A plea to keep the old books

Why minimalism shouldn’t challenge the notion of keeping your bookshelf full

Minimalism is the latest trend sweeping us by storm. There are documentaries, podcasts and books all about the art of decluttering. For the most part, I wholeheartedly agree with the minimalist agenda. We live in a society in which our worth is based on what we own. We are constantly being pushed to consume and buy things that we absolutely do not need. So, any trend that challenges this perniciousness is one that I can get behind.

However, one thing that I will never minimize is the number of books I own. If I haven’t worn an article of clothing in the past six months, I will happily get rid of it. However, I won’t do the same with a book, even if it’s been six years since I last touched it. I am not deterred by the space they take up or the dust they collect. I see this as a small price to pay for all that they provide.

Recently, Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant and author, released her Netflix special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and it took the internet by storm. Kondo inspired many to get rid of of anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, she received criticism after a rumour circulated that she believed in keeping only 30 books. Kondo has since dismissed these rumours, but this nevertheless got me thinking about the benefits of holding onto old books.

The books that line my bookshelf are more than a bunch of ink-blotted pages held together by glue. They are sources of boundless knowledge and adventure. They don’t go out of style or lose their value. Hence, I do not treat them as single use objects. I keep books that I loved, hated, and never finished and I encourage you to do the same.

Aside from that, I have other, more concrete reasons, as to why I keep all my books. Firstly, I firmly believe that you cannot claim to love a book until you have read it multiple times. It’s impossible to grasp every element of a book after just one reading. However, once you’ve revisited it a few times, you begin to understand the complexity and the multitude of nuances every literary work offers.

I also keep the books that I didn’t like or never finished. Not to sound like an insufferable hippy, but I believe that sometimes the reason for not liking a book is less a content problem and more so a problem of time. There are certain books that will appeal to you less depending on where you are in your life. So, the reason you “hated” a book could be because you read it at the wrong time.

This has proven to be true multiple times with books that I have revisited. When I first tried to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, I had a hard time grappling with the heart-breaking stories that were being told and was never able to finish it. At the time, I was too immature to understand the plight of the women in this book. However, when I returned to it a few years later, I was able to appreciate all it had to offer.

Thus, I will hold on to Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, no matter how much I claim to despise it, so that I can reread it at a later point in my life. Maybe by then, Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique might actually stir joy inside of me instead of irrational rage.

I know that there is the possibility that I may never return to the books I so vehemently hold on to. It is possible that I will never do anything more than dust or rearrange them, but this doesn’t change my stance. I’d rather have the opportunities that keeping old books provides than the peace of mind minimalism claims to produce.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

Student Life

Do more with less

“Love people and use things, because the opposite never works”

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is a film following two men, who have titled themselves “The Minimalists,” on a 10-month tour across America promoting their book Everything that Remains.

Released in 2016, this documentary directed by Matt D’Avella captures the lives of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Friends for over 20 years, they considered themselves, and were considered by others to be successful. Despite having both endured rough childhoods scattered with drug abuse, physical abuse and alcoholism, the two found themselves with good jobs, great salaries, food on the table and a full closet. Despite all this, they questioned why they were unhappy with how their lives turned out.

After hearing about minimalism, Millburn and Nicodemus dropped everything and adopted the principles of minimalism.

“Imagine a life with less. Less stuff, less clutter, less stress, and debt, and discontent. A life with fewer distractions,” said Millburn. “Now, imagine a life with more. More time, more meaningful relationships, more growth and contribution and contentment.”

The concept of minimalism is simple: every possession serves a purpose. As human beings in a society obsessed with consumerism, our options for nearly everything in life are limited. Yet, these nearly infinite options force us to make more decisions, thus causing more stress. Minimalism is about minimizing one’s life so that everything in it has value.

“Every choice that I make, every relationship, every item, every dollar I spend,” said Nicodemus. “I’m not perfect, but I do constantly ask the question: is this adding value?”

A key dimension of minimalism, while not actively discussed in the documentary, is purchasing power, and ultimately accessibility. Those who can hardly afford a bus pass or the next meal for their families likely won’t be concerned with hybrid vehicles or buying organic food because it isn’t within their purchasing power to do so. Minimalism and to what degree people are able to minimize their consumption, if at all, will invariably differ from family to family based on what means they do, or don’t, have access to.

