.

  20. I think Americans also do not seem to realize the rest of the world DOES NOT live in the expansive houses and apartments that we do. My husband is European and if you saw the apartments people live in in Paris, Dublin, London, much less in Japan or China, you would realize how much BIGGER everything is here. People just don’t have the space for all the STUFF we have. I love how she is making people aware of their relationship to ALL THE STUFF and more thoughtful about what they buy and bring into their homes. We need way less “things”. It’s bad for the earth, AND our pocketbook.