The word “minimalism” can be scary because it often makes people think of being deprived. While it is true that minimalists live with less than most folks, they don’t usually feel deprived because they choose to live only with the things they love. I think it’s both good organizing practice and good life-in-general practice to ask ourselves regularly: What do I love?
I recently read an amazing book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese organizer Marie Kondo. Kondo’s advice can be boiled down to one question: Does this item spark joy? Her approach to organizing is both simple and unique: organize by category, not by room. She advises gathering together all the like items in your home (for example, all your clothes or all your books), then handling each item and asking, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, the item stays; if not, it is let go (with more joy, of course! She’s a chipper little lady and I recommend reading her book not only for it’s organizing wisdom, but also for the literary bliss of her quirky writing voice.)
I had never tried this exact method for organizing, so this morning, when my kids’ swimming lessons were canceled due to thunder, I enlisted my three best little helpers and gave it a go. Our target category? Books.
From far, from wide, we gathered all the books in our home into a large pile in the living room. This included cook books from the kitchen, the kids’ books from their bedrooms, and books from the shelf upstairs that Josh and I use.
Then we picked up each book and asked ourselves the all-important question: Does this spark joy? (To help my kids grasp the concept, I drew a large crayon heart on a piece of paper and put it on the dining room table. I told them to put all the books they LOVED on the table next to the heart.)
I sorted my books and they sorted theirs. I left Josh’s books alone for him to sort, if he wants to, when he gets home. This is key: you can’t get rid of other people’s stuff. Not even if those people live with you. Not even if those people are five years old. It’s not respectful and it only breeds resentment. Although I highly doubted some of my kids “love” choices in books, I didn’t intervene. Sometimes one of them would put a book on the discard pile, only to have it rescued by another child who declared, “I love this book!” I let it go. I let them decide. In the end, they discarded a couple piles of books, but kept most of them. That’s okay.
Interestingly, this activity reignited their interest in many books that have sat unread on their shelves for awhile. I also think, even if they hadn’t discarded a single book, that this process was important for them to go through. Many of us were never taught how to let go of things we don’t need or use. This morning was a lesson, if nothing else. I am teaching the man to fish.
Here are my kids, proudly displaying some of the books that made the cut:
And as for that full shelf upstairs? Well, after I seriously asked myself which books sparked joy in my life (and which ones could be obtained at the public library for free if I ever really wanted to read them again) I was left with this:
Twelve books. Twelve. (Even I kind of freaked out about that number!) This includes five cookbooks, two parenting books, three books of poetry, one play, and a Bible. If you had to infer my personality from my book collection, I guess you’d assume I’m a mom who cooks, seeks inspiration, and can’t let go of the values instilled in her youth. (You wouldn’t be too far off.)
And that’s what’s cool about living with less. When you pare down your items to what you truly love, what truly sparks joy, what is left? You. Completely, simply, honestly you.