The pair noticed how minimalism drastically improved their way of life and allowed them to be more genuine. Having previously worked in the sales industry, they thought every interaction should get something out of someone. After quitting their jobs, they were able to have genuine conversations with people and no longer see them as a means to make money.

Stories of individuals across the country who have adopted a minimalist lifestyle, and preach a better quality of life because of it, are portrayed in the documentary. One woman spoke about Project 333, a goal to live three months with only 33 articles of clothing and accessories to her name. Others live in minimalist homes about the size of a typical bedroom. All these interviews occur while clips of America’s mass-consumption lifestyle are juxtaposed in the background. Videos of Black Friday frenzies and physical violence for retail goods open the audience’s eyes to our society’s obsession with material things.

The Minimalists conclude their story by leaving viewers with one message of hope: “Love people and use things, because the opposite never works.”

Featured film still from Minimalism directed by Matt D’vella

Student Life

How to become actively involved in the zero-waste movement

Quebec actress Mélissa de La Fontaine talked about her experience joining the movement

Quebec actress and environmental health advocate Mélissa de La Fontaine talked food waste and consumption during her Conférence Zéro Déchet on March 21 at Université de Montréal.

During the conference, which was held in French, de La Fontaine touched on her experiences living a zero-waste lifestyle and offered tips for people interested in joining the movement.
She talked about her experience moving from Shawinigan to Montreal, and how she started raising her awareness on environmental issues and the rising problem of food and material waste in Canada. She said through her activism, she wants to encourage all Montrealers to make better environmental decisions.
“You should all know that the garbage that we throw daily, it does not disappear. It ends up at landfill sites,” de La Fontaine said. According to de La Fontaine’s research, there are two ways these sites pollute our environment—many non-compostable materials, such as plastic produces methane and well-water. “Methane ends up in the air that we breathe, while well-water is a form of juice that garbage creates, which can end up in our oceans and deeply harm fish,” she said.

De La Fontaine propelled herself in the movement after reading environmental activist Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste. The book helped de La Fontaine become more educated on waste and environmental issues in Canada. The environmental advocate said she believes if everyone made small, regular contributions towards waste reduction in their own homes, it would do a lot of good for the planet. According to a 2016 Huffington Post article “Let’s Work Towards A Zero-Waste Future By Creating A Culture Of Reuse,” people throw out “an average of 4.7 trash bags of clothing every year,” which is equal to 2.6 billion pounds of garbage that goes into landfills per year.

“We do not need to count every piece of garbage we throw out, but rather all contribute according to our personal limits. We all have limits, so it’s not about going to extremes,” de La Fontaine said. She said following a minimalist lifestyle is a good way to reduce waste. When you live a minimalist lifestyle, you are dedicated to buying less and focusing on only necessities.

She outlined a four-step technique to limiting waste in urban households. The steps are refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling.

Refusing is about saying “no” to extra, unnecessary items. This includes trinkets organizations tend to give away at conferences. It also includes promotional cards and flyers distributed on the street, or “freebies,” as de La Fontaine called them. “You are telling the organizations to make more of these items, which causes an issue when they use petrol and energy to create them,” she said.

Reducing is about minimizing the purchase or use of household products, among others. Reducing not only saves money but also lowers the demand for certain products that harm the environment, but that also create pollution when they are manufactured.

Reusing is about utilizing items such as bags and containers. De La Fontaine suggested to buy reusable plastic containers and grocery bags that can last for many years and do not cause damage to our planet.

While de La Fontaine said recycling seems fairly self-explanatory, it’s important to do it correctly. Composting is one of the most important waste-reducing processes, she said. About 50 to 60 per cent of garbage being thrown out in Quebec is compostable, according to Statistics Canada.

“I would recommend composting things like fruit peels, which is very easy to do,” de La Fontaine said.

De La Fontaine said she hopes in the next five years, Canadians will start taking serious action towards environmental health, reducing waste and saving the environment from further pollution.

For those interested in finding out more about the zero-waste movement in North America, de La Fontaine highly recommends reading Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste.

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