Storing books - Tidying by category works like magic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

Storing books
Tidying by category works like magic

Put all your books on the floor

Once you have finished organizing and storing your clothes, it’s time to move on to books. Books are one of three things that people find hardest to let go. Many people say that books are one thing they just can’t part with regardless of whether they are avid readers or not, but the real problem is actually the way in which they part with them.

One of my clients, a woman in her thirties who worked for a foreign consulting firm, loved books. She had read not only every business book but also a broad range of novels and manga. Naturally, her room was filled with books. She had three large ceiling-height bookshelves full of books, plus about twenty waist-high towers of books piled precariously on the floor. When walking through the room, I had to sidestep and twist to avoid bumping into them.

I said to her what I say to all my clients. “Please start by removing every book from your shelves and putting them all on the floor.”

Her eyes grew round. “All of them? There’s an awful lot.”

“Yes, I know. All of them, please.”

“But …” She hesitated for a moment as though searching for words before continuing. “Wouldn’t it be easier to choose them while they’re still on the shelf and I can see the titles?”

Books are usually arranged in rows in bookcases so that their titles are clearly visible, so it does seem to make more sense to weed out those you don’t want when you can see them. Not only that, but books are heavy. Taking them all off the shelf only to put them back on again seems like a waste of effort. Even so, do not skip this step. Remove all the books from your bookcases. You cannot judge whether or not a book really grabs you when it’s still on the shelf. Like clothes or any other belongings, books that have been left untouched on the shelf for a long time are dormant. Or perhaps I should say they’re “invisible.” Although in plain sight, they remain unseen, just like a praying mantis still in the grass, merging with its surroundings. (Have you ever experienced that jolt of surprise when you suddenly notice it there?)

If you ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” when you are just looking at the things on your shelves or in your drawers, the question won’t mean much to you. To truly decide whether you want to keep something or to dispose of it, you must take your things out of hibernation. Even the piles of books already on the floor will be easier to assess if you move them to a different part of the floor or restack them. Just like the gentle shake we use to wake someone up, we can stimulate our belongings by physically moving them, exposing them to fresh air and making them “conscious.”

While helping my clients tidy their homes or offices, I stand in front of the mound of books they have piled on the floor and clap my hands, or I gently stroke the book covers. Although my clients look at me strangely at first, they are inevitably surprised at how quickly and precisely they are able to choose after this. They can see exactly what they need and don’t need. It is much harder to choose books when they are still on the shelf, which means you will have to repeat the process later. If there are too many books to arrange on the floor all at one time, I ask my clients to divide them into four broad categories:

General (books you read for pleasure)

Practical (references, cookbooks, etc.)

Visual (photograph collections, etc.)


Once you have piled your books, take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgment. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not. Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?