NYR 1902: “Get Organized.” Part 3: Books, Paper.

In last week’s post, we talked about my approach to the first category of the KonMari Method: Clothes. This week we’re going to cover the next two categories: Books and Paper.

But first, click here to see our progress so far. Since 1/5/19, we’ve gotten rid of 700 pounds of stuff.

I was hesitant about tracking our progress in this way – after all, the purpose of this exercise is not to get rid of things, but rather to identify and appreciate things we actually enjoy. But I can’t help it! It’s been fun watching that number go up, and I have an incredible sense of satisfaction knowing that the items we’ve discarded so far weigh as much as a grizzly bear.

But let’s get back to the task at hand, starting with Books. I love books, and this category was challenging because I’ve got so many good excuses for keeping them. Here are my top three:

But These Are Classics!

Most of my fiction pile consisted of books from classic literature:

This is not surprising; most of these are books I had to read in high school. These days, I usually get books on my Kindle or borrow them from the library. And since the library is chock full of these, I got rid of most of them, knowing that another copy was never far away if I wanted to read it.

There were exceptions: for example, I came across one book that looked kind of old, I opened the cover and saw this:

This was my Great Grandaunt’s copy of Pride and Prejudice from 1913. I’ve never read the book, but when I finally do get around to curling up with some Jane Austen, I’ll be reading this copy that’s been in my family for over a hundred years. Also, I flipped through the book already and saw that some pages are underlined – how cool is that?

But I’ll Read This Again!

This excuse tended to crop up more with non-fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction, and I can point to several pivotal moments when I’ve read books that inspired me and actually changed my life. But rarely did I ever read these books a second time. Why?

Because I almost always have another non-fiction book in the queue. And if you read enough non-fiction, particularly around a certain topic like business or self-help, you will eventually notice patterns, certain principles that serve as the foundation of what is being taught. In most cases, I think my time is better served reading a fresh perspective on a topic, rather than rereading an older book despite the fact that the older book may have had a big impact on me. As a friend of mine put it, “learning isn’t about discovering something completely new, it’s about understanding something you already know in a different way.”

But This Is Who I Am!

Books do have an aesthetic quality, and I like the idea of keeping books that serve as a reflection of who I am. If I’m at someone’s house and I see a bookshelf, I can’t help but peruse the titles hoping to learn a little more about my host.

However, I found that I was able to get rid of a lot of books just by being realistic about this hypothetical. If somebody sees my copy of Inherit the Wind, are we really going to talk about that? And does it really say anything about my personality other than “this guy keeps his old books from high school?”

I decided that if I were to keep a book for aesthetic purposes, it needed to be 1) sufficiently esoteric so that it stood out, and 2) in-line with the type of person I want to be now.

Take Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 for example. I remember thinking it was a good book that kind of dragged on towards the end. I also remember it being too sarcastic and kind of depressing. This served me well at a time in my life when I was, well, too sarcastic and kind of depressed. But that’s not who I want to be now; at the end of the day it was a book I enjoyed telling people I’d read, more than I enjoyed actually reading. So I thanked it, discarded it, and moved on.

Paper

Paper didn’t take us long at all. The pile was intimidating at first, but if you have some bright-line rules in place for paper, you’ll be fine. Most of the paper was completely worthless; we came up with a solid way to organize our permanent documents, and tossed just about everything else.

One unexpected benefit of this process is that now, rather than being defensive and trying to organize/prioritize paper as it comes in the door, I’ve declared war on paper, and have taken the fight to the enemy.

We used to get so much junk mail, sometimes 5-6 magazines/catalogs a day. One Sunday afternoon I decided enough was enough. I gathered up all the mail and emailed every vendor, one by one, asking to be taken off their mailing list. This probably took three or four hours; I tracked all of the vendors in a spreadsheet, fully expecting a fight as paper continued to come in. I even considered publishing the vendors on a “naughty list” as part of the blog.

I was pleasantly surprised: every vendor was apologetic and the mailings stopped immediately. Now that fewer things are coming in the door, it’s easier to approach them more mindfully.

To summarize: Books and Paper went pretty well, but right now we’re finishing up Komono (Miscellaneous) which has been very challenging. And I expect the final category, Sentimental, to be particularly tough. More on that in next week’s post, the final post of this series.

2 thoughts on “NYR 1902: “Get Organized.” Part 3: Books, Paper.

  1. I’m enjoying following your progress on organizing, especially as we gear up for a move and some serious organizing and discarding ourselves! I haven’t read or watched any Marie Kondo…is there a philosophy behind the order of events? Can I apply the same principle but tackle papers first, or does doing clothes first help in some way?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – great question! In the book she takes a hard stance on the order (clothes/books/paper/misc/sentimental) but in the show she does make exceptions. I think it depends on your relationship with the things you own. With the earlier categories, you’re supposed to be honing your ability to identify items that you want to keep, and for many people that’s easier for clothes. I say start with what you want as long as you 1) finish the category before starting a new one, and 2) save sentimental for last. I hope this helps!

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