Marie Kondo's the life changing magic of tidying up book with plant and picture in background

Inside: When Marie Kondo suggested how many books the average person should keep, homeschool parents everywhere (including me!) scoffed at the number. Years later, I not only agree with her number, but we’ve stopped buying books almost entirely. Here’s what changed.

At the end of last year, my youngest transitioned to chapter books. I never thought I’d be glad to see the end of picture books, but I guess after fourteen years of reading them, it happens.

Now we’re onto series like Ramona Quimby, The Princess and Black and 100 Things to Know, with the occasional new-to-us picture book thrown in.

Shortly into our chapter book adventures, I brought home the first book in The Kingdom of Wrenly series from the library. 

Her reaction surprised me though. She asked, “Can we buy it? Can we buy the whole series?!” We hadn’t even read a single page yet.

(This child seems determined to prove that just because your mom is a minimalist doesn’t mean you can’t be a maximalist and want to buy the things. Send help!)

I replied, “No. The library has it, so why would we need to buy it when we can borrow it whenever we want?”

And that mentality sums up our very odd policy on buying books – odd for a homeschool family, anyway: we usually don’t.

This Week’s Library Book Haul

5 Reasons We Stopped Buying Books (Even Though We Homeschool)

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Do you remember when the homeschool community went absolutely bonkers about Marie Kondo’s book decluttering recommendations?

If you weren’t around back then, here’s what she said:

“Ideally, keep less than 30 books.”

Marie Kondo

Even as a “Marie Kondo changed my life” fan girl, that number sounded ridiculously low to me when I heard it years ago.

Fast forward to today, and I’m 100% on board with that number. I counted our books last week: we own 233 books at this moment in time, just over 30 books per family member.

We accumulated most of them over the picture book years and during our early relaxed homeschool days. And of course, my husband and I have our own books we can’t seem to let go of.

Maybe we’re a unicorn in the homeschool world? We don’t have wall to wall bookshelves – just two small ones. 

I don’t frequent used book sales or shops, though I will often glance through the local Little Free Library offerings.

Today, we rarely buy books. Maybe 2-3 a year? And I regularly declutter our collection, so we remove as many as or more than we buy.

Are we horrible homeschool parents who hate reading? Nope. Do our kids hate reading? Not the last time I checked, no. 

Most of our kids love to read and to be read to. Our choice to stop buying books didn’t change that.

So why did we stop buying books? Here are five reasons that made sense to us.

Related: 5 Reasons NOT to Do the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge

1. Books aren’t cheap, and we’d rather spend our limited homeschool funds in other ways.

We all have limited homeschool dollars, especially today with crazy inflation!

I know, I know, you can buy books through eBay and thrift stores. They don’t need to cost an arm and a leg. 

But books are still pretty expensive if you’re only planning to read them once.

Things like classes and sports and board games are far more expensive. We choose to spend our homeschool budget on those things.  

And as everyone knows, homeschool families are usually sacrificing at least a little bit on the income front. Creative ways to save money are essential!

Related: How Much Does Unschooling Cost? Typical Expenses & How to Save

2. The library has books for free, and they get more funding the more books people check out.

DId you know that library funding is somewhat dependent on how much its patrons actually use the library?

The more books checked out annually, the more funding a library gets. So we choose to support our local library and check out more books.

We also purchase library memberships for libraries in other states with a bigger audiobook/Kindle collection than ours. Yes, you can do that (it costs around $50 a year).

bookshelf with glass doors and light blue painted shelves.
Our Second Downstairs Bookshelf

3. Kids respond differently to library books than books you own.

Our kids don’t really see books that we own. They’re just background to them.

(Or opportunities to rearrange them in color order, Home Edit style. Not exactly our goal as parents who hope our kids will love reading.)

When I bring home a bag of “new” books from the library? They’re novel, and there’s a sense of urgency to read them because we’ll need to return them eventually. 

We’ve checked out certain picture books over and over again. The second we own them? They lose at least 50% of their appeal.

Novelty wins – every time.

You Might Also Like: How to Declutter Books and Still Raise Readers

4. Most of our kids prefer audiobooks. 

My youngest two kids don’t read on their own yet. They listen to me read aloud to them.

For fiction books, two of my older three listen exclusively to audiobooks, unless I bring home something like a graphic novel or a comic book.

We borrow all of our audiobooks from libraries, except when Audible offers free book credits (we’ll take free!).

5. We transitioned to unschooling, giving our kids the freedom to decline book suggestions.

Pre-unschooling there was little choice. If I wanted to read a book during “morning time”, I would, and because my kids really didn’t have the option to decline, they listened (or did they?).

When I finally cut the last tie to relaxed homeschooling and transitioned fully to unschooling and they had a choice? They started exercising that choice.

Around the same time, we also transitioned to unlimited screen time. With the exception of car rides and bedtimes for the younger two kiddos, they can mostly use screens when they want to (and no, they don’t use them all day).

Now you might be thinking, “Oh, well of COURSE, they’re not interested in books and learning. You’ve ruined them with screens.”

Yeah, no. They still love learning! They simply prefer to access information through video format OR through googling a question and getting an answer.

So instead of reading a book full of facts about science, they will learn a ton of those same facts in Youtube shorts form (yes, their algorithm has tons of fun facts!). 

When I gave them the freedom to choose, I realized that my kids didn’t want to read many of the books we had on our shelves. And I could just as easily find books I think they might like at the library to “strew” with no money wasted if they didn’t.

