Too much and too many.
March 23, 2011

As I have mentioned before, Donald and I do not keep very many toys for Charlotte.  We have one drawer of toys.  One.  Well, one drawer of toys and one stack of wood puzzles.  So I guess it’s more like one and a half.

Several months ago, I noticed that if I kept more than three toys in the playroom adjacent to our living room then Charlotte would not play with any of them.  It was like the toy selection overwhelmed her.  When we cut back, the difference was outstanding.

As a result, our policy has a minimalist facet.  I only allow six toys in our home at any given time.  The rest stay in the drawer.  But something else didn’t seem quite right, and a few weeks ago I figured out what it is.  Charlotte has been overwhelmed by our picture book selection.

It is no secret that I adore books.  I’m a big fan of the library, but I also believe in having books easily accessible for little hands to peruse at will.  Over the past few weeks I started wondering: do I believe that because I’ve been conditioned to believe that?  Or do I believe that because children actually thrive in a book-drenched environs?

So I launched an experiment.  Several mornings in a row, I hauled all of our children’s books less ten or twelve out of the living room bookcase and into the spare room.  I closed the door.  In the late afternoon while Charlotte slept, I schlepped all of the books back out to the bookcase.

And there was a difference.  When there were fewer books, she enjoyed story-time more and was willing to try out a new book without fuss.  She never came back empty-handed from the bookcase.  When there were more books, she only wanted to read a small handful of books that were tried and true.  She came back empty-handed from the bookcase about four out of five times.

Clearly this was not a very scientific endeavor, but it confirmed in my mind what I was already starting to wonder.  And I’ve been trying to figure out how to strike a balance ever since.  I want our daughter to have easy access to books and I want her to love reading, but I do not want to overwhelm her.  Each week we usually select about a dozen books on a theme that we read over and over about five billion times during the week.

Okay, okay.  A dozen books on a theme plus The Day the Babies Crawled Away and Star Baby.  I’m not allowed to even think about holding a story-time in these walls without those.

Anyway, so we pick a dozen books and those are the books we read.  We rarely add in other books, but we do sometimes finish with some of the books in that stack in a day or two and not read them again for the rest of the week.  I also have a nasty habit of pestering local librarians and dog-reading programs to find out what books they will have a story-times.  I usually hop around different libraries within a reasonable distance depending on where I have books out that need to be returned, but if one place is going to be reading a book that’s in our stack this week?  I go there.

I’m starting to wonder if there’s a way to keep bringing in different books – new voices, new stories, new images – without compromising my child’s need for less.  Is there a way to give her simpler reading times without limiting her to the same dozen books week in and week out?  Would a lending library of sorts work where we can exchange books on our own schedule, or is it easier to have one set of books per week or two that is traded in as a whole?

How do you manage books in your home?

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  1. By Ginger on March 23, 2011

    You know, we’ve been struggling with this too. I find the same thing—if there are too many choices, he defaults to one or two favorites. What we’ve started doing (but need to do even more!), is having 5-6, plus two must-have favorites, and rotating that 5-6 every two days or so. Other books are kept in a bin in another room. We can generally tell when he gets overwhelmed because he stops begging to have us read him a book.
    When we get lazy and don’t rotate, it shows.

  2. By Courtney L @ Bundle of Wonder on March 23, 2011

    I’ve been contemplating doing something similar.  We have a basket of toys/small books, some wooden blocks, and stuffed animals in the living room play area.  Next to all that is a stack of library books.  That’s what gets rotated in our house.  The books in the basket are tried and true and never leave.  We also have a bookcase upstairs and I keep all of her books on the lowest shelf.  I guess I don’t really have any suggestions since we have a similar problem LOL Just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone and I hope someone out there has a suggestion!  I keep thinking, the pioneer babies had maybe one toy and most of them turned out fine.  Should I cut back even further than I already have?  Give her only one or two toys a day and a stack of books???  I just don’t know.

  3. By on March 23, 2011

    Courtney - I’m glad I’m not alone.  Over the last year, we cut down on our clothing and household clutter.  We ended up freecycling and donating over 2/3 of the belongings - mostly clothing, old books, etc. - that we had.  I love how free our home is now and even though we constantly go through and weed out toys from the drawer (it gets new ones from family and friends periodically), I still wonder if it would help to minimalize it further.

  4. By Mary @ Parenthood on March 23, 2011

    We didn’t buy a single toy but somehow they arrived anyway - mostly stuff that we had when we were little, or even before that, like the 60 year old toy chicken that is the noisiest toy we have.

    I was dreading having to set up a toy rotation here, but that hasn’t been a problem so far.

    So we never even considered a rotation for books.  We have multiple locations for books and they rotate from there (books by the bed, books in the living room, books in the toilet, books in the basement).  Living room books are mostly library books that rotate every couple of weeks.

    We don’t do specific story times aside from story time at the library - Elizabeth asks for books when she wants to read them, which is multiple times an hour. We usually oblige her.  Sometimes she “reads” them to herself.  She’s not picky about the book when “reading” on her own - just likes flipping pages and making up her own very involved stories. So I guess for us at this time we aren’t worried about needing to rotate.

    Maybe it’s a personality thing?

  5. By erin on March 23, 2011

    I have honestly never even thought about rotating books, because I too love to be surrounded by lots and lots of books.  We have them everywhere in our house - stacks in the living room and on ledges lining the hall and all along a giant shelf/ledge in our bedroom - and of course my cookbook collection in the kitchen and all my sewing/crafting books.  In the family room we keep a stack of board books, and Hannah has a good-sized bookcase in her room as well.  The “downstairs” stack rotates simply because we are downstairs so much of the time and I don’t want her to be reading the same 6 books and we have no shelves in the family room.

