Decluttering queen Marie Kondo on books: what has she got against them?

  • The titan of tidiness has raised hackles with comments such as ‘reading clouds your judgment’
  • Social media users are divided about her advice to decide which books to keep based on touch
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2019, 6:05pm

Marie Kondo is back, and this time it’s personal.

With The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the anti-clutter guru persuaded millions of people to clean out their wardrobes. This month, she’s taken the KonMari Method to television with a Netflix show called Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

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And suddenly people have noticed the dark side of Kondo’s war on stuff: she hates books. All books.

That signed first edition of Catcher in the Rye. That poetry collection your husband gave you before he was shipped off to Iraq. The Bible that’s been in your family since 1784. Consign them all to the flames and breathe in those sparks of joy!

Kondo may not have gone that far, but you wouldn’t know it from the response on social media, where defenders of books have pushed back hard against Kondo and her shelf-tidying message.

“Do NOT listen to Marie Kondo or KonMari in relation to books. Fill your apartment & world with them,” tweeted novelist Anakana Schofield. “The woman is very misguided about BOOKS. Every human needs a v extensive library not clean, boring shelves.”

Books are the reflection of your thoughts and values. By tidying books, it will show you what kind of information is important to you at this moment
Marie Kondo

And then, inevitably, came the tweets making fun of the anti-Kondo tweets, such as this one from fantasy writer Sam Sykes: “I cant believe Marie Kondo said to destroy all books and then broke into people’s houses individually and made them eat all their books and then when they tried to protest she said ‘don’t talk with your mouth full of books, bookmouth’ and all the cool kids laughed at them.”

What Kondo actually said is, perhaps, less outrageous. In episode five, she told a young, moderately cluttered couple: “Take every single book into your hands and see if it sparks joy for you.”

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This is Kondo’s fundamental advice, which she applies to everything from mismatched socks to old Tupperware. But it’s advice that seems particularly problematic when applied to literature.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo advises deciding the fate of each book only by touch. “Make sure you don’t start reading it,” she says. “Reading clouds your judgment.”

“Books are the reflection of your thoughts and values,” Kondo says, and she’s right, but then she’s so wrong when she goes on to tell her television audience: “By tidying books, it will show you what kind of information is important to you at this moment.”

That’s the problem with Kondo’s method. It presumes a kind of self-consciousness that no real lover of literature actually feels. Book lovers don’t keep books because they know “what kind of information is important to us at this moment.” They keep them because they don’t know.

So take your tidy, magic hands off our piles of books, Marie. That great jumble of fond memories, intellectual challenges and future delights doesn’t just spark, it warms the whole house.