Culling the Herd…And Finding Myself in the Pages

I love books.

This probably comes as no surprise, considering that my two “day jobs” involve writing them and working with people who write (and publish) them.

flask of the drunken master

What might surprise you — it surprised me, too — is the number of books I’ve managed to pack into the various bookcases, closets, and random drawers around my house. I’d reached a point where almost every surface had a book–or two, or five–stacked up, and if the cat jumped onto my nightstand, I’d probably end up hospitalized with injuries from the pile of books that toppled onto my head.

In animal husbandry terms, it’s time for a culling.

I recently finished reading Marie Kondo’s wonderful book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her KonMari method worked so well on my clothes (of which, I admit, I don’t have that many to start with) that I decided to give it a whirl with my book collection.

Step 1 of the KonMari method involves collecting all of the objects in question and bringing them together in a single location for sorting and review.

Step 1 took me almost a week. The result:

15D04 Books

My name is Susan, and I’m a book addict.

Fortunately, the KonMari method doesn’t require me to shed any specific number or percentage of my beloved books. In fact, the beloved ones don’t have to go anywhere. Instead, I have to pick up each book (without reading them–a requirement that has proven more challenging than I expected) and decide whether or not I have a “connection” to it that merits returning it to the shelf.

When I started, I didn’t plan to eliminate many books. I see them on the shelves every day, and I love them, one and all–or so I thought. 

The reality has surprised me in three different ways:

— I have many more “exciting but unread” books than I remembered. I organize books by category on my shelves, and unread books often ended up interspersed with the ones I’d read on similar topics. The books I’ve read will still go back in categories, for easy retrieval, but all the ones I haven’t read will get an entire bookshelf to themselves (and possibly more than one…)

Hooray for the giant TBR pile!

— I have many beloved books that I hadn’t noticed or handled in a while. While sorting, I came across my collection of Marguerite Henry books (I have them all), several of which are autographed by the author. My grandmother met her, and asked her to sign The Little Fellow and Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague. I treasured those books as a child, and read them often. Handling them brought back wonderful memories, and of course they will all survive the culling.

15E04 Little Fellow

— The discard pile is far, far larger than I anticipated. Even keeping all of my signed editions (of which there are many), every book a friend has written, and many books by favorite authors (some–but not all–of which, I will read again), the donation pile has already passed 9 brown paper bags’ worth of books. What am I culling? Mostly novels I’ve read, and enjoyed, but know I won’t ever read again. Research books on topics I know I won’t write about any longer. Some ARCs, some tattered history books whose contents I’ve either absorbed or moved on from–in essence, books that enriched me, but did not change my identity or my life in ways that merit retention.

I started the process to clear some space, but it turns out this culling is giving me far more than I’m giving away. I’m spending time with beloved books, appreciating the friends whose books I own (and the memories of the times I’ve spent with them also), and taking a look at the reader I was, the reader I am, and the reader I am becoming.

15D04 Nothing


This culling is a celebration of books, and reading, and memories–and when it’s over, my shelves will reflect my loves and my friendships–as opposed to a random collection of dusty and half-forgotten tomes.

If you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book, you should–it’s short, and simple, and far more powerful than I imagined when I picked it up and brought it home. I will always be a bookworm, and an avid collector of books. I will continue to keep the ones I love, and read and share the ones that bring me joy.

But now, I also have the keys to knowing which ones to keep forever and which ones have fulfilled their role when I get to “the end”–and can pass them along to someone else. Something I also intend to do, not only now, but in the days to come.

How do you manage your bookshelves? Have you used the KonMari method, or does something else work for you?


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