The Professor Who Couldn’t Let Go
“Congratulations on your new job,” I told the professor.
He was clearing out his office to move across the country to start a new job.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Wow, that’s a lot of books,” I remarked at the box on the floor.
“Yeah, take as many as you want.”
There were many copies of Elon Musk’s biography left over from a reading group so I took some.
Gifts for my friends, I thought.
He then said, “I have so many boxes of books at home from my personal library, it’s costing me a fortune to ship them to my new house.”
I estimated the cost of shipping his personal library to be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
I’d just started reading Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” when we had this conversation and I wanted to share with him what I learned.
I thought it might help him save money on shipping if he discarded some of his possessions before he moved, rather than years down the line.
Not to mention, going through the KonMari method of discarding everything that doesn’t bring him joy might help him calm down a bit because he was known to be frenetic.
“I can’t do that,” he said point blank.
“I’m attached to my books. Just the thought of throwing them out gives me anxiety.”
I was willing to bet there were a ton of books in his collection that he’d never read.
The Japanese call this Tsundoku, meaning to accumulate books and let them pile up without ever reading them.
Marie Kondo talked about how those who are unable to let go of certain things are attached to the past or anxious about the future.
They try to seek stability in the present by holding on to their possessions, even if it doesn’t bring them joy.
I understood he didn’t want to KonMari his books because he was attached to them.
He said he felt good when he looked at all of the books on his shelf.
The books gave him mental calmness and a peace of mind.
They gave him so much peace of mind he was willing to fork over the money to ship them.
And while I had good intentions, I forgot to tell him the deeper reason why I suggested he KonMari his life before he moved.
The Professor Who Died
A couple of years ago, a professor in the community died of old age and left behind his personal library of over 10,000 books to his widow.
Soon after, his widow died and left behind those books to their children and grandchildren.
Their children had already grown up and moved on.
They didn’t want any of those books.
Neither did their grandchildren.
Offspring Don’t Want your Books
Their children hired people to pack everything in their parents’ house and all of the books were donated to local libraries.
The packing of the books, along with everything else in the estate, took weeks.
As if the mental anguish your children deal with after you die isn’t enough, e.g., setting up the funeral, contacting relatives, etc., they also have to deal with the monetary burden of paying people to clean up your house, pack boxes, and throw out or donate everything.
Look at websites like EBTH, “Everything But The House,” that sell stuff from estates after people die and their children don’t want anything.
So if you think your children want your stuff after you die, chances are, they don’t.
What We Owe Our Children
Magareta Magnusson in her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter”, talked about how we can set aside a “Permission-to-throw-away-after-I-die” box filled with the stuff that meant a lot to us, but won’t mean much to our offspring.
She gives the example of letters from people in our lives that bring us joy, but whose context and meaning will be lost to our offspring.
This way, after we die, our offspring can rummage through the box, keep some things OR throw away everything without feeling guilty about whether or not you wanted the family to keep it.
It’ll help alleviate the emotional pressure.
You can do the same with your books.
Even if you want to keep all of your books during your lifetime because you can’t let them go, you can set aside a note saying something like, “You have permission to donate all of these books after I die.”
That way, your children can at least feel less guilty about getting rid of them.
Why You Can’t Let Go of Your Books
Marie Kondo said it best.
You aren’t able to KonMari your books because of some attachment to the past or anxiety of the future.
By KonMari’ing my books, I was able to realize why I was so attached to them to be begin with.
I started hoarding books in early high school and collected thousands of books over the years.
Recently, I discarded and donated over 1500 books as I went through the Konmari Method.
Deep down, I think you’re unable to part with books that don’t bring you joy because you’re subconsciously afraid of appearing ignorant or stupid in front of people.
You gather these books to form a wall of perceived knowledge as a shield to feel mentally secure.
And that’s not a bad thing.
You do whatever makes your feel more secure in life.
I’m also willing to reason you have an inferiority or controlling power complex.
At some point when you were younger, you realized that knowledge is power and that books contain knowledge.
The more books you acquire, the more knowledge you acquire.
The more knowledge you acquire, the more power.
The more power, the more you can affect and influence those around you.
You want to have power to affect and influence those around you because maybe at some point in your youth, you experienced powerlessness and loss.
