Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Decluttering, Part 1 of 100 {Plain & Simple}

Decluttering is a subject that I could talk about forever! It is one of my favorite pastimes, not to mention my instinctual method of stress relief. Whenever I'm stressed, I will automatically start diving into cupboards and drawers and throwing things out. The more stressed I am, the more brutal is my treatment of our poor cupboards. And that's a good thing, because our family still has way too much stuff!

That being the case, I thought I'd put a few posts on the subject into this "Plain and Simple" series. There's a lot to say, but I'll do my best to keep it brief.

I'll share my basic principles and strategies of decluttering at a later date, but for the moment, I'd like to talk about one particular subject: decluttering children's books. 

I hear a collective *gasp* - "What do you mean? Get rid of BOOKS? Are you nuts?" 

Well, normally - no, I don't like to get rid of children's books. They're expensive to replace, and so very important in a child's life. I always want to have good collections of books for every age group - a truth evidenced by the fact that at least three walls of our home are completely covered in bookcases!

But lately I'd noticed that our collection of books for young children had become so crammed and cramped that it was difficult to get books off the shelf. In fact, the sheer volume of our books was keeping our kids from reading those books because they were so difficult to access!

It was definitely time to pare down. 

But what to get rid of? I ended up going through our collection three or four times, getting rid of more each time. And here are the types of books that ended up getting the axe:

Books that teach bad words or attitudes - There are certain words that we don't allow in our home, even though they're often found in children's books. And there are lots of books out there that (intentionally or no) teach really bad attitudes - and kids easily pick those things up from the example in books or film. For example, we found that "Thomas the Tank Engine" materials were very problematic in the horrible attitudes and conversations that they modeled (a lot of name-calling, poor attitudes, rude statements, etc.). I gladly tossed all of those books! There's enough of a challenge in parenting without intentionally importing materials that teach bad behaviors.

Poor quality books - There are two seemingly contradictory truths in children's literature: (1) It is very difficult to get published as a children's author, but (2) There is a plethora of really poor quality children's literature on the market. How those two truths intersect is beyond me, but it's true - there are just a lot of books out there that aren't worth our family's time. Almost any book from the grocery store or dollar store falls into this category, as well as plenty of others.

Books about kids' TV characters - I sometimes question whether or not these books actually have human intelligence behind them - they are so bad. It's incredible. Besides horrible art and non-existent storylines, they are usually marketing shows and products, and creating desires for more and more TV viewing - never good. Some book series are mixed - the original series by the original author (like "Clifford" or "The Magic School Bus") can be good, but the books which were made from the TV shows are mediocre at best, and often plain awful.

Bad quality Christian books - There are great Christian books out there for kids, but like secular books, some can be just awful. I got rid of one such book that I've been meaning to read to the kids for years, but just couldn't stomach the poor quality.

Good books that are never read  - There are some books out there that are decent quality but are simply never read. Examples: Lots of ABC books, or collections of poems and prayers for infants, etc. They're cute, but there's no point in giving up needed space to keep unread books.

Books I've never liked! - My mom saved nearly every book from my childhood. While I'm grateful for this, she also saved (unknowingly) all of the books that I never liked, as well as the books which scared me to death. (You remember those books? The ones that made you shiver, and which you hid at the back of the bookshelf so that you wouldn't have to see them?) I still give an involuntary shudder when I see some of those books. Then it hit me - why am I keeping books that I never read to the kids, and which still freak me out? Bye-bye, scary books! What a freeing thing to see those go out the door to Goodwill!

Books that are easily available - If we can easily get the book from the library, and it's not a beloved classic or good quality book that we want to have in our collection, then out the door it goes. Children's informational books are often in this category, especially the less-than-stellar ones.

Books handed out at events - Coloring books from the fire station, books from fast-food restaurants, poor-quality informational books given at events... Goodbye!

Educational books - School-type readers and uninteresting "informational" books. Like educational toys, they get the axe.

Gross books - I have no idea why, but some authors seem to think it's actually a good idea to write gross-out books for kids. Things like "What's In Your Nose" or other wonderful topics. These go straight into the trash, as I have no desire to curse other parents by passing them on. Ditto to any books with inappropriate topics, language, or writing of any sort.

Now that I've gotten rid of several boxes of books, we have a bit of breathing room on our shelves, the children are enjoying pulling books out and reading them, and our collection is much more sane and manageable.

How do you handle children's books?

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