Kara C White
A Little Less to Have More (Kid Books)
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
Just about any parent who has tried to declutter a room crowded with kid toys knows there's no fury greater than a child who's been asked to get rid of a broken, five-year-old, plastic party favor. A toy that a child hasn't touched or even seen for months is suddenly her or his most prized possession. It can be frustrating for parents who just want to instill a little order in a child's bedroom or closet. It can be tempting to simply make some toys disappear when the child isn't watching in hopes that she or he never notices they're gone. I admit that nearly every whistle that has ever entered our home has vanished under "mysterious circumstances" within days. I, of course, know nothing about this....
We've had similar trouble trying to declutter the bookshelves in my children's bedrooms. I love giving them an abundant home library, but the shelves were so tightly packed it was becoming difficult to get books in or out. Often the kids left books lying on top of the shelved books. A few were stacked on the floor. The shelves were not inviting to look at anymore. Their collections still included worn out board books from their toddler years and "just starting to read" books that were now far below their abilities or interests. It was time to have a little less in order to make way for more.
I wrote a few weeks ago about the benefits and even necessity of weeding your book collections every now and then (you can read that post here). The same ideas apply to your children's book collections. A curated shelf will serve their needs better and help save your sanity. While you may think it would be better to go through and declutter their book shelves by yourself, without their pleas not to get rid of a single one, I strongly suggest that your kids should be involved.
Here's the process that worked for us. First, I asked my older child to pick books from his room that he was done with so we could move them to his younger sister's shelves. These were easier for him to part with because the books weren't leaving the house, only going down the hall. He could keep old favorites on his shelves and books he read frequently, but also had to leave room for new books in the future.
The harder job was in my youngest's room, where books had been piling up since her toddler and baby years. We went through them one by one and sorted books into four groups.
Books we would absolutely, 100% keep on her bookshelves. This included books newly arrived from her brother's room, her current chapter book reads, and favorite picture books. A couple of board books still made this pile.
Books we would absolutely, 100% donate. This included books we could admit none of us had ever really enjoyed, books both kids had outgrown, and books we were simply willing to share.
Books we agreed to keep-- but store. This pile included the books with high sentimental value and the fondest memories, but books they didn't need access to all the time. Some were a bit tattered, but well loved. A few books were actually from my childhood, a few were treasures of bedtime when the kids were tiny, and a few were just too fun to purge.
Books we decided to read one more time. This was actually the most important pile. Books we weren't quite sure what to do with were set aside for us to enjoy together as read alouds, but then a final decision had to be made. Both my kids sat and listened to stories and picture books they hadn't heard in months or even years. We laughed in all the right places. Then most of these books went into the donation box. A few went into the keep-in-storage box. A couple even found a place back on the shelves. However, giving them the chance to enjoy these outgrown books one more time helped them to literally and figuratively "close the book" on these titles and an earlier chapter in their young lives.
(Books Boxed Up and Ready for Storage)
Yes, there were a few disagreements along the way, and I had to coax them to give up a few books that were battered and torn beyond use. It might have been easier and quicker if I had just done it myself, but I'd like to think the process was as important as the end result. I want to instill in my children that you have to make way for what's new by letting go of what's past. Besides, the best stories stay with us long after the book leaves the shelves so they're never really gone. I want them to know donating those books lets them share these stories with others, particularly kids who may not have the easy access to books that my children enjoy.
You may be thinking that this would never work in your family because your kids won't be able to make these kinds of decisions or will insist on keeping each and every one. I say you should give it a try. They may surprise you. And if they aren't willing to part with as many books as you'd like, you can always try again in a few weeks or months. In the end, helping them learn to curate their own collections will make them more discerning readers because they'll be able to consider and answer questions about why they like a particular book or author or what memories associated with a book earn it a place on their shelves.
Plus, if you get the chance to read aloud a few old books from those early years with your children one more time, it's worth it. Trust me. Best wishes for further reading!