“Modern Book Burning,” Wikimedia , Public Domain (CC0).

Diary 30 Books on the Wall

Tagged as: Bad Advice

Reading time: 4 minutes.

The current fad organizer Marie Kondo suggests that you should only have 30 books in your house. She espouses minimalism. Does she have a point?

Why 30 books? The average book-sized moving box holds 20-50 books, depending on the type of book. A common rule of thumb I ran into when researching this question was that a book-sized box will hold 30 books. So, her number is likely based on that Internet estimate. Mystery solved.

I am honored to have friends who recoiled in shock at the suggestion that they could have only 30 books. I calmed them down by saying that Ms. Kondo’s advice is “per year of age.” Thus at 50, one could have 1,500 books. Everyone agreed that this is what Kondo meant.

CNN wrote an article defending Kondo asserting her point that “if getting rid of the books makes you angry, then don’t.” Her catch phrase is decluttering causes joy. Therefore, if getting rid of books causes anti-joy, don’t do it. Only do what makes you happy.

I have hundreds of books. In an answer to a question my brother once asked: “I’ve read some of all of them, all of some of them.” But, I’m finding increasingly that I have books I have never read. These are books of clutter. Not only do I have hundreds of books, I’ve donated hundreds still.

Her Method

This is a concise restatement of Kondo’s method:

  1. Tidy all at once
  2. Visualize the destination
  3. Determine if the item “sparks joy
  4. Tidy by category, not location
  5. Tidy In Order
    • Clothes (Anything you’ve not worn in 2+ years)
    • Books (This article!)
    • Komono Extraneous Electronics, Linens, Furniture, Kitchen Equipment, Lawn & Garage equipment
    • Sentimental

Why I’m Inclined to Try

Books as Status Symbol. As a writer, I should never say “keep only a few books.” But, I think Kondo has a point. We sometimes keep books as status symbols. I had a friend who loved to read books. When he finished with one, he would toss it in recycling. He knew he would not read the book a second time, had little resell value, and decided donating to the local library was counter-productive. I think I tend to keep books for the prestige of having so many books.

Changes in Reading Habits. My approach to reading has changed over the past decade. I’m closing on 50, and my eyes that were once better than 2020 are now bespectacled. I started with books-on-CD and have since gravitated to Audible, where I have 165 titles since October 2013. This past Fall, I listened to an audio book that I have read a couple times. There were aspects of the story that I had never grasped before. I am more of an aural learner than visual.

I’ve picked up a Kindle more frequently than a book, and probably have 500 titles (I’m not doing the math) since I started with Kindle in 2010. In many cases, I have both the print and electronic copy. Elecronic media don’t “clutter,” and are outside Kondo’s scope.

Is Kondo right? Could I reduce myself to 30 physical books? Should I focus my purchases on electronic media only? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. There are certain books that I want which are not available in electronic media.

My Plan for Addressing Books

I’ve decided to use Kondo’s suggestion as a pretext to radically prune as follows:

  1. Books I’ve never read or no longer interest me are finding their way out of the house.
  2. Books where I have both a Kindle and a physical copy are right behind them.
  3. Reference books I’m inclined to keep, but only if their information is not available online. For example, I have an Oxford Unabridged Dictionary from 1939 that isn’t going anywhere.
  4. Books where a Kindle or Kobo are available will be put on a list and discarded. When I go looking for that book and can’t find it, I’ll check the list.
  5. Limit physical books to 5 per subject area. This follows the philosophy that it only takes five books to gain a decent understanding of a subject.