My big spring book clean – with a touch of Japanese philosophy

I feel lighter, happier and refreshed, almost as if I’m starting a new era of my life. I did something brave this week and got rid of more than 250 books. Over my last eight years in London I’ve met hundreds of people and done so many interesting things and the after-effect is that I’ve collected a few hundreds books through my journey.

The number of books I had got out of control and I caught myself hiding books behind the other books on my bookshelves and I also put away three large shopping bags of books in my wardrobe. There were just too many and I had zero space for new books, which I’m sure will continue coming my way.

My new guru Marie Kondo

Last week I randomly found an article about Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning and tidying expert and I fell for her charm and simple view of what you should keep in your life. I researched her method and watched some videos and also read her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

On Monday evening I started to mentally prepare myself for getting rid of bags of books and yesterday, on Thursday afternoon, I drove to the second-hand bookshop in West London feeling like an excited child.

The whole process of letting go is deep in many ways. The books are all part of my history and came into my life for different reasons. During my year as Junior Chamber International President in London, I read on average one new book per week. These were a mix of leadership books, general business books and fiction.

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Then I went through a steep and painful learning curve in 2009 when I became the first social media manager of a large publisher in London. I had to sharpen my argument as to why social media matters and of course read lots of books to help me do that. I’ve kept some of the books from that time and they are standing neatly on a special bookshelf.

Which book should I give away and which should I keep?

The way I dealt with my books and how I let them go was pretty straightforward. Early Wednesday morning I got all my books off my bookshelves, and out of all the other places they were hiding, and put them on the floor. I then picked them up one by one and asked the magic question Marie Kondo tells you to ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If the book didn’t give me any kind of excitement I put it in a bag and let it go. I also said thank you for what it gave to me, taught me and showed me.

I have done many different research projects and I’m interested in just about anything so the subject range of my books is pretty wide. I’ve read quite a few of them, but there were some that I’d never even started to read.

The method that works for me to actually get me reading a book is to start reading it as soon as I get it. I may just read a few pages, but if I leave it for a while the chance that I will pick it up and start reading is zero. I have to form an emotional connection with the book as soon as I get it, then I will finish it even if takes a while.

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Books written by friends 

I also know a lot of amazing people who have written books and I’ve kept most of these in my collection. I have a special bookshelf for them now, which looks great, and I think having these books there will get me to visit that part of my house more often.

There are a few reasons why I have a lot of books: I am a keen learner, people give me books to read and Amazon is an addictive online shop that’s just too easy to buy stuff from. The only time I’ve felt fed up with books was a few months after I published my first book Digital Leadership. My recovery took about four months and then I felt the desire to read more books again.

Information and taking action

During 2008, my most intense year of leadership, I read a lot of books and it changed me as a person, my beliefs and how I coach people. This happened because of the mix of new impressions, challenges and opportunities I was presented to. All the stories I read supported my actions and decisions and reading led to many great outcomes.

There is a limit to how much information a human brain can process and use. So many people suffer from information overload and mental fatigue.

If I process the information in a book, take action and feel that I’ve achieved what I wanted to, then I’m done. It’s not likely that I’ll need that book again.

The end result

I now have three organised bookshelves. One is for the books I use in my speaking and teaching, one for books written by friends and one for other books that give me a spark and joy.

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Books are wonderful creatures, and I’m still waiting for someone to invent the never-ending bookshelf. And, no, eBooks are not the same as ‘real’ books.

If you would like to get some second-hand books at a bargain price, take the tube to Turnham Green in London, go out of the station, turn left and walk 100 meters. Here you’ll find a great shop and it now has 250 pretty cool new books. I wish all the books and their new owners a great and inspiring future.

Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts about books and life.

Here I’m in the secondhand bookshop, looking very happy. The woman next to me is going through some of my books and I shared some of the stories behind why I got them.