Inside: Decluttering books when you have kids gets complicated fast, mostly due to six common concerns parents have about how owning fewer books will impact their kids. I’ll show you how to declutter books without fear or guilt.
Oh, books. How hard it is to get rid of thee! Next to decluttering sentimental items, I think decluttering books is the most difficult decluttering category ever. Because it is so difficult to declutter books, many people put it off to the very end of their decluttering process.
Not only is it hard to decide what books to keep and what books to give away, the sheer amount of time it takes to go through every single book in your library can be quite extensive! (Most people who struggle with decluttering books are book lovers and have A LOT of books.)
That difficulty multiplies about a hundred times when you have kids. But it’s not impossible!
If I can do it as a homeschooling mom of four (homeschoolers are notorious book hoarders), so can you. I’ll put all your [very normal] parenting fears to rest and give you the questions you need to declutter books with confidence.
How to Declutter Books without Fear or Guilt
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I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you are a parent who loves your child(ren) more than anything in the whole world. You want to give your child every possible chance to succeed in life.
And if you’ve done any reading about parenting and education (which you probably have), you’ve heard statistics like these (source):
- A direct correlation exists between the number of books in a child’s home and a child’s language development and ability, as well as academic achievement and even career success.
- Children in families with a home library of 500 books or more experience significantly greater educational success.
If you’re a parent who wants your child to succeed, and you hear stats like that? When someone mentions decluttering books, you FREAK OUT.
No way, no how, am I decluttering one. Single. Book!
“If I get rid of any of our books, my kids will never love reading, they’ll flounder in school, they’ll never get a job, they’ll fail at life, and I’ll have essentially ruined any chances they have to succeed at anything ever!!!!”
After you take a deeeeeep breath, I want to encourage you that you don’t need to drown in book clutter for your children’s sake. You can declutter books and raise kids who love to read.
You really can do both: promise. Those concepts are not mutually exclusive, no matter how much the statistics scream at you that they are.
I am going to use a unique approach to help you declutter books, unique because first, I’m going to walk you through the unique obstacles parents face when trying to declutter books. I am going to challenge the statistics and give you solid answers to declutter your books without fear.
6 Common Obstacles Parents Face When Decluttering Books (and how to overcome them)
1. Our kids won’t be readers unless we own a million books.
My kids love books, yet we own far fewer than the average family (especially homeschooling family). How can that be?
They see me reading physical books.
They know their dad listens to audiobooks constantly.
We go to the library at least once a week, sometimes more frequently.
I read aloud to them every day.
I talk about books I’m excited to read to them.
We give them a few books of their own that are their very favorites.
You do NOT need to have a hundred books in your home to raise readers. I believe the more important statistic is how much you as a parent value reading.
If you value reading, your kids see you reading, and you read to them regularly, you’re good.
2. If I declutter our books, my kids will think I don’t love and value books.
…and then they won’t love reading, they won’t succeed educationally, they won’t…
Yes, I know: everything goes back to the statistics.
I would counter this fear by suggesting that when you declutter your books, you are actually showing them the opposite. As I emphasize in this post about decluttering on a low income, getting rid of things makes what you have left even more precious.
If you involve your kids in the decluttering process, or at least make them aware of what’s happening, they will see that you are considering each item with careful thought.
This is especially true when we declutter our books. Book lovers tend to take an especially long time to decide which books are worth keeping, worth packing up and moving from house to house, worth taking up that precious shelf space.
The books that are left? Those are the ones that are truly valuable to us.
Does it mean that all the books we give away are worthless? No. Obviously, at one point in our life they had value, enough value for us to spend our hard-earned money on them. They might have even been favorites for a long, long time.
Getting rid of books means it’s time for those books to:
- take someone else on an adventure
- make someone else laugh
- bring someone else comfort
- teach someone else the knowledge on its pages
- thrill someone else with its gripping plot
We are giving them away so that someone else can experience the joy we did from reading it or pass it on to someone else who will appreciate it when we didn’t. It’s one or the other.
