How Decluttering My Son’s Books Brought Me to My Knees

by Katy on November 28, 2012 · 42 comments

I consider myself to be a bit of an expert in decluttering. I am ruthless with my own belongings, and not to brag, (okay, I’m totally bragging) but I’m extremely efficient when it comes to helping other people declutter their homes.

  • Books I’ve finished reading? Pass them along to a friend, sell them or even post them as blog giveaways.
  • Clothing I no longer wear? Consignment shop or Goodwill.
  • Children’s toys? Hand down to new kids, consignment shops or Goodwill.
  • Bulky household items? Put them on the curb with a “Free” sign.
  • Duplicate kitchen implements? Goodwill, Goodwill, Goodwill.

I am a well-oiled decluttering machine.

So it took me by surprise when I experienced a overwhelming pang of nostalgia when going through my son’s juvenile fiction. Books that I had lovingly read aloud, page by page, snuggled in bed together. Always being begged for “One more chapter, please . . . ”

Just writing that sentence make my nose burn and my eyes start to water.

Mind you, these books were coated with dust and hadn’t been touched for years. I knew in my unfailingly logical mind that there is no circumstance where my son will pick these books up and read them to himself. And in the off chance that he did crave a reread of his Zilpha Keatley Snyder books, he could always check them out from the library.

But these books, these objects were infused with deep and overwhelming memories.

So why was I putting myself through such torture?

To begin with, my son’s bedroom was such an unholy disaster that it had become a physical hazard. Plus, my son has been driving me crazy with his constant “Mom, where’s my comb/purple shirt/glasses/whatevers” that intervention had become a necessity.

So armed with library audiobooks of Jackie Collin’s Married Lovers and James Joyce’s The Dubliners, I steeled myself against the emotional barrage. (Yes, I have eclectic taste in books.)

I kept certain authors and categories, (Ursula LeGuin, Pokémon, Harry Potter, John Bellairs, Japanese Manga) and pulled out the Beverly Clearys, the Susan Coopers, the Elizabeth Enrights and a myriad of random authors. I called my son to come upstairs and approve all decisions, as the last thing I want is for my son to feel like he has no control over his possessions and become a hoarder later in life.

He held onto the Susan Coopers and a few other books.

I was able to consolidate two bookshelves and even leave one shelf empty for the Japanese knick-knacks that my son has collected throughout his international travels.

I’ll attempt to sell the books at Powell’s Bookstore today, but so many are older editions and I don’t harbor high hopes that many will sell. The Zilpha Keatly Snyders will go to my niece and the rest I’ll donate to Goodwill.

I’m glad that I soldiered through this task. Yes, it was bittersweet, but I know that my son needs a room that meets his 17-year-old needs rather than functioning as an homage to his nine-year-old self.

And nothing can take away the memories of our late night reading sessions. I can hold onto those memories without holding onto the physical objects.

But there’s nothing wrong with shedding a tear or two in the process.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue November 28, 2012 at 9:53 am

Well he was absolutely right to hang on to the Susan Coopers. Still have mine and on audio too, that said I am good at weeding out books I know I won’t read again.


Holly November 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

Totally agree about the Susan Coopers! I rediscovered them at a bookstore as an adult, and they are still magnificent. Don’t throw those away!


Carla November 28, 2012 at 11:42 am

Yeah, I would have kept the Susan Cooper books, too.

Katy, do you realize you may some day have grandchildren? We often give to our grands the books their mothers loved when they were children. It’s a lovely way to share the nostalgia.


Joanna November 30, 2012 at 9:04 am

Absolutely spot on to keep the Susan Coopers. I always want to read The Dark is Rising this time of year.


Trisha November 28, 2012 at 10:02 am

It’s not bragging if it’s true. 🙂


Kathie November 28, 2012 at 10:10 am

You might want to check with any school teachers to see if they can use those books. My daughter will soon be graduating college with a degree in elementary/special education, and she is always on the lookout for great/classic kids books for her future classroom. Older editions wouldn’t bother her at all. Just a thought ….


