Kobo’s Communications Coordinator on his move toward minimalism

by Ben Landau

Three months ago, my girlfriend and I moved into a gorgeous (but tiny) 500 square-foot flat.

The smaller space meant tough decisions: do I really need to keep that novelty singing fish plaque? Is this grade nine baseball jersey (now, several sizes too small) truly worthy of my valuable closet space? And what to do with my vast personal library — an unruly collection gathered over two postsecondary degrees, four countries of residence and an entire childhood obsessed with the Hardy Boys?

When I first made the decision to ditch the roommates and downsize, it all seemed so easy. I’d throw my stuff into boxes, put those boxes into a van and transfer everything three blocks over to begin my new life.

Then I read a book…

On recommendation from a colleague, I picked up a copy of Marie Kondo’s now massively popular manifesto on the merits of minimizing. You may have heard of it.

Fully in control of my surroundings for the first time, I asked myself a simple question: how do I want to live with my things?

As a booklover of the highest order, I knew I wanted to surround myself with books and magazines in my new home. “Only the ones that really ‘spark joy’”, though, I promised myself. Nothing to dilute the personal power of the collection.

Eight boxes of books became a single colour-coded shelf above my bedroom dresser.

Seldom have I felt freer…

Making the cut were my copies of Kinfolk, Lucky Peach and some particularly prized issues of The New Yorker. I love the way these issues of Kinfolk look on my antique bedside table, so I’ve left them there indefinitely.

Functionality and beauty. Entertainment and decoration. The books in our space are constantly in use — even when closed.

As an employee at Kobo, there are endless opportunities to pick up advanced reading copies of the best and buzziest new books — a perk that can lead to some major hoarding if I don’t keep my inner-book bandit in check. For that reason, I try to only bring home books from authors I’ve met or shared a moment with.

Dan Rubinstein and Tom Vanderbilt are responsible for two of my favourite nonfiction books of the year. They both dropped by the office recently to give fascinating talks on their areas of expertise.

When I find a book I really can’t put down like Debris by Kevin Hardcastle, I need to have it on my eReader so I can dip into the story whenever I have a free second (on the subway, in the supermarket, wherever) Nominated for Kobo’s 2016 Emerging Writer Prize for literary fiction, Debris is a book of short stories that unflinchingly explore the lives of those who exist on the fringes of society, unveiling the blood and guts and beauty of life in Canada’s flyover regions. I highly recommend it.

I use this neat little vintage magazine rack as another bookshelf. In my very minimal living room, it gives the space a much needed pop of colour.

My current obsession: local graphic novelists. There’s something about the re-readability of good graphic novels that makes them impossible for me to part with.

When I’m reading a long story like Jonathan Franzen’s Purity (or anything by Franzen really), I like that I can hide the progress bar at the bottom of the device and not know when the story will end. Without the physical marker of pages, I can really get immersed, avoiding that approaching-the-end-of-great-book depression for as long as possible.

Speaking of immersive reads… Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is every bit as brilliant as hoped. I got it in both formats a few months ago and have no regrets.

Minimizing your life isn’t about getting rid of everything you like. It’s about discovering what makes you most happy and removing the things you don’t want or need. I love that I can read on my Kobo at night without waking my partner or travel Europe with 2,000 books in my back pocket, but print books are a big part of my reading life as well. It’s why I surround myself with both.

Why not have your cake and eat it too?