How I Magically Tidied Up My Kids’ Book Collection

Armed with a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and a two week checkout limit from the library, I set out to work some magic on our out of control home library this week. I’m not entirely sure that Marie Kondo would approve of my method, but I sure am happy with the results! More importantly, so are my bookworms!

tidying kids books


If you visited my house, you probably wouldn’t think we’re in desperate need of a massive overhaul. I weed and toss aggressively, and have been accused of having no sentimentality (not true. case in point: 27 scrapbooks). My Achilles’ heel, however, you may have guessed: books. I’ve been purchasing children’s books for my “someday children” since I was relentlessly single. When I got pregnant the obsession had a real live heartbeat as inspiration. Combine that with a love for bargain hunting, and our tidy bookshelves were doomed before we even brought Baby Bookworm #1 home from the hospital. “But this is a Caldecott winner for $.50! Maybe someday he’ll be interested in dinosaurs. Aren’t all kids interested in dinosaurs?” (update: 3 years, 2 kids, no dinosaur interest yet).

So, the task before me was herculean! We have HUNDREDS of children’s books. They virtually all pass Kondo’s basic test: they spark joy. But, the impetus behind my tidying task was to use our books more efficiently. Prior to my work this week, we easily had 175 books scattered around the house, all accessible to the kids, and a hodgepodge in storage in a closet. Of the books that were accessible, the majority were space holders and wallpaper, never read. I rotate my kids’ toys to keep them from getting stale. But somehow the habit never transferred to our book collection. I was simply overwhelmed by HOW to organize. Would I have to purge from our beloved collection? The collection that began as a gleam in my childless eye so many years ago? Turns out that the process was exhilarating in its completion. I’m not feeling bereft and better yet, my kids are excited by the “new” (read: old) books. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Gather all the books into one room in one giant pile. Kondo recommends this, and it just makes good sense. It was a good workout, too. Kondo also cautions against reading the books. According to her, you should touch each book to see if it sparks joy, but do not open it and start reading. That will cloud your judgment! This was a very difficult instruction to heed, especially for the bookworms who hadn’t read Kondo’s text. gathering the books
  2. Sort. Initially I began with two piles: keep and donate. I quickly realized this wasn’t sufficient. I ended up with 14. Hear me out. Lol. I knew I wanted to create a rotation that was balanced with various types of books. In order to do this, I needed to sort them by broad categories and then select a small handful to be in each rotation. My categories were: nonfiction, skills/milestones (e.g. potty training), alphabet, colors, counting, long fiction (books that require a bookmark, whether long picture books, early readers, or chapter books), short fiction (for our short books basket, cover to cover in under 2 min), standard fiction picture books, activity books (some kind of moveable/interactive element, like “look and find” rather than a plot), wordless, seasonal, holiday, board books, and “thank you for your service” (ie, time to donate. More on this below.). tidying the books
  3. Create rotation piles for each reading area in the house. From my 13 broad categories above, I selected a handful (1-3) for each area of the house where we store books for the kids to access: bedrooms, kitchen, living room, play room. So, I created a giant pile for each of those areas of the house, made up of 13 categories of books. The leftover books were moved in their category piles to shelving in a closet. I plan to rotate these with the current selection about every 3 weeks or so.  Along with the leftovers, I put into storage off season, holiday, nonfiction topics we’re not into right now, long fiction books that we don’t yet have attention spans for, and milestones we’re not working on.  (I did this section without the kids around.)sort
  4. Feel the JOY of reading. Here’s the test to see if I’ve followed Kondo’s rules. If I did, each book should spark joy. At this point, I explained to the kids that I had organized their books. I shared my excitement for some forgotten titles that had been languishing in the crowded shelves, and they quickly got to work checking out all the “new” titles. They’ve shown increased enthusiasm and even a touch of surprise over the past few days: “Mama! Look what I found! Let’s read this!” proud bookwormNow we have about 30 titles in each bedroom (including library books on loan), about 15 in the kitchen, and a dozen in the living room & play room. The books don’t get lost in a pile of clutter but stand out as “fresh”! Each mini collection is balanced with the various categories I decided on. There’s variety in each room. It feels good and is encouraging reading!tidy kitchen books
  5. Say “Thank you for your service.” One of the biggest takeaways for me personally from Kondo’s work (not just applying to books) was her section on letting go of items (pages 60-61): “By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to put the things you own, and your life, in order. ” She gives examples of saying “‘Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,’ or ‘Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,’ and let it go.” This was helpful to me when I purged my closet of a super cool but never worn garment or perfectly usable but impractical pair of shoes. With the book project, I kept a few of the kids’ first favorite books but to others I tearfully said, “Thank you for bringing me closer to my babies while we read you” and “Thank you for teaching me what my sweet Bookworm doesn’t find interesting” (said less tearfully, ha!). And I boxed them up for some new mamas and their little bookworms to enjoy.

How do you organize your bookworms’ collection? Do you think this process would be feasible in your home? I’ve love to hear how you organize the books in your home.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up should be available at your library (though likely has a waiting list), or at the Amazon affiliate link provided. 

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2 thoughts on “How I Magically Tidied Up My Kids’ Book Collection

  • Marla

    Awh again I identify so much with you…with my husband and I both being in the Elementary Teaching field we have hundreds of kids books packed into bins according to reading level. We have the books for Gunnar appropriate level out and sorted into 8 bins which rotate weekly or bi monthly depending on how much we are loving them. I need to put all his baby/board books away as he has stopped picking those out to read. When i need to purge I will need to use the test ‘if it brings me joy’ that is a good one…also I dreaded the dinosaur phase but we have entered it (we live by a huge area for finding dinosaur bones and a big dino museum it was inevitable) but have been enjoying the dino discovery.