I consider myself reasonably sentimental — I’m a mom, after all. And all moms know that familiar tug at your heartstrings when you come across old artwork made by little hands, or a teeny-tiny pair of PJs that haven’t fit your kid in years. It comes with the territory.
The non-mom facet of my personality, however, has a huge dislike for clutter. I’m no Marie Kondo, but nothing soothes me like a well-organized space. And as sentimental as I can be sometimes, the part of me that hates clutter always wins out in the end, so I’m fairly ruthless when it comes to getting rid of the stuff my kids no longer need.
Sure, it was a little difficult to donate the baby carrier that I schlepped all four of my kids around in endlessly when they were infants, strapped to my chest while I cooked and worked and cared for toddler siblings. And I did keep a few especially meaningful things, like the little Carter’s onesie with the frog on it that my grandma brought my son on her last visit before she died. For the most part, though, I was easily able to get rid of all the baby and toddler and little kid items that we no longer used. I felt no need to hold onto them; why not let someone else get some good out of them? Besides, they were cluttering up my closets.
Recently, though, my family moved out of the home we’ve lived in for the past eight years, and for the first time, I was confronted with something I couldn’t just blithely toss in the donation pile: their books.
I’ve read to my kids since they were in the womb. When I was pregnant with my first, I learned that babies are soothed by their mother’s voice even in utero, so I would sit in his nursery reading Goodnight Moon to my big pregnant belly. Bedtime stories became an integral part of our routine from the time he was born, and continued with each new sibling. Books were my weakness, and still are; my kids know even now that I will never say no to a book purchase. Back then, I’d scour garage sales and thrift stores for kids’ books to bring home. We signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which — if you haven’t heard of it — is an amazing free program that sends kids from birth to age 5 a book every single month at no cost.
Eventually, we had amassed shelves upon shelves of children’s books, and we read them all. We read at bedtime. We read when someone was sick. We read on rainy days and snow days, curled up under a blanket together as the precipitation lashed angrily at the windows. We had special books that we only read on certain holidays, and the kids would get so excited when it was time to pull out the stack of Halloween books or Christmas books.
When they were older, I made a rule: we couldn’t watch the movie version of a book until we read the book first. So, for example, I read the entire Harry Potter series to them — out loud — in what was likely the crappiest of British accents. Nevertheless, they loved it.
As they grew, of course, they naturally lost interest in the books they’d loved so much as little kids. And now that they’re mostly teenagers (three teens and a tween, to be exact) I don’t read to them any more; they’re much more interested in scrolling through their phones and hanging out with their friends, and as much as it pains me, I know it’s normal. Still, the books remained on the shelves, collecting dust, the one type of “clutter” that I had no problem ignoring for years.
Then came the move, and I was decluttering even more mercilessly than ever. If I hadn’t touched something in six months, away it went: period. We had limited space, and didn’t need all the stuff. It was cathartic, and as much as a pain it was to sort through everything, it felt so nice to know we’d be starting fresh with only the things we really used and none of the stuff that didn’t serve us any more.
But then I came to the books, and all that came to a screeching halt.
I never expected it to be a problem. I had donated my kids’ high chairs and baby clothes with zero guilt, after all, so when I came to the bookshelves I had a box at the ready, preparing to empty them all in with the same “clutter-busting machine” mentality with which I’d swept through the rest of our house. But … I couldn’t.
I paused in front of the bookshelf, running my fingers alone the now-tattered spine of If I Built a Car, one of my kids’ favorites that I read so often I still, to this day, have much of it memorized. There was Llama Llama Red Pajama, published the year my oldest was born, the first iconic book that kicked off an entire beloved series. There was Roar of a Snore, which is written in a rhythmic cadence that my kids always got such a kick out of. There was Dig Dig Digging, one of the first books they read to me out loud. Little Blue Truck. The Napping House. The Looking Book. Each one held a sweet memory within its pages: My little ones, snuggled up around me, back when they relished every minute of my attention. It was almost as if I could still smell their freshly bathed skin, feel the weight of them against me, leaning in, pudgy fingers pointing at their favorite pictures and words they could identify so proudly. And it absolutely broke me.
The titles blurred through tears as I stood there, painfully contemplating which one would be the first to go into the box. I reluctantly stacked a few: ones we didn’t necessarily love, ones we had only read once or twice. Compared to the total number of books on the shelves, it was a drop in the bucket — nowhere near the purge I had intended to accomplish. But it was the best I could do … the most my mama heart could take.
In the end, most of the books came with us. I don’t care if they collect dust. I don’t care if they take up space. They’re a tangible connection to some of my most treasured memories of time spent with my kids, and they’re the one thing I just can’t find the fortitude to part with.
I’ll just keep them in their rightful place on my shelves for now. After all, I’ll have grandkids to read to someday.
Struggle with getting your kiddo to read? Check out these middle-grade books that might do the trick!
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