Do You Tsundoku? Beware If You’re a Book Lover

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Alicia Macias)

Hoarding is more like a spectrum than a binary classification, and most of us fall somewhere between KonMari and get this person a TLC special. In fact, collecting needless things is such a common human experience that the Japanese have developed a very specific word for my particular favorite flavor: hoarding books.

Yep, it’s true: The Japanese word “tsundoku” originated as a slang term to define the habit of buying books and letting them pile up without reading them. You might use it to explain to friends why you can’t stop filling up Amazon cart after Amazon cart with titles you can’t possibly have enough time to read, or why you feel OK about buying books by the foot to fill an empty bookshelf.

According to Wikipedia, tsundoku (tsoon-doh-koo) is a portmanteau that comes from the Japanese words for piling things up for later—”tsunde-oku”—and the word for reading books—”dokusho.”

Chances are, you feel one of two ways about this new linguistic information: Either you can’t possibly believe that it’s possible to own too many books, in which case, carry on with your bad self. OR, you’re facing the sudden realization that you, too, suffer from tsundoku.

If you have a tsundoku problem, there are more than a few ways to complete book hoarder rehab:

  • Purge and Conquer: It’s certainly the cold turkey way to go about this, but the best way to handle an unread book problem is to sort through your collection and donate these unread books to people who will savor each word and give them the attention they deserve.
  • Organize: If your book-piling problem is more about the piles than the books, good news: Getting that under control is easy. Get thee a brand new bookshelf and decide how you want to sort ’em.
  • Go Digital: Collections need not take up a ton of space. If the thought of cutting off your tsundoku habit gives you the shakes, you can still hoard hundreds—thousands!, millions!— of books and magazines without taking over your home. A $10 subscription to Texture will give you digital access to all the magazines, and something like Kindle Unlimited can take care of the books.