How to Declutter Kids Books (Once and for All)

Overwhelmed by your children’s books? Here’s how to know if it’s time to downsize your collection, plus my simple process to declutter our own kids’ books.

What is it about books that make us feel like we can never have enough? Is it a love for literature? Or the underlying idea that books are good, so more must be better? 

When it comes to children’s books, I’ll be the first to admit I have hoarding tendencies. I’m a sucker for beautiful illustrations, imaginative plots, and just how easy they are to add to my Amazon cart. 

Over the last year, I’ve tried hard to buy significantly fewer books for the kids. Making frequent trips to the library has been instrumental in my success and has helped me avoid numerous impulse book purchases on Amazon. The kids love it because having a shelf of rotating titles keeps things fresh, plus it teaches them the all-important lesson of borrowing and returning, and the importance of taking good care of the books in our possession.

But it recently occurred to me our collection of kids books had gotten out of control. 

Pile of children's books in a wooden bin

Exhibit A: Floating shelf overload and books spilling out of bins.

If I’m honest, when our book collection starts looking like this, it isn’t because the kids are reading them. Nope. They are using them as imaginary shields, as stepping stones to hop over hot lava, and stacking them into towers to topple over. 

The irony in all this is, when it’s time to read together, the kids and I tend to grab the same books time and again: Corduroy, Curious George, Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site — and maybe a dozen others.

As mundane as this might be, reading the same book repeatedly has big-time literacy benefits for little ones. Additionally, the benefits of reading with your child —including improving literacy skills, nurturing a love of reading, expanding worldview and more— lies in the ritual, not the number of books you own. 

Knowing this, I grabbed a box and decided to declutter our collection while our two toddlers napped the other weekend. 

#badmommy I know, but here’s how I did it.

How We Declutter Kids Books

For me, decluttering starts with getting some quick wins under my belt.

I pull everything out, donate the duplicates and purge the books the hubs and I don’t enjoy reading — which usually have little substance. Call me mean but ain’t nobody around here got time to read books they don’t enjoy. 

Then I sort what books remain into three piles:

  • Keep
  • Unsure
  • Give away

The first time around my “unsure” pile is usually pretty big — which is fine because I’m able to maintain momentum without getting hung up on one tricky title.

Here are some questions I ask myself during the book decluttering process that helps guide my decision on what books are worth keeping and what we can live without: 

Do we all enjoy reading this book? If no, I give it the heave-ho. Books read as a family should be enjoyed by everyone — doesn’t matter how old or young you are. 

How often do we read this book? Frequently read books are keepers. Books that are rarely or never read usually go.

Is it available at the library? Knowing we can borrow a particular book from the library makes it way easier to part with.

Does this book have sentimental value? I probably struggle with this question the most when minimizing anything at home, including my wardrobe. First I ask myself why it’s sentimental. If it’s a one-of-a-kind book that I cherish, I keep it. If it’s a book we’ve been holding onto purely because it was a gift —not because it adds value to our lives— I let it go. 

After a few rounds, I have two piles: a smaller, more manageable pile of books we love reading together, and a big box of books to donate.

two bins of organized kids books

The first time I decluttered our kids’ books we parted ways with over one hundred titles — some were duplicates, some were falling apart at the seams, but the majority were crap children’s books no one even enjoyed reading. 

I’m happy to say, so far, not one book we’ve parted ways with has been missed — but should that day come we’ll be borrowing instead of buying this time around.

Thinking about simplifying your kiddos’ book collection? 

Here are 5 signs it might be time to declutter your kids’ books:

  1. Your kids’ books are abused more than they are read.
  2. They’re taking over certain spaces in your home.
  3. You spend more than a minute or two tidying your kids’ books every night. 
  4. You’re able to borrow many of the titles you own from your local library. 
  5. There are numerous books you don’t enjoy reading with your kids.

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Author: Elle Penner M.P.H., R.D.

I'm Elle, Registered Dietitian and minimalism-obsessed mama with a thing for simplifying, particularly when it comes to clutter, calendars, and family meals. Favorite things include carbs, cooking, kid-free workouts, and high-waisted yoga pants.

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