Stephanie November 28, 2012 at 11:45 am

Great idea Kathie – most teachers do have a pretty good library of books in their classrooms to lend out to kids – what a great way to help out. Katy – I bet you could probably drop them by the front desk of your closest elementary school! I know ours would divvy them up to some of the newer teachers.


Penelope Samuel November 28, 2012 at 10:32 am

Have you ever sold to Powell’s online? I do it all the time for a couple of reasons…
1). It saves me a trip to Portland
2.) Many times they will take a book online that they would reject at the store. This is because the online buying is looking at the needs of all the stores, not just the one you take them too. This summer I amassed a 143.00 virtual credit. I spent the last 75.00 yesterday on books (Christmas presents) for my youngest son.
I totally understand the books=memories=emotional meltdown :/ I still have some of my children’s earliest books that we read together. Kat Kong is still one of my all time favorites 🙂


Katy November 28, 2012 at 10:42 am

I saved “Abel’s Island” by William Steig. It was the first chapter book I read aloud to him.



Katy November 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

And I haven’t used Powell’s online program, as I’m walking distance from one of the Powells’. However, maybe I should give it a try.



Carolyn November 28, 2012 at 11:13 am

Decluttering is often an emotional process. Kudos to you, Katy, for sticking with it!


Julia Park Tracey November 28, 2012 at 11:20 am

I *love* ZKS. She lived near us and I met her at a bookstore one time — I was about 12 and my mom took me to get a book signed. I believe it was The Headless Cupid. The book of the Headless Cupid has a drawing of her house, in the “photo” from the old newspaper that they find, and that is the house ZKS lived in for years in Santa Rosa. And when I was a first-year journalism student, I went and interviewed her there. It was like meeting a goddess. I lived her. I love that you also love these books 🙂


Katy November 28, 2012 at 11:29 am

That’s a great book. Did you know that ZKS is still publishing?! She’s 83 years old!



Samantha November 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I loved ZKS books too! She came and spoke to my elementary school when I was in the 4th grade. Thank you for the memory I had completely forgotten about that experience. I will have to find some of her books for my sons.


John Benton November 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

I find books very precious. Aside from my college text books I tend to keep mine. I did however have to sell some twenty years ago to make ends meet. I have moved several times and believe me a box of books is very heavy and loading 10 to twenty boxes is a real chore. When I was a kid my parents subscribed to the Weekly Reader Book Club. Every month or so, a new book would come in the mail. These were wonderful books, especially the fiction. Their subject matter is timeless and they still hold up today. My son enjoyed them so much too. I still have them and now am starting to read them to my grandsons. Someday they will have all of them. Books don’t need to be clutter. Even a modest sized bookshelf can hold fifty to a hundred books. I have some titles that are really hard to find if I had to replace them. Not valuable just very esoteric.


Sharon November 28, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I concur totally – in fact, when I moved this spring, the poor moving men had to cart 24 boxes of books up 2 flights of strairs … but a number of these books have been passed down from several generations, and are part of our family’s heritage, and will be passed along to my son when the time comes. They are a comfort and joy …


Mary November 28, 2012 at 11:26 am

Swagbucks has an online book return program also…you look the book up by it’s code before you send it back.


Kathleen November 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Mary, could you share how it is you do that? I searched for it but cannot find any instructions.
Thank you!


Lesley Parent November 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

Ah yes … with two teens of my own, I feel your pain, Katy. The long process of letting go is so bittersweet! Excellent point, though, that we can keep our memories forever (well, for as long as our memory is functioning) while not needing the physical thing itself.


Megyn @Unstuffed November 28, 2012 at 11:35 am

I swear this could have been *my* mom writing this as she too is quite attached to books she read us as a child. She saved about a bag full of books from my childhood that she now reads to my kids. I even have my Koko’s Kitten book that my mom saved…and I had her find it so I could get Penny Patterson sign it (I worked in the primate field and had some cool connections). Now I have a keepsake for my kids too. 🙂


Linda in Indiana November 28, 2012 at 11:36 am

You know, I held onto a few of my kids’ favorites because there were so many memories. Then when the daughter had children I gave a few to her to read to them and I kept a few here. Then I got to “relive” those special moments with the grandchildren and explain to them that these were the books that I read to their mommy. I am only talking maybe six books each place. Sometimes some things warrant hanging on to….just not lots and lots.


