Letter of a Self-Diagnosed Book Hoarder

In the age of Marie Kondo and Minimalism, is it time to throw out the paperbacks sitting untouched on the bookshelf?


I look over to the bookshelf sitting brazenly in the corner of my room. It’s far beyond full — good God, it’s overflowing!

It’s littered with a mix of yellowing classics and freshly plucked bestsellers crammed together haphazardly, almost as if the owner doesn’t care for them at all. And this is only half of the books I own. The rest are scattered amongst stained coffee tables and piled high on desks. This is in stark contrast to the rest of my possessions, which are stowed meticulously in their rightful places – even if this place is the rubbish bin. When it comes to books, the bibliophilic madwoman that sleeps within my chest stirs and with her husky voice implores, ‘Hoard! Keep the little treasures close! Don’t ever let them go!’

Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has recently entered the public arena because of the novel way with which it defines a person’s relationship with their possessions. Marie Kondo advocates for the practice of minimalism. She encourages people to let go of objects which no longer serve a purpose in their life. This begs the question: should this be applied to our books?

Looking at my collection, I wondered about the reason that we hold onto our books instead of applying the same degree of regular detoxification that we do to the rest of our possessions. After a quick brainstorming session, I identified three main reasons that we hoard our books:

    1. Decorative Achievement
      Books are often similar to medals or certificates; we store them around our homes as trophies of the knowledge we’ve gained. They’re plaques awarded by triumphing a few hundred pages. This is the reason that a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People sits smugly by my desk, crooning and shaking its tailfeathers any time a visitor walks into the room.
    1. Nostalgia
      Alternatively, books can fall into the category of memorabilia, generating a sense of warmth around the memories of reading them. I will often look at one of my prized books, give it a high five, and smile at experiences we had together.
    1. Delusion
      Lastly, the more deadly reason for hoarding a book derives from the delusion that we’ll actually get around to reading it – an impulse purchase that sits lifelessly on the shelf, often unread for the whole of its life. Marie Kondo suggests in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, that ‘the moment you first encounter a book is the right time to read it.’ Well, Marie, sometimes I’m busy, okay?

Is it okay to accept that we’re simply not strong enough to give up our books? Or should we be actively getting rid of books we no longer need? The KonMari Method™ suggests that you shouldn’t keep anything that doesn’t ‘spark joy’. Its order to determine this is that you hold the item in question close to you. If you don’t feel it bring you happiness, then it’s time to throw it away.

However, I would argue a reader’s relationship with books is far more complicated than a regular person’s with their regular possessions. I’m sure I could find numerous books on my shelf that disgusted and disappointed me when I read them. And I’m equally as sure that if I held them close, I would just as quickly unfeelingly push them away. But even these books I can’t find myself able to permanently move to the bin (I’m looking at you, Twilight).

There is something precious and magical about a book, and this extends to the experience of book ownership. Those who love books, love to surround themselves with books. They use them to decorate their homes and reaffirm their identities. Holding onto a book is not sensible nor logical; it’s a highly emotive decision, and this is where minimalists are dumbfounded. Because if you’re likely never going to read a book again, then it’s served its purpose … Right?

Perhaps the reason that we hoard books is inexplicable. Perhaps we can’t easily define this complex relationship, that it’s beyond understandable reason. Quite frankly, in this reader’s opinion, if there’s still space in your house, then there is nothing wrong with that at all.

Hoard away, dear book-lovers!

      Alyse Clarke
      Editing Intern

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