girl in yellow jacket sitting and reading beside man in blue long sleeves

Ask the organizer: beloved children’s books

“What does one do with the boxes of wonderful old books that your kids loved and enjoyed and that are SO hard to toss? Do I save them on the outside chance that there will be grandchildren one day? Or?”

Such a great question, and one I hear quite often. Those velveteen rabbits of books are often not in the best shape. Years of reading and rereading have torn their pages and loosened their spines. Sometimes the covers hang by a thread or they’ve been taped. The books are smudged all over with tiny fingerprints and decorated with grape juice stains. Will Goodwill take them or will they be deemed too worn out to sell and pass on the magic?

Objectively, if they’re too beat-up to donate, they’ve served their purpose and can be laid to rest in the recycling bin or the trash. But we humans anthropomorphize our things, and the thought of consigning these treasures to the bin probably has you reaching for your phone to me know exactly what kind of cold-blooded reptile of an organizer you think I am.

Hear me out

I know the books feel like friends. They’re so familiar and just the sight of Goodnight Moon can make you feel like you’re right there, tucked into the comfy chair reading with your child again. Missing those happy days can make you want to recreate them.

And if you have a handful, why not? They don’t take up much space in a sentiment box or on a shelf and they can bring a smile to your face when you come across them.

READ MORE >>> What to do with sentimental clutter

But when you have boxes and boxes of these old books and the grandchildren are yet to come, consider going through the boxes one more time and pulling out the top five or so. Keep the ones that you loved reading, that your kids always asked for, but narrow it down to a manageable few. Five or less.

How to remember

Now make a list of all the others, the ones that didn’t make this final cut but you still enjoyed. It can be all fancy on a spreadsheet or you can jot it down on the back of an envelope. Names, titles, ISBN numbers if you feel like it.

Now your brain knows you could easily get those books again if you ever wanted to.

Which frees you to let them go now, and discover the next generation’s favorites with them when the time comes.

READ MORE >>> Three games to help you declutter books

READ MORE >>> Best places to donate

Read them one more time

If you want to keep them because you loved reading them aloud, your challenge is to find some children to read to. Library story times are good, so are neighboring kids whose parents who would love a few minutes to themselves while you read to their kids.

Oh, and depending on your point of view, these books aren’t actually yours anyway. Ask your kids if they want to keep any of their old books, and let them carry the memories forward themselves. If they don’t want them, full permission to claim your top five and tuck them away in your sentiment box.

by Lucy Kelly


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24 comments

    1. It’s so interesting how we all have our different favorites. My kids read the Boynton books but didn’t really connect that much with them. The Berenstain Bears series (the originals) were read endlessly though!

  1. Lucy, I love this piece. Books are like friends – good friends to be sure. I wish I had done as you suggest when I was packing up my children’s books. I donated many to a daycare center and others to a children’s library. I kept some of my favorites but truly not that many. At the beginning of the lockdown, I read to my granddaughter through the Portal. I was happy that I had a few books on hand.

    1. Oh, great idea, Diane. I’m sure day care centers and children’s libraries both welcomed those books with open arms. Reading through the portal is a sweet compromise and I’m so glad you can read in person now.

  2. This post is so heartwarming. I’m glad you put in the bit about asking the children if they want to keep the books! Letting them know you’re doing a purge is important, or they could come to your house to find a treasured item missing. Keeping a list of the books you donate/give away is a great idea, too. Unless you have a rare book or a signed copy, getting classic children’s books again is very straightforward.

    1. Yes, the internet has changed everything. It used to be that if something was gone, it could be difficult to immediately replace. Now most things are a click away.

      And yes, great reminder that it’s never okay to donate someone else’s stuff.

  3. Oh. How I loved reading to my two sons. Some of my best memories are of settling in and reading together after they were fed, bathed, and ready for bed. I have a few favorites and now that I tutor children (reading stories to them) I enjoy reading many of these books again and again.