Diane November 28, 2012 at 11:52 am

My oldest “child” is 44 and I still remember reading Sylvester’s Magic Pebble to him…we eve had a red marble that he was certain was the magic pebble!
As far as tugging on heartstrings, looking at photo albums does it to me…all those memories come flooding back.


Katy November 28, 2012 at 11:59 am

Ah . . . that’s good book.



tna November 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

One of the things about decluttering that I like even better than the clean room it brings is how it makes you think about things. It’s almost like clearing a room clears your mind. Less cluttered room, less cluttered mind. I wonder what little snapses were firing as you were filing away the most precious memories for easier access throughout your life.


Tina November 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Great post, Katy. I will admit that books have been among the clutter-y-est things in my house. You are making me think differently about them.


Kate November 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Just this morning I was beginning to purge books in expectation of a move. My youngest is only 10 and loves to collect entire series of books, so getting rid of his books is difficult. My daughter, 13, came home this afternoon and gave me quite a look when she saw that I’d put an Eric Carle book in the donation pile – she presented me with a foot-high stack of books to give away so I was happy to let her keep “The Grouchy Ladybug.” I think part of the problem with getting rid of our children’s books is that there are the books that we as parents hold close to our hearts, but there may be different books that our children feel that way about, making the keep pile even bigger.


hmbalison November 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm

This post touched me, Katy. I love to read but I don’t keep books either. But when it came to childhood books, that’s a different matter. I love children’s books. In fact, my baby shower when I was adopting my first child was “Favorite Childhood Books.” Now that my kids are teens, I sorted thru their stuff and kept 2-3 of my kids’ favorite books (Where the Wild Things Are, Curious George, Mama, Do you Love Me?) and put them in special storage containers with their baby blankets, baby books, etc. Then, I went through and kept all the ones I loved. I now have about 3 small shelves of *my* favorite books from their childhood and mine. They are like old friends to me.


Louise November 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm

There are a few – like MY Winnie the Pooh book (!) – that I keep for sentimental reasons. They reside in a lovely antique bookcase in the living room with books from my Grandfather. One day a select few of my sons books will also reside there.


Lori from Michigan November 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

This post rang true for me. I get very sentimental over books in general (I have some lifelong favorites that I want to be buried with – I’ll take them with me if I can!), and particularly those I read to my daughter when she was small. She is almost 16 now, but our stack of Christmas books from her childhood is still ready for us. We jump in bed and read them aloud every holiday season, and she says she’s not ready to give that up yet. 🙂


Alison November 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I too have books that I am keeping that belonged to my daughter, now 18. I hope one day to share them with my grandchildren. My most precious book is a beautifully illustrated copy of “The owl and the pussycat” which is a poem my mother was constantly reciting to us as kids. I gave the book to her when she was expecting her third grand child, and when my mom passed away, I kept it to I could read it to my daughter. I don’t think I will ever get rid of it. I have done the same with Beanie Babies, and have a great big bag of them in my closet. I am trying really hard to declutter, but can’t bring myself to part with them!


Jean Burke November 28, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I love de-cluttering but that must have taken great courage. My son is in his 40’s and kept a few of his favourite childhood books which he now reads to his own boys.


Mama Minou November 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Oh, I too feel your pain. So many memories with the children’s books. Also the picture books. For me, the key is keeping the true favorites that someday they will be glad to have (I also have two teen boys). My mom was a 2nd grade teacher with a fantastic classroom library, and I had a few wonderfully quirky childhood books that disappeared that way. But classics that the library will have are not as hard to part with.
That said, I still have my own complete set of Wizard of Oz books, that neither of my sons ever got into. Maybe it’s time…


Bethany@OurSoCalledLife November 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Books are hard for us to get rid of too. It’s hard to decide what we’ll read again and what we won’t. Having a regular library day with the little one has definitely helped.