And because maybe you were hurt by those feelings of powerlessness, loss, and inferiority, you don’t want that happening to you again.
So you acquire books.
And you haven’t been able to let go since.
I might be projecting, but I understand this might be the case because I’ve felt these same emotions when I first grew up in the ghetto when we moved to America.
I was bullied everyday for being Asian and “different” from the kids around me.
Looking back and analyzing my past, I can see that my book hoarding tendencies started shortly after I grew old enough to buy books and after I moved out of the ghetto.
I subconsciously wanted the power to control my fate and never go back there again.
I feel like this level of introspection would not have happened if I didn’t KonMari my books.
What’s On The Other Side of Letting Go of Your Books?
Remember I’m not talking about letting go of all your books.
Just the ones that don’t spark joy.
I’ve come to terms with realizing that the thousands of books on my shelves didn’t bring me joy.
It took me years, but I’m down to 10 books.
10 joyous books.
I feel mentally freer.
There’s less mental clutter when I walk into my room.
I now feel less guilty when I look at my books.
Instead of thinking:
“Gee, look at all of those books I haven’t read.”
“Gosh, when will I have time to read all of them.”
“I feel unproductive.”
Those thoughts led to anxiety about all the books I had to read.
I am less anxious now when I look at my shelf.
Now I think:
“Wow, look at all of those amazing books on my shelves.”
“They’re like close friends I’ve gotten to know.”
“They make me feel good.”
7 Reasons Why You Should KonMari Your Books While You’re Still Alive
1) You reduce the emotional and monetary burden on your children after you die.
By KonMari’ing your books while you’re alive, you’re reducing the emotional and monetary burden you’d place on your offspring after you die.
Imagine if you didn’t leave behind a lot of life insurance money, your children might be paying out of pocket for a lot of expenses related to your death.
You can take the time in your old age to start sorting, labeling, and donating your books now while you’re still alive, and alleviate the burden on your children.
2) They will go to better homes.
They’ve been lying there, collecting dust, waiting for the day someone will open their beautiful pages and read the words they have to say.
You’d be doing your books a great service by donating them so they could be sold or given to people who could use it more.
3) The spines of books are distracting attention seekers.
The marketing departments at publishing houses designed them to get your attention.
The spines are like people screaming at you when you enter the room.
Since discarding and donating them to the local library, my room is calmer.
I now feel less anxious when I enter my room because less words are shouting at me.
People who enter my room also note how calm it feels.
With 10 books on the shelf and no bed (I sleep on a yoga mat), my room is pretty minimal.
4) Breathing is healthier because there’s less dust collecting on the books.
With a lot of books, that’s a lot of surface area for dust to settle on and get stirred up.
With less books, there’s less room for dust to settle.
5) You’ll feel less guilty.
Now, instead of buying countless books and keeping them unread, I add them to my “To buy” list on Amazon.
That way, they’re there when I want to buy a new book.
This helps me save money by not “tsundoku’ing.”
Also, when I’m done reading a book, I ask “Did it spark joy?”
Usually the answer is no.
It’s usually an insightful book but did not spark joy.
And before donating it, I ask friends if anyone wants it.
Usually someone takes it.
If not, I donate it.
End of story.
6) You’re able to move on with your life.
By discarding my books, I’m able to move on and not be attached to thinking, “Maybe I’ll read them someday.”
If and when that “someday” ever comes, I will buy it used on Amazon.
I can rent it from the library.
I can see if my friend still has it and ask to borrow it back.
But as of right now, there’s literally no book I’ve read again besides “The Richest Man in Babylon.”
And that’s because it was the book that started me on my journey to financial independence and I highly recommend you read that.
7) Moving is easier (and cheaper).
Because all my books fit in my backpack, I’m able to have a more mobile lifestyle than those who have to pack countless boxes of books when they move.
Having less books is also cheaper when moving to a new place because I don’t have to rent a U-Haul truck or pay a company to ship them.
But You Do You
If you’re okay with:
- the costs of transporting your books to new places
- the potential anxiety on your mental capacity from screaming spines
- the space they take up in your home and in your life
Then go for it.
You do you and whatever makes your life spark joy.
I just know that if this bibliophile can move on from 1500 books, you can too 🙂
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