    Like Linda Samuels, I have saved room on my shelves for new books and room in my heart too. Children’s books are the best. It’s worth noting that they have served me well reading to seniors too.

    BTW, This is a lovely post and the comments are especially enjoyable as well.

    1. There’s something about reading to someone else, isn’t there? I love the reminder that we can read to seniors too. To come full circle and have my children read to me when I’m older seems like a dream for our lives come true.

      The comments are where the magic is for sure. Thanks for joining the conversation, as Linda says!

  4. As many books as I’ve helped clients downsize, and as many as I’ve helped sort through at Friends of the Library in preparation for our used book sales, and as many as I’ve looked up to see if they were worth “real money” (they mostly aren’t), I still have some at home that are hard for me to part with. (Please keep in mind the library has to PAY to recycle old, beat up books they can’t sell.) But I had three little brothers, so the little kids’ books are long worn out and gone, and the ones I do have left are by no means a full collection. The My Book House set I saved for my oldest younger brother’s kids never did have kids. It might be time to let them go….but I’ve said that before…but it might really be this time….

    1. I like to think of the book as sort of waking up, excited to be read again and brushing off the dust from the box or the shelf it’s been slumbering on for so long. I probably got that image from a children’s book.

  5. I still have books from my childhood and my mother’s. At one time I probably would have said I was saving them for my grandchildren, but so far I haven’t been able to part with them. It’s now or never – they won’t be little for long!

  6. All of my childhood books are still in my Mom’s house. On the plus side, they’re all in almost pristine condition (except for one I recall putting all the stickers I could find on the cover so people would be sure to know it was mine!). On the downside, there won’t be any grandchildren in our family. I’ve brought three or four of my favorites — Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Big Cleanup (about organizing!), Corduroy — back with me over the last few years, and I’m sure I’ll grab my Disney version of the Little Golden Book Cinderella the next time. But the rest, even the one with the stickers, really should go to a little person who loves books. I’ve even written about donating books, but yes, letting go of one’s kids’ childhoods (or one’s own) is hard. Thanks for these important reminders.

  7. My children have always loved reading and being read to so we have accumulated quite the collection. I really appreciated this post! When you have an emotional attachment to things it makes it so much harder to think clearly about how to pick and choose. And I loved the Velveteen Rabbit reference! One of my childhood favorites. 🙂

    1. Oh yes, emotional attachment makes all these sort of decisions feel charged with anxiety. What if we make the wrong decision? We would handle it, but that’s hard to remember when we’re looking at something we’ve imbued with such meaning and importance.

  8. In our area, the children’s hospital will take gently used books for kids who are undergoing chemotherapy or long term diseases. Thanks for talking about children’s books. I love to pass the loved books forward to others who will enjoy them.

  9. Books are like old friends. And we treasure those friendships. However, unlike people, not all books physically make it through the test of time. We loved reading with our kids and did so from the day they were born. I have such sweet memories of snuggling and reading together- first we’d read to them. And as they were able, they read to us. We kept some- a small collection of favorites (that are still in good shape,) for someday when there might be grandkids. But I also understand that there will be new favorites when the time comes, so I’m making space on my shelves and heart for those too.

    I love your creative ideas for giving books another life.

  10. I had a ton of children’s books. I know I want some for grandchildren, and was willing to allocate some space for them, but I couldn’t decide which ones to keep. Ignoring the problem sort of helped, oddly enough. When my older girls were home last summer, I asked them to look through and pick the ones they liked the best. I figured the ones they remembered were the ones they would most want to read to their kids. For now, this has worked. If I have to downsize, I’ll have to get rid of more (at which time maybe I’ll have them come back and do the deciding again!).

    1. That’s such a smart strategy. I like how clear you are about the books belonging to your kids. For me, there’s always a pull towards my own memories of reading favorites and wanting to recreate that with future grandchildren. But that’s a lot of “ifs”. If I have grandchildren. If they like the same books. If I’m able to live close enough to them to recreate those memories without Zoom.

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