Aimee November 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Hi Katy,

First, thanks for the powerful post yesterday…it has made me think all day.
Secondly, I also connected a lot with today’s post because of my Christmas project that I have been working on the past couple months that I thought you would appreciate! My idea started when I saw a pin on pinterest of the 100 Best Children’s Chapter Books. I have a 10 year old nephew who loves to read. I decided to try to collect as many books as possible that were on the list to give to him for Christmas by getting them from used books stores/thrift shops/my own collection, etc. I never thought in a million years that I would have been able to get as many as I have in such a short time. I have 82 of the 100 so far! The cost has averaged about $1/book. I typed up the list with a challenge and I am calling it the 100 Book/100 Buck Challenge. When he has read them all, I am going to give him $100. I think he would do it for free, but I thought this would make it even more exciting. My plan is to continue the challenge down the line to my next nephew, then my son, niece, etc as they get older. It has been so much fun collecting the books so far, I get pretty excited when I can check another one off my list!
Thanks for challenging us, your readers, to think about our purchases and be creative with our gift giving! Sincerely, Aimee


Katy November 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm

That is an incredible gift! I wish you were my kids’ aunt!



Rachel W. November 28, 2012 at 8:08 pm

My daughter didn’t like to be read to when she was younger so I never had any sentimental associations with her books. She was more of a toy player and tv watcher (yes, at the same time). Over the past three years, she has become a reader with a preference for manga, John Green books, and post-apocalyptic fairy tales. She does her own clutter-purging which saves me both time and emotional energy. I’m grateful she has the ability to declutter at 14. (It is also sometimes surprising considering she was a slob and a pack rat until about age 10.)


Greenstrivings November 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm

My mother saved many of our childhood favorites and last year sent them to me for my children, who, unfortunately, have almost zero interest in them. I think #1Child picked up one of the Little House books, but that was about it. I’m keeping the books, though, in hopes that the children come to their senses some day soon.

And yes, even decluttering their board books, chewed upon though they were (literally!), was really difficult for me, despite the fact that we were moving halfway across the country to a smaller home and really needed to purge … It was just too hard to get rid of Jamberry and Jesse Bear.


Jenn November 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm

Wow, this post really shocked me because my grandmother’s middle name is Zilpha. I’ve never heard of another Zilpha. When I checked out Zilpha Keatly Snyder site you linked to, I was surprised that she wrote The Egypt Game. For some reason, I remember reading that as a child but surprisingly didn’t even remember the author’s name.
I’ll have to call my Grandma. I bet she’ll get a kick out of this.


Alexandra November 30, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Yes, the decluttering of my boys’ rooms shatters me.

We hang on to these thins, but they’re just torture to look upon them.

And yet? IT’s the memory of it all.


Joyfully Green December 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Great topic! After I read a book called Simplicity Parenting, I followed the authors’ suggestions and got rid of all the books that were basically just licensed merchandise/tie-ins from kids’ movies and shows. I donated them, and my kids haven’t even mentioned them since, let alone missed them. They have plenty of wonderful, classic books that are not part of marketing machines from major studios. We also get a lot more of our books from the library now, so that we can test-drive them and only buy our very favorites. That goes for my husband and for me as well–not just the kids!


Monica December 3, 2012 at 7:19 am

As a child growing up in the Northeast in the early 70’s, my mom was able to buy beautiful hardcover story books from the Weekly Reader press. I made sure to keep my favorites from then, as I was a sentimenal child, and read them to my little girl now! Glad to see that some favorites that were lost to me can still be purchased used on Amazon from other sentimental people! “Christina Katerina and the Box,”We Were Tired of Living In A House,” “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” The Corgiville Fair, “The Secret Garden” and “The Little Princess,” and all the “Little House” books. All these books had wonderful illustrations that inspired my love of drawing. My daughter spends hours looking at the illustrations.


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