Both reasons are wins.
Whatever books remain are even more valuable than before.
3. If I declutter that many books, our bookshelves will be bare.
Now, I live in less than 1200 square feet with four kids and an introvert husband. I don’t exactly have this problem.
But you might.
A major part of the decluttering process is learning how to be o.k. with empty space. When you go from every square inch occupied by knick knacks, books, décor, stuff stuff stuff, to clear counters and wide open spaces, the change can be disconcerting.
As humans (or maybe just Americans?), we almost instinctively fill empty space with stuff. When you move to a bigger house, it’s amazing how stuff just creeps into every crack and crevice, if you’re not careful.
Why? Empty space makes us uncomfortable.
One aspiring minimalist made this observation when attempting to explain her own discomfort with empty spaces:
We focus too much on what’s not there, instead of what is.”
This same minimalist decided to look beyond the empty space, the discontent with her new lack of options. She chose to focus instead on the freedom that minimalism brings.
When we own less stuff (books included), we:
- spend less time cleaning and organizing our stuff
- potentially have more money to pay off debt, save, and spend on things we value
- more space in our homes to be, play, and entertain others
Her final encouragement on blank spaces is inspiring:
Those blank spaces might feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but just as a child requiring glasses needs to adapt to wearing them in order to have improved vision, we too will adapt, and then, will be able to see with more clarity than ever before. Don’t see the emptiness in your blank spaces, see the possibilities (source).”
One of our jobs as minimalist parents is to teach our kids to be comfortable with empty space. Not every bookshelf needs to be filled, not every surface covered in stuff.
Empty space is a good thing.
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4. I hate e-readers. Nothing compares with holding a real book in your hand, especially for kids.
One way minimalists avoid book clutter is to buy or borrow e-books. E-books frequently go on sale on Amazon, and especially if you follow bloggers who share book deals, you can build up quite the collection.
While e-books are convenient and can be read of any device (not just a kindle), I agree with you: nothing compares to the experience of reading a physical book, especially for young children.
I will say that I’m learning to adjust. Being a mom with her hands full, I love having access to the free kindle app on my phone. I can read a few pages standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or sitting on a bench at the park.
I haven’t introduced my kids to e-books yet. Perhaps in a few years?
Audiobooks are our jam. We borrow so many audiobooks from the library! I can’t begin to imagine owning all the titles we’ve borrowed.
Basically, I love physical books, too. I hear you. And that’s why we love our library. We are pretty much keeping them in business with the number of books we have out on a consistent basis (well over one hundred – we don’t have a limit)!
5. If I get rid of this book, I’ll forget to share it with my kids.
As a parent and a book lover myself, there are so many books I want to remember to share with my kids. When we keep books on our shelves, it is super easy to remember that we want to read them to our kids one day!
But are you really going to keep that one book on your shelf for ten years, until your child is old enough to appreciate it? Heck, no!
Decluttering books means we are going to need to go the extra mile to remember what books we want to share with them one day.
Now unless you’re one of those superhero parents whose brain cells are all still intact and working on a regular basis (especially the memory ones), you will probably need some kind of system to keep track of the books you want to read with your kids. I use my bullet journal, but you could keep a simple Word document.
6. This book was so meaningful to me. Even though I probably won’t read it again, I just can’t part with it.
O.k., so this last one isn’t specific to parents. We all have trouble giving away books that were meaningful to us, even if we know we will never use it again.
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I sure I will never read this again?” I used to own several books I reread until the pages were torn and faded. I read them so frequently that I thought surely I’ll read this again. Back on the shelf it went.
But the times between readings grew longer and longer. Eventually, I ran out of excuses. I knew I was “done” with the book. But giving it away felt like getting rid of a close friend.
Here are a few ways to make giving away cherished books easier:
- Give it to a reader friend to enjoy.
