Tidying Books: Marie Kondo’s Method

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Have too many books? Can’t bear to get rid of them? Try the Marie Kondo method of cleaning to remove all the books that you no longer need and might never read.

Review of the Marie Kondo Tidying Method

Tidying is really just the sum of two physical acts: 1) deciding whether you want to keep something, and then 2) deciding where to put it. If you do these two simple things the right way, you can actually achieve perfection in your home.

Here’s the KonMari method, at the highest level:

  • Get all your belongings in a single category (eg clothing) across your entire home, and put them in one pile in the same room.
  • Pick up each individual item, and decide whether to keep or discard it.
  • For the items you keep, organize them effectively.
  • Move on to the next category (eg books).

KonMari goes through five categories in specific order: Clothing, Books, Papers, Miscellany, and Sentimental Items. As we’ll explain later, this saves the hardest emotional items to discard for last.

Chapter 6: Books

Books are deceptively hard to discard in. Unless damaged, books are always functional. Even if we’ve read them, they always contain information. And many of us who own books have emotional attachments to them. If you remember, these are the 3 reasons we keep items, and 3 reasons we find it difficult to get rid of items–so you can see why this category gives people trouble.

This is also the only category without the discard/organize divide. This information is entirely about discarding. Organizing books is relatively straightforward: arrange them vertically on shelves. Some people put their books in horizontal piles–we’ve covered why that’s a worse way to organize anything. Books may be the only category that people don’t need help organizing.

The problem most people run into is that they have too many books to store, which is why discarding is the primary focus of this chapter.

As with clothes, take all your books off the shelves, and put them in a pile on the floor.

  • It might seem easier to pick what to discard if the books are neatly arranged on a shelf. But, if you do it this way, you’re skipping one of the fundamental stages we already covered: holding each item in your hands, one by one.
  • Even if you have books in neat piles on the floor already, bring all the books into one place to sort through them. This lets you see your total number of objects in any given category, and this, as we’ve discussed, can be a wake up call about how many things you own.

Break the books down into categories if you have a lot:

  • General, books you read for pleasure
  • Practical, books you use for reference, like cookbooks
  • Visual, books such as photography collections or art books
  • Magazines

Do not read books as you sort them–simply hold the book in your hand and see if you feel a thrill of joy upon holding it. Reading will cloud your judgement and take your brain out of the tidying zone.

If you haven’t read it yet, you’re probably not going to. Discard it. This will be the true test of…

Tidying Books: Marie Kondo’s Method

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Marie Kondo's "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" at Shortform . Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less .

Here's what you'll find in our full Marie Kondo summary :

  • The psychological benefits of tidying
  • How to Tidy the Konmari method
  • How to deal with Clothing, Books, Papers, and Sentimental Items
  • ...and much more

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

One thought on “Tidying Books: Marie Kondo’s Method

  • February 20, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    As the owner of several thousand books I have no intention of discarding, I find Marie Kondo’s attitude to books — and to discarding them — so barbarous as to be well worth avoiding. She even commits the ultimate crime of advising ripping up books to keep only the pages you want. To anyone who loves books: stay away from Kondo.

    Kondo’s advice is also useless, in any case, to anyone who owns more of any particular item than can be dumped on the bed or floor of any one room, as the essential starting point for her method of “clearing” — more evidence of her lack of imagination.

    There are plenty of authors who give thoughtful and practical advice for clutterers and hoarders who feel overwhelmed. Kondo, as an extreme and obsessive minimalist, is not one of them.


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