I recently read an article on how the Japanese have a word for book hoarding – tsundoku.

Tsundoku: In Japanese, the stockpiling of books that will never be consumed

book hoardingOf course, as a writer (The Travelers) I think about words and their meanings, probably to a slightly obsessive (crazy?) extent.

So I thought it interesting that in English there is really no comparable word for book hoarding. We can combine it into two words – book and hoarder.

Why does such a concept need it’s own word? Does having it’s own single word mean book hoarding is bad or good?

The Semantics of Hoarding

book hoarding 4.jpgPersonally, I would actually prefer book hoarding have it’s own word, like tsundoku, with its own unique definition.

I’ve read many different definitions and etymology for the Japanese word tsundoku. In none of them, do they use the word hoarder. Tsunde means “to stack things” and oku is “to leave for a while.”

I prefer the Japanese word to the English phrase “book hoarding” because “hoarding” has negative connotations. It’s like shaming people because they love books.

The Condition of Hoarding

Let’s look at the “symptoms” of a hoarder, not just a book hoarder, but the overall concept of a hoarder. It is important to note this a medical condition and these are actual symptoms listed on the information page for hoarding from the Mayo Clinic. (This is not all the symptoms, just a sample.)

  • Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there’s no space
  • Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them
  • Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable
  • Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing
  • Conflict with others who try to reduce or remove clutter from your home
  • Belief that these items are unique or will be needed at some point in the future
  • A feeling of safety when surrounded by the things saved
  • Significant distress or problems functioning or keeping yourself and others safe in your home
  • Conflict with others who try to reduce or remove clutter from your home

To Hoard or Not to Hoard

Alright, so if you’re a book hoarder you might have read the above and thought, “OK some of these are hitting a little too close to home.” I know I did.

However, I think books are uniquely different in terms of the overall “hoarding condition.” As someone who is likely to be classified as a book hoarder myself, let me make my case.

First, I’ll acknowledge SOME of my book habits dovetail into the hoarding symptoms. But some do not.

book hoarding 2Overlap with Hoarding

  • If I see a book I want, I will buy it, even if I know I won’t read it for years (or maybe ever)
  • Having books around makes me happy
  • It causes clutter problems
  • I feel an emotional attachment to my books
  • It can have negative effects, such as cost

Other Reasons I Buy and Keep My Books (NON-Hoarding Overlap)

  • It keeps me excited about books
  • It reminds me to read (Not that I need a lot of reminding, but sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my day and I see a book and I think – yes, it’s time to stop now, relax and read.)
  • It looks pretty in my house – shallow, maybe – but a shelf full of books or a stack of books to me equals beauty.

To Further My Case for the Uniqueness of Books and Why We Shouldn’t Use the World “Hoarding”….

What if Books Were Sweaters? An Analogy

bookhoarding 7There are people who think book hoarding is crazy. Why not just use your kindle? There’s an infinite amount of space and it doesn’t harm any trees. (Note: This point isn’t lost on me, a crazy tree hugger.)

However, the biggest reason I buy and buy and buy and keep books is because I’m so excited to read them. Is that bad? To buy something because you love it and are excited about it. People do it with lots of things – electronics, jewelry, shoes, clothes…In fact, there are plenty of people, I would argue, who hoard clothes.

Let’s think about if a book were a sweater.

If I bought a sweater because I loved it and never ever wore it, I’d probably view that as a poor purchase. When viewed through the lens of sweater, buying a book just to buy it and not knowing if or when you’re going to be able to read it is rather wasteful.

In keeping with this analogy, let’s look at the reasons you might not wear a sweater.

  1. The sweater goes out of style.
  2. You get it home and find the sweater doesn’t go with anything you have.
  3. You decided you didn’t actually like that sweater and it was a momentary lapse in judgement at the store.
  4. That sweater falls off the hanger to the bottom of your closet and gets forgotten – even though you had every intention of wearing it.

Now, let’s replace “sweater” with book.

  1. The book goes out of style.
    Doesn’t work here. Books, generally, don’t go out of style, usually they get better with age!
  2. You get it home and find the book doesn’t go with anything you have.
    Not sure how that would relate to books. They don’t need to match each other.
  3. You decide you didn’t actually like that book.
    How would you know unless you read the book?
  4. That book falls off the hanger to the bottom of your closet and gets forgotten.
    Even though you had every intention of wearing it, metaphorically speaking, a book could fall to the bottom of your closet. I’ve definitely put a book in a stack or shelf and then it’s been covered up and lost by the stacking and shelving of other books. That doesn’t mean I won’t find it some day, though.

In summary, a book is not a sweater and we should stop using the term “book hoarding”

book hoarding 5A book is a different thing. It’s not like your clothes or your gadgets. You can keep books forever, uncover them and read them at any point.

Unless you have storage issues, there is no reason not to keep a book. I just went looking for the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and wanted to read it (it was my husband’s book) and I couldn’t find it. It likely got donated in a fit of cleaning I did once before I realized it might be something I wanted to read. It’s not a large book and if I’d just kept it I’d have had it and I wouldn’t have had to buy it again.

Case closed. There’s nothing wrong with book hoarding except it just needs a better name. Book collecting. Book stockpiling. Book stash. Book cache. I’m open to suggestions!