- Take a moment to remember what it meant to you.
- Write down any favorite quotes in your bullet journal.
- Keep a book list of favorites.
- Give it to your local library (if it’s not too beat up).
- Ask your local library to purchase a copy, so you know it will be there if you need it again.
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How to Declutter Books : 6 Helpful Questions
As you start to declutter your books, try using these questions to guide you as you make decisions about each book.
1. Will we really read this book again?
Being honest about this one can be tough, especially depending on your personality. I am a re-reader by nature. I would much rather read an old favorite than pick up a new novel I’m not sure will be worth my time.
But even I can only read a book so many times. Two of my favorites (Gone with the Wind and Christy) I had reread countless times. They survived multiple rounds of decluttering.
However, I started to realize that I started reaching for them less and less. Eventually, when it came to declutter books again, I knew it was time to let them go.
Their covers and pages were so torn and faded, they weren’t even library or yard sale worthy. I finally recycled them, knowing that they had served their purpose in my life many times over.
Bottom line: be honest with yourself.
2. Does this book support my parenting goals for my kids?
This question was inspired by this amazing post that presented a unique and helpful decluttering question (one I’d never heard before).
For example, one of our parenting goals is to raise globally-minded kids. Not only does this mean we have maps and globes in most rooms of our house, we also invest in big, beautiful map books (like this one – SO beautifully illustrated!).
What goals do you have for your kids? What do you want them to know and love? You might consider keeping books that are specific to your parenting goals.
3. Do we have a well-rounded selection of books for kids of all ages?
Because we have a big family and we homeschool, I try to intentionally keep books that work at different ages and stages. We have a few board books, some early readers, older classics, early chapter books, more advanced chapter books, and as I mentioned, big and beautiful reference books.
4. Does anyone in our family love this book?
The tricky thing about families is the more people there are, the more opinions there will be, especially about stuff. As your kids grow, their interests and hobbies will require stuff that you don’t necessarily love, but respecting their different tastes and interests is extremely important to how your kids view minimalism later on as adults. If your child verbally expresses love for a specific book, I would think long and hard before decluttering it.
5. Will it be too expensive to replace this book should we need it in the future?
My husband has biblical commentaries and reference books from his days as a pastor that are difficult to acquire and expensive to replace. He hasn’t used them in a few years now, but should he ever return to preaching in any capacity, he would need them.
6. Can we get this book at the library if we need it?
If we don’t need a book on a regular basis, and I know our local library has a copy (you can request that they buy a copy, if not), it’s easier to declutter that book.
Better yet, I try to donate our books to the library, so I am even more certain it will be there if/when we need it again!
After Decluttering Books: How to Decide on Future Book Purchases
As a general rule, we only buy new books for three reasons:
- It’s a beautiful reference book that will be used regularly in our homeschool.
- We cannot get it at the local library.
- It supports interest-driven learning (and it’s a longer-term interest).
Much of this is based on our limited space and budget. That being said, we also love living frugally and use our local library to the max.
If you love reading new releases, you might purchase books far more often than we do. However, let go of the mentality that you need to keep it just because you spent money on it.
When you’re done reading it, unless you are certain you will read it again, pass it on to a friend or donate it to the library.
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The Most Important Factor in Raising Readers (that has nothing to do with the number of books in your library)
I have a secret for you: our own home library? Less than 200 books. That includes a bin of books we haven’t touched in two years (but my non-minimalist husband won’t let me get rid of).
My kids still love reading.
I do believe that having a small home library is not only nice, but important (though not absolutely essential) to raising readers.
Far more important is the reading activity currently going on in your house: how much you read as parents and how much you read to your kids.
Do you love to read? Do your kids know it?
Do you read aloud to your kids on a regular basis?
Then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. If you’re doing all those things, you are doing a great job raising readers.
Go ahead, and declutter those books fear-free and guilt-free! I am 99% sure you won’t regret it.