I was reading an article yesterday that suggested it’s great for kids to grow up surrounded by books for a few different reasons.
Piles of books. Books ahoy. Books for all. Hooray!
It made me feel happy and cosy. It makes perfect sense. Take me, for instance. I grew up surrounded by books. I am still a bit of a lunatic at times, let’s be honest, but books have been the one constant in my life.
Books showed me how much I didn’t know and how different people could be. Piles of books and volume-stacked shelves represented possibilities and confirmed the importance of curiosity, hope, imagination, story and discipline. Each title was proof that the author had something to say, took the time to say it and figured that someone would care enough to read it.
Shelves were packed tight with ready titles. You’d have to pull tightly on one to pluck it from its place, thus releasing the others so that they’d jostle more freely and be easier to grab. What didn’t fit within the shelves would horizontally line the top of the rows, or be piled in teetering stacks in front of the shelves.
These shelves were the heart of our house. What I couldn’t read today or tomorrow would always be there, waiting to be read next week or next year or even further down the track. The stories were written and they’d happily lie in wait until they were ready to be read.
The writer of the kid-book-ace article mentioned that tidying expert (and – from all accounts – adorable, helpful lady) Marie Kondo recommends people rationalise their books to a small, essential library. She’s even suggested people TEAR OUT THE BEST PAGES OF BOOKS AND THEN DISCARD titles if you’re trying to lose bookish weight. GASP. (I am not sure she continues to recommend this method, possibly due to all the booklovers tears threatening to flood her tidy life.)
I am worried about the ditch-your-books-type things Marie says. The much-lauded, widely extracted, joy-seeking backbone of her book is not my favourite thing. Let me be up front and confess that I am actually not keen to read her book. I downloaded the book. I wanted to give it a go. But in the end I could not bring myself to dive in.
This is not because I am an in-denial hoarder (I am really not), but because I know that how we feel about objects today is most certainly not how we will feel about them tomorrow (RIP ALL my childhood diaries, teenage poems, 70s Barbie collection and entire 80s accessory wardrobe… sob!)
I also know how much the (seemingly) entire world loves to get caught up in ‘life-changing’ movements and apply simple protocols to complicated situations in the hope that everything will just be the heck okay.
It makes me nervous, the idea of cranking our individuality through a magical fixing machine so that we might be like/please the other people. I’m pretty sure this approach doesn’t work in the long-term and despite best intentions (thanks cute Marie!), ignoring personal nuance and history and just FEELINGS seems perilous.
While I love the idea of being kind to your socks, getting more sorted, cheering up your sad clothes and thanking the things you are donating or throwing away, I am also wondering if there are going to be a LOT of angry people wanting back their ‘non-joy-sparking-stuff-of-today’, tomorrow. Maybe you’re going through particularly joyless period in your life? And then you get rid of a whole bunch of things. And then you feel even less joyful. And around and around it goes. Argh.
Take my Nanna, for instance. In her tiny flat are a LOT of things, all arranged in a way that’s pleasing to her eye, but definitely heavy on quantity over quality. She’s prone to get her knick-knack on, let’s say. When she sits in her little cluttered apartment, some things she sees will make her dewy-eyed, remind her of people that she loved. Some things will make her giggle. Others will make her proud or nostalgic or sad or excited. There might be joy in there… but all the other feelings are there too, making up the busy, beautiful, Nanna-ish backdrop of her home life. Who’d want to throw those feels away?
And what of the hopeful people in the almost bookless homes inspired by this decluttering ideal?
I mean, how are they going to experience the life-changing joy of sitting in front of your own personal library in your dressing gown, running your fingers along the dusty spines of possibility, considering which adventure to take next?
Will pre-teens miss out on the life-changing thrill of gleefully reading a too-trashy or too-saucy or too-dark book that their parents slotted into the shelves and forgotten, years before?
Will kids miss out on the life-changing confirmation that piles, stacks and rows of words, pictures and stories are the sure and steady spine of life, waiting to be explored and devoured during life’s quieter moments?
It’s too horrible to ponder, as far as I’m concerned. Won’t someone think of the books?