Have you been swept up yet in the declutter cult? Have you sorted your jumpers, books and knickers by colour as per the instructions of a petite, previously unknown Japanese woman with no English?
The Marie Kondo method has taken the world by storm. It’s as if the world has embraced a new religion. Minimalism is sexy.
Decluttering the contents of your messy drawers promises to be life changing. Order your shit, let go of the crap. Toss what you don’t need. It’s liberating.
I recently became aware of this world-wide declutter fever in an online community that gathered around the annual #AprilLove photo challenge. For one month, every day Susannah Conway provides a new prompt to make you think about what matters, your values and your passions.
The prompt “My bookshelf” solicited photos of radically decluttered bookshelves and comments about how freeing it is for the soul to throw away your excess shit.
Marie Kondo’s The Life changing Magic of Tyding Up was one of the few books on many of the clutter-free bookshelves. It’s as if too much consumerism has burned us out in this secular world. We crave lightness for our tired souls.
Travel made me an accidental convert of the declutter cult
I’ve practiced minimalism ever since strapping on a backpack and leaving Germany never to come back again. I never expected to grow roots in Australia. For a decade or more I lived with only one set of sheets. When it rained on my washing day, I had to sleep under my only spare towel. The few things I did own, mostly books, I’ve fiercely held on to. Over time, I’ve build a nice library.
I now have a home in Australia and many sets of sheets for my Airbnb guests who sleep in my bed while I travel. I also have far too many books. Every year before I pack everything away, I hold a week-long declutter marathon. It is one of the most liberating acts of self-care you can give yourself!
Every year, I shed a little more. I’ve reduced my wardrobe to several plastic boxes. I’ve thinned out the nick nacks. Yet, I can’t bring myself to pack away the books.
Why my declutter frenzy stops at the bookshelf
My books are my family. Unlike my wardrobe which changes over time, my book collection has accumulated over time. That’s its value. I consider the authors and characters of my library my travel companions and my mentors. Some of the books I’ve carted all the way from the other side of the world in a back pack.
Three years ago before my first Airbnb guests were due to arrive, I was panicked. What to do with all those books?
Condemning my books to the shed along with the mud-soiled tools and the wheelbarrow seemed cruel and uncaring. Given the climate of the Wet Tropics of the top end of Australia, in the hot-house conditions of my toolshed, my books would die a slow death. They’d slowly disintegrate into compost alongside the chook poo and other organic fertiliser. Besides, it was totally impractical. There were simply too many books for my small tool shed.
In the end, I did the only thing I could do. I decided to share my books with my guests. I weeded out the crap, mostly my University books which were in a foreign language and of no interest to anyone. Still, it hurt watching them disappear in a rubbish skip because no library or second hand shop would take them.
The rest I sorted into categories (bestsellers, Australian fiction hardback classics ….). Then I created shelf space. I filled the bedrooms, the kitchen and the living room with my books.
For the first few months I worried often about my abandoned books. What if my guests didn’t like the clutter and left negative comments in the reviews? What if they found an intimate note or an unsent letter? What if they treated my books badly, left them dog-eared, torn or worse, steal them? I had succumbed to the stress of the hoarder of books.
It wasn’t long before I knew that my guests LOVE my library. Two out of three reviews I get on Airbnb mention the pleasure derived from my books. My library helps fill rainy days and creates a feeling of home. Everybody, regardless of education, status and age, finds something inspiring in my library. Many tell me their favourite titles, some leave me their books which become added to my collection.
These days, when getting the house ready for another season on Airbnb, I no longer fret about having too many books on display. I know they’ll be well looked after. My Airbnb guests treat my book collection with great care. Nothing has ever gone missing, nothing has ever been damaged.
The only thing that changes is their configuration on the shelves. After many months away from home, I am always happy to notice that my books have gone on their own journeys. They’ve moved moved from room to room, they’ve been read and handled by visitors from all over the world.
Saying goodbye to my library is the hardest part of the nomad lifestyle
Two months ago, as I prepared to uproot once again to move to Vietnam, I suffered an unexpected bout of separation anxiety. Being home means becoming attached to the feeling of books. The smell of mold between the pages. The joy of cracking open a new book. By the time it’s time to pack and uproot again, I’ve built a tactile relationship with my books. Leaving my books, is like leaving behind members of my family.
“Books are a uniquely portable magic” Stephen King
Of course I have an entire online library in my backpack. My travelling lifestyle made me an early convert to e-readers. I love my Paperwhite Kindle dearly, but I do miss the physical presence of books on a bookshelf. There are many great titles in my Kindle library. But I tend to forget about them because looking at my electronic library is about as exciting as reading my bank statement from an ATM. Besides, I can’t share my latest e-books with my guests.
I know I am lucky. I have a pocket full of portable magic wherever I go. And I can always come home to my library. Like a protected heritage building it has been saved from my decluttering mania.
For those who prefer a de-cluttered bookshelf, there are many options to get rid of your books. My favorite is the ‘Buecherzelle’ or literally ‘book booth’ or ‘book cell’, I discovered in Germany last year. In virtually every town or neighborhood I noticed tiny stalls, often disused public phone booths transformed into public libraries. Anybody can leave an unwanted book and anybody can take whatever they wish. It’s a brilliant concept.