Unread books - Tidying by category works like magic

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

Unread books
Tidying by category works like magic

“Sometime” means “never”

The most common reason for not discarding a book is “I might read it again.” Take a moment to count the number of favorite books that you have actually read more than once. How many are there? For some it may be as few as five while for some exceptional readers it may be as many as one hundred. People who reread that many, however, are usually people in specific professions, such as scholars and authors. Very rarely will you find ordinary people like me who read so many books. Let’s face it. In the end, you are going to read very few of your books again. As with clothing, we need to stop and think about what purpose these books serve.

Books are essentially paper—sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading. Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember. So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love. That includes this book, too. If you don’t feel any joy when you hold it in your hand, I would rather you discard it.

What about books that you have started but not yet finished reading? Or books you bought but have not yet started? What should be done with books like these that you intend to read sometime? The Internet has made it easy to purchase books, but as a consequence, it seems to me that people have far more unread books than they once did, ranging from three to more than forty. It is not uncommon for people to purchase a book and then buy another one not long after, before they have read the first one. Unread books accumulate. The problem with books that we intend to read sometime is that they are far harder to part with than ones we have already read.

I remember one incident where I was giving a lesson to a CEO on how to clean his office. His bookshelves were filled with difficult-sounding titles that you might expect a company president to read, such as classics by authors like Drucker and Carnegie, as well as the latest best sellers. It was like walking into a bookstore. When I saw his collection, I had a sinking feeling. Sure enough, when he began sorting them, he put one book after another on his “to keep” pile, announcing that they were still unread. By the time he finished, he still had fifty volumes and had barely made a dent in the original collection. When I asked why he kept them, he gave the classic answer from my list of most probable answers: “Because I might want to read it sometime.” I’m afraid that from personal experience I can tell you right now, “sometime” never comes.

If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. There’s no need to finish reading books that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway. So get rid of all those unread books. It will be far better for you to read the book that really grabs you right now than one that you left to gather dust for years.

People with large book collections are almost always diligent learners. This is why it’s not unusual to see many references and study guides in my clients’ bookcases. Those most commonly left unread in Japan are English textbooks, practical English conversation handbooks for travelers, and useful business English phrase books. Handbooks and guides for acquiring qualifications are often incredibly diverse, ranging from bookkeeping, real estate, and computer qualifications to aromatherapy and color coordinating. Sometimes I am amazed at the type of qualifications my clients are interested in. Many of my clients also keep their old textbooks all the way back to junior high and notebooks for practicing writing skills.

So if, like many of my clients, you have any books that fall into this category, I urge you to stop insisting that you will use them someday. Get rid of them today. Why? Because the odds are very low that you’ll ever read them. Of all my clients, less than 15 percent put such books to use. When they explain why they hang on to them, their answers are all about what they intend to do “someday.” “I’d like to study this someday,” “I’ll study it when I have a little more time,” “I thought it would be useful to master English,” “I wanted to study bookkeeping because I’m in management.” If you haven’t done what you intended to do yet, donate or recycle that book. Only by discarding it will you be able to test how passionate you are about that subject. If your feelings don’t change after discarding it, then you’re fine as is. If you want the book so badly after getting rid of it that you’re willing to buy another copy, then buy one—and this time read and study it.