More With Less

Yesterday was about the toys.  Today it was the books.

Growing up, I loved books.  My dad paid me to read encyclopedias, but I would have read them for free.  We didn’t have a ton of books in our house, but I read what I could find. That’s not quite true, actually.  My dad had hundreds of chess books.  But after my humiliating defeat in the 3rd grade chess championship, I vowed never to play again.  So those books were safe from my not-so-gentle treatment.

I dreamed of having one of those houses with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.  I even thought it looked cool when I saw piles of books in corners and next to beds – that is when I saw them in movies, of course, because no one I knew had lots of books.

Then I grew up and went to Ed School, where I learned that the number of books in a house is a predictor of how well kids will read.

Then I married Jeff, an avid reader and a bit of a hoarder.  (Our first fight as a married couple was when I tried to get him to throw out his Civil Engineering books from college. Irrelevant to him was that he was a college chaplain.  So was the fact that if for some unimaginable reason he needed to whip up a bridge one day, he wouldn’t want to rely on twenty-year-old books.)

Wa-la!  Welcome to our book-saturated home.  Books people gave us.  Books without covers.  Books Jeff found on the street.  Books the boys just had to have.  Books we got as baby gifts and books we’ve never read.  Every empty surface, it seems, is covered with books.

Following Kim John Payne’s advice in Simplicity Parenting  — to reduce the amount of overload our children experience, even in their own home — I purged books for over two hours.  And that was only to thin out the boys’ books.   Using criteria similar to yesterday’s, I got rid of anything that was too damaged to read, developmentally inappropriate, based on a product or TV character, or was “all over the place,” meaning it was fragmented, graphically intense, or lacking cohesion.

He encourages readers to keep those books that are meaningful and can be read over and over.  For older children, this might be reference books about favorite topics or favorite novels, first read to the child and then read by themselves as they get older.

He writes, “We honor the value of something (like reading) in our child’s life by fostering a deep – not disposable – relationship to it.”

As with all things of value, it seems, we can experience more it by having less of everything else.

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  • Janis Henning

    OK – so when it comes to books you can call ME the packrat! I love books, grew up with books and have had at least one library card in my possession since I was 4 years old. I haven't found a used book sale I haven't liked. I have dozens of boxes of books in my basement – from cardboard picture books given to my kids to 600 page novels. My parents read A LOT, 2 of my kids read A LOT, and my non-reader is actually on his 5th book of the summer (don't know what has inspired him, but I am not going to discourage it, either). I can easily get lost in a book for hours – a novel, a text book, a newspaper, it doesn't matter……….So, I guess maybe I need to purge — but my books will go to Good Will or a garage sale.

  • Leigh

    Your book purging reminded me of this post,… and the word it is based on, Twaddle: Dumbed-down literature; absence of meaning. My Mother was and is a master at finding excellent children's books and my husband and I both grew up in bookish houses. His friends thought his parents ran a used bookstore from home since they have piles of books in every single room. My favorite wedding present was an empty bookcase and a gift certificate to the local independent bookstore. James has been doing a good job on his own of channeling is destructive impulses on our most twaddley books (sadly, mostly the ones from WIC).

    Our purging (usually of books we will not reread) goes though paperbackswap and leads to more books. We also have really great library sales in Chicago (the best happening while Jeff is here).

  • Rachel

    Yes! Keep going with the purge. Way to tackle those shelves. You're showing those closets who's boss. Go Tara, go Tara!

  • Wendy

    I have to admit it, I love junk! I love my “not-exactly-perfect” (i.e., broken) toys from childhood and my collection of children’s books, none of which are developmentally appropriate for someone my age. But I love them anyway! Some people believe that God is everywhere. If that’s true, then can’t He also be found in junk? By the way, I also believe that book illustrations can be “graphically intense” and truly wonderful. I love the vivid images in Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” and I’m not convinced that graphic intensity is a hallmark of bad art. I know I’m not an anti-junk enthusiast (and Kim John Payne would think I’m a terrible hoarder), but I still love junk.

    That said, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that all the junk I’ve collected over the years is the primary reason that packing for my up-coming move is taking so long….

  • Janis Henning

    Where the Wild Things Are — I loved the book and the illustrations as a child, I loved reading it to my own children, who have loved it in return. I think I need to get a copy and pass it along to my grandson………

  • I remember coming across a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit once when I was at your place, and getting all choked up about it in the middle of the party. I think it's such a beautiful story. Keep that book! 🙂

  • Two words…Kindle and IPad. I'll bet Mr. Simplicity wouldn't like those words either…