in december, i moved back to brooklyn after two years in los angeles … which was exciting and happy-making but also OH-MY-GOD-BOOKS-I-HAVE-SO-MANY-BOOKS panic-inducing.
apparently, there’s been a controversial topic buzzing around bookish social media — and i say “apparently” because i’ve been hearing about it tangentially but haven’t looked it up myself. marie kondo, declutter-er extraordinaire, has her new show on netflix, and books are among the things she helps clients get rid of — and, apparently, that is a horrifying thought, getting rid of books.
if you’re unfamiliar with marie kondo, she’s a woman from japan who helps clients declutter and live more organized lives, and her method (the konmari method as it’s called) more or less comes down to holding the object in your hands and asking, does this give me joy right now? it sounds kind of hokey, but i kind of like it because i like the principle underneath it — don’t surround yourself with things that don’t bring something positive to your life in the present.
in other words, be intentional about what you keep in your space. to expand on that, live intentionally.
there’s a fair amount of privilege in the konmari method because there’s definitely privilege in being able to pare down, to live in the present, not to worry about future hypothetical concerns that might arise. people hold onto things for various reasons, whether they’re sentimental or financial, and i’m not going to be one to say that the konmari way is the way to go — like so many other things in life, the konmari method is inherently neither good nor bad. doing the konmari method doesn’t make you a better human being than someone who doesn’t do the konmari method.
living minimally doesn’t make you better or worse than someone who lives maximally.
all that said, i didn’t use the konmari method when i was packing — i’d done it before, years ago, with clothes, and had honestly kind of forgotten it had been a thing. i mention it because i thought it was kind of funny that this “controversy” erupted so soon after i’d brutally pared down my collection, getting rid of at least half my books by sending them to people (i did a whole thing on instagram) and donating the rest.
my reason for paring down my books was mostly practical — moving is expensive, and i wanted to reduce costs as much as i could, and books made up the bulk of my crap. i managed to get my books down to 15 books boxes and 3 letter boxes, and i’m so grateful for usps media mail because that also helped me cut costs a lot, coming out to roughly $300 to ship my books alone.
then, there was the other part of it, the part of me that no longer sentimentalizes books and has little regard for the book as Object, the part of me that’s tired of carrying around this bloated collection of books i’ve been accumulating for so long. i hadn’t read most of these books, which is fine because all readers have to-be-read piles and i find nothing bad about that, but the thing is that i knew i wouldn’t read most of them — i’d acquired these books because publishers sent them to me or because i thought i should read them at one point or because i’d bought them on impulse for whatever reason.
that last reason was largely why i’d amassed so many books; i’d pick up a book here just because, then another book there just because, and so on and so forth, even though i didn’t have any urgency to read these books i was collecting — i just thought, eh, i’ll read them one day. i’ll be in the mood for this one day. i’ll be glad i already had this one day.
(maybe there is something critical to be said about massive to-be-read piles …
… but that’s a topic for another day.)
i didn’t sit and hold my books in my hands one-by-one, asking myself if they brought me joy. i moved quickly through my piles, dividing books into three piles: books i definitely wanted to keep, books i maybe wanted to keep, and books i’d give away.
i also had a clear goal when i started — to create a strong, honed-down core collection that i would intentionally build out in the future — and i knew i wanted my library to be a great resource for asian diasporic literature and korean literature-in-translation.
having those goals made it easier to prune and to prune fairly quickly. i donated books i’d read but knew i wouldn’t read again, and i donated books i knew i’d never read. i donated books that didn’t add to this library i was imagining in my head. i donated books that i knew i was holding onto for stupid reasons, like they were written by an author who was thought of highly (i.e. nabokov) or by an author people found daunting (i.e. proust).
i let go of any notions of “classics” or what i thought at some point i “should” be reading, and i went with my gut — and i have to step in here maybe to add that i was only able to cut down my collection as quickly and painlessly as i did because, fundamentally, i trust my taste. i know what i like. i know how i want to expand my reading. and i have the confidence not to care what anyone else thinks because i know my taste and i know i can trust it because, as egoistical as this may sound, i know that i know good writing.