Related: Considering Not Limiting Screen Time? 7 Guiding Principles for Parents

narrow black bookshelf filled with colorful books next to window, with globe on top of bookshelf.
Our Narrow “Home Edit” Book Shelf

5 Exceptions to Our “We Don’t Buy Books” Policy

As I said earlier, we buy 2-3 books a year. Which books make the cut?

Here are five reasons we buy (or keep) a book. 

1. We’re fairly confident a book will be read over and over again.

My fourth child spent two years straight asking me to read the Dog Man and Cat Kid series over and over and over again.

We definitely needed to have that series accessible for those two years because we went through them quickly and it was a crucial part of his bedtime routine.

The picture books we have on our shelves, we read over and over again for years and years. 

2. The library doesn’t have them (in which case, we buy them to read, then donate). 

Our small local library doesn’t have a huge budget, although because I’m a frequent patron, they will usually add my requests to the wishlist. 

They do have access to a library collective, and I can usually get the books I want with a bit of a wait. 

Occasionally, I will buy a book myself to fill a hole in their collection. 

Sometimes, I will buy a book because it’s not available anywhere else, and I know my kids will enjoy it, like THIS comic book from Awkward Yeti (not an affiliate link). Then we donate it.

3. I want them on hand for easy reference.

We keep a small shelf of reference books on hand. Titles like…

We pull them off the shelf occasionally, and I like having them accessible when I need them.

4. If I’m pretty sure I’ll read them with younger kids.

There are certain books that I know for sure I’ll read with my younger two kids (or one of the two, anyways). Those include…

  • Anything Mythology – Greek, Norse, Etc.
  • Anything by Rick Riordan (we only own his first series)
  • 100 Things to Know Series
  • The “I Am” Series

I hang onto Story of the World and THIS series on US history just in case one of my younger two children are interested one day. They’re not easy to get your hands on, and the library likely doesn’t have them.

5. We want to support a favorite author, friend/new author or bookstore. 

There’s something to be said about supporting your favorite authors and author friends.

One way to do that is by purchasing the books yourself. However, you could ask your local library to pre-order an upcoming new release.

I also frequent Barnes & Nobles to work, flip through books and just soak up the general atmosphere, and I would be so, so sad if they closed down!

So about once a month, I’ll make a purchase from them – sometimes books (usually to donate to the library)…but more often puzzles. 

My one purchase probably isn’t doing much, but hey, it’s something. 

colorful life the flap books and other books on narrow IKEA white wall shelves.
Book Wall in Our “Homeschool Room”

Bonus: I Keep Certain Books to Use as Art

I love colorful lift-the-flap books from Usborne. They decorate our “homeschool” room – reading room, game-playing room, second living room, whatever you want to call it. 

I plan on suggesting them to my youngest over time. She soaks up colorful non-fiction books, while my fourth child mostly declines for now (I’ll continue to offer them over time). 

But even if my kids never touch them again, I will likely keep them around for a while just because they’re so pretty! 

Would I buy them again? I’m not sure. I might buy them, read them, then donate them. Or I might request them at the library.

But because I had them on hand when we bought our house, I used them as decor. My kids don’t pull them off the shelf, like, EVER, unless I offer them.  

I Am book series on mantel next to plant
Occasionally, Overflow Moves to the Mantel (Especially If They’re Pretty!)

You Don’t Need to Buy Books to Homeschool

If you have a library card and internet access, you can homeschool.

You truly don’t need to buy books to instill a love of reading or a love of learning!

So if you’re finding that a good percentage of the books you buy are read only once or sit around unopened, maybe you can consider not buying books for a while?

You could use that money for new experiences, classes, art supplies – things you cannot borrow so easily.

And maybe you’ll eventually come to agree, like I did, that Marie Kondo was right about the books.

Read Next: Unschooling Versus Homeschooling – What’s the Difference?

Do you think we’re crazy? Do you have a similar mindset as we do about books? Share in the comments!


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  1. As I’ve decluttered – not to minimalism, but enough to function 🙂 – I have gotten rid of boxes and boxes of books. I still have what feels like a lot (I haven’t counted!) for our small house and it’s a lot of visual clutter, but I flip flop about how I feel about owning vs borrowing. I don’t buy books all that often any more, but I have trouble parting with those I already own. I, too, like to own my favorites and some for reference, and it’s hard to get five people to agree on which books those are! A small number of books have been about the only things I have ever regretted decluttering, and it’s not easy to spend money to replace them (and for the most part, I haven’t). Additionally, I have mixed feelings about current trends in publishing, especially in picture books; many newer ones simply lack a good story and are frankly boring, even if they are intending to fill previous voids in the genre. I want to keep those that are worth reading again and again for now and for the future so they’re not lost to time. I work two days a week at our local library and we are tied in with 28 libraries with a courier system, plus inter-library loan through the mail, so while our own small rural library isn’t much to browse, I can get my hands on literally any book I could want. It helps me to keep a small notebook where I can write my favorite titles we’ve borrowed so I don’t fear not being able to find something again. We use Hoopla heavily for audiobooks, and I have an audible membership for things I can’t get from the library. I like the idea of having fewer books just in order to free up space and reduce visual clutter, but achieving that is hard due to fear (I can’t stand it when I notice I’m being motivated by fear!) and the difficulty of getting family members to agree on which books to let go. We went through our books recently, and there was only a small pile everyone could agree to get rid of. How do you choose? How much input do your kids have in the process?

    1. Author

      I definitely check with the kids if I decide to get rid of books. If I expect a book series to come back around with younger kids, I keep it. Occasionally, I’ll feel a twinge of regret for getting rid of something, but then I remember I can always get it from Libby (Kindle library service).

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