there’s all the book stuff, and there are all the meals with friendly faces, but this is what moving really looks like.
moving is having to leave my puppy behind and missing him so intensely, it hurts physically. moving is not being able to eat peanut butter or cheese or hard-boiled eggs because my puppy likes to eat peanut butter and cheese and hard-boiled eggs. moving is being that weird emotional woman wandering a grocery store, tears welling up in her eyes because she misses her puppy and there are all these weird, random trigger points because her puppy likes food. moving is getting puppy updates from my parents, facetiming with gom and cry-laughing as he tilts his head from side to side, confused because he hears me — or saying, goms, stay still!!, because he’s following my mum’s iphone around, trying to smell it, to find me, because he’s confused, he knows i’m there, but i’m not.
moving is wondering countless times a day if i’ve made a mistake, if this — this apartment, this job, this life — is worth leaving my puppy behind.
moving is avoiding going home after work because i hate going home to a puppy-less apartment.
or maybe none of this is about moving. maybe this is just want it means to give your heart away.
sometimes, i wonder if people must find it comedic or pathetic that i have so many feelings for my dog. before we’d go to sleep, when he was curled up on his blanket in the corner of my bed, i’d scratch his ears and whisper, goms, i love you; do you know how much i love you?, to him over and over again. he wouldn’t know what i was saying, but he was relaxed, sprawled out, limbs akimbo, and i’d take that as his way of saying, yeah, yeah, psycho human, i know, because dogs only sprawl out when they trust you, when they know they’re safe.
buzzfeed reader is doing a series of posts about debt, and you’d think i’d find a lot of it relatable because i carried a lot of debt (and debt was the main reason i ended up going back to los angeles for two years), but it was the piece written by a woman about going into thousands and thousands of dollars of credit card debt for her dog when she was diagnosed with cancer that resonated most intensely with me.
even before i had a puppy, money was what stopped me getting one, though, back then, i thought i was a cat person and really, really wanted a cat. if i were to get an animal, though, i knew i was committing myself to a life with that animal, which meant that, inevitably, at one point, money for health issues would enter the picture. i never said it in so many words to myself, but i knew — i could be that woman who went thousands and thousands of dollars into debt for her animal. i could be that person. and, just like her, i wouldn’t regret it.
having said that, though, one of the reasons my puppy is in LA with my parents is money. it would cost me roughly $600-700 a month to cover doggie day care, food, and other various daily expenses, and that’s not an amount to sneeze at. another reason (and the more pressing reason, honestly) is that my job has an expectation for ridiculously long hours, so i’m typically out of the house for 12 hours, and i’d feel so guilty leaving him for so many hours of the week, even if he were in doggie day care and having fun playing with other dogs.
i miss him, though, and i miss him intensely. my dog wasn’t just my dog but my emotional support animal, and not having him inflates all kinds of other anxieties and leaves me on high-alert all the time, on the watch for the familiar signs of an onset of another depressive episode, of another spiral, of another low. i’m afraid of how i’ll cope when that happens again. i’m afraid of going through another episode of depression and suicidal thinking without my puppy.
and, yet, maybe you’d never think that looking at me because that’s the thing with brain things — you can’t see them, so you should never assume.
here are things my dog has taught me about myself: that i have a deeper capacity to love than i thought i did, that i am able to care for another living being in a manner that allows him to thrive, that i will make the sacrifices i need to ensure his happiness. that i can thrive and care for myself and live, even when things feel so impossible in my brain.
getting a puppy taught me a tremendous amount about myself, and i hope i love another person half as much as i love my dog. a friend who is a fellow dog human has assured me that i will only ever love another person has as much as i love my dog, and, at that, i laugh and think that whoever that person is, what a lucky person to receive even that much love, indeed.
and, so, after weeks of packing and cleaning and getting fabulous meals with wonderful people, i made it to brooklyn with two suitcases, my stuff in my parents’ garage in LA ready to be shipped — after two years, i made it back home.