    Upstairs we have had the same issue and I thought it might just be a phase - she picks out the same four or five books to read at storytime.  Goodnight Moon, Guess How Much I Love You?, Chugga-Chugga-Choo-Choo, and Hush Little Baby.  Sometimes a Baby Einstein book with mirrors or a Pooh book or a Spot book.  It’s been driving me INSANE.  We rotate toys at our house, but I never thought to rotate books - we’ll have to try it and see.  I suspect my sanity will return.

    (Except for Goodnight Moon - she calls it “Moon” and begs for it if I try to get away with not reading it, like by hiding it or something - and Guess How Much I Love You? because I just adore that book.)

  6. By Kimberly o'Rosky on March 23, 2011

    Charlotte will be 8 months tomorrow and we’ve already noticed this with her. We have 1 basket in the living room that holds toys and I switch them out every now and then. Same with books. I noticed that if we pulled out too many books at once, then she would sit there staring at the other books and not paying attention to the story we are reading. I like your idea of sticking to a theme!!

    Since you mentioned puzzles, do you recommend any good ones. I’ve been trying to hunt some down, but I think I’m either too picky with my choices or I’m just not hunting in the right place.

  7. By Stephanie on March 23, 2011

    I keep all our children’s books in the office—which is accessible to my girls, though they don’t often go in there—and leave a dozen (rotated) books out in the living room where we do all our reading. My oldest school-age daughter brings home books from her school library (today’s pick: The Best Babysitter Under the Sea, featuring Ariel. I may be a book snob, but she isn’t), and those get rotated through on a weekly basis.

    I LOVE children’s books, and would have hundreds of them. But it’s just not necessary considering how frequently we visit the library, and how I’m making a concerted efforted to cut down on stuff (including books).

    Good for you to realize that Charlotte was getting overbooked (ha).

  8. By on March 23, 2011

    Mary - Same here.  We haven’t bought any either.  Well.  Except for the one that she threw up on in a shop when she was four months old.  We bought that one lol.  But outside of that, we haven’t bought any toys, and we’ve been amazed at how many have come into our lives.  We have a few oldies from when we were kids and a few that came as gifts at various times.  It still amazes me that we’ve made such an effort to keep toy clutter down - not buying gifts, discouraging gift-giving, etc - but we’ve still amassed more than she can play with at one time.  All said, we have about three full rotations of toys.

    Kimberly - What sort are you looking for?  Donald and I have a deep love of puzzles, but it depends what you have in mind.  Are you looking more for M&D type puzzles with the knobs like what you see at kids’ museums and libraries or are you looking for handmade wood puzzles that have pieces forming shapes or are you looking for multi-dimensional puzzles like stackers or…?

    Stephanie - LOL!  We’ve been making a big push to cut down on stuff too, but children’s books are hard to do it with.  Even with our frequent visits to the library, I love having them here for when we have friends’ and family’s kids over, I love looking through them myself, and I love the flexibility of being able to pick a new book without waiting until tomorrow at 10am.  It’s a vice!

  9. By Melissa on March 23, 2011

    To be honest, I haven’t really thought much about a lot of the things you bring up on your blog.  And that’s part of the reason I keep coming back!  My little one is 9 months old, and in LOVE with books.  She will sit still to be read to for an extremely long time.  Although she definitely has her favorites and can be resistant to new ones.  But I really like your “theme” idea, so we might try that out!

    I also wanted to say, I’m inspired by your post to find a new home for many of our toys!!  We have way too many toys, and way too many out at one time.  I’m going to try your little experiment and see what happens!

  10. By dandy on March 23, 2011

    Oh geez.  Thats all I really have to say.

    His room is packed with toys (all gifts) and TONS of books.  I’ve already been stashing toys in the closet to pull out when he needs something new but there are books everywhere.  Loads of books everywhere.

    Obviously he is too small now to tell but this should be really interesting.  I’ll have to think on this one.

  11. By Mom24 on March 24, 2011

    We have literally 100’s of picture books in our home, chapter books too.  When you have children over 18 years, you definitely accumulate.

    My overwhelming thought for you and for Charlotte, is to follow your gut.  My bet is that as she gets older, she will get more and more comfortable with expanding those horizons and you’ll know the right time to bring in more.  I would gently swap in/swap out, at her comfort level, maybe one or two books every few weeks, eventually, more books, more often.

  12. By on March 24, 2011

    We too have a large selection of books. Probably not ad many as you seem to, but we have a lot.

    Early on, I made the decision that all board books would stay at arms reach for Jude. He has a toy room(ugh, don’t even get me started on the toys) and one of the three bins containing toys is used for just board books. I regularly walk into his toy room and he’s just flipping through one or the other.

    All of his other picture books (paper pages, more fragile) are kept on shelves in his room. They are display shelves, so the covers face forward (instead of seeing the spine of the book). Because of the set up, you can only see a few of the titles at a time. I regularly move them around, bring some down from taller shelves, and put a few in a canvas tote on the floor making them easier for him to see. We still have a few that we read all the time, but it really helps to rotate through them regularly. Also, by putting certain books towards the front, he has the ability to chose what he wants, within my guided selection.

    Also, we’ll usually have a stack on the night stand that get repeated for a few nights in a row before being put back into the shuffle.

    So far, this has worked for us…

  13. By Kimberly o'Rosky on March 24, 2011

    I’ve been looking for both - puzzles with nobs and handmade wood ones.

  14. By Mary @ Parenthood on March 24, 2011

    Heh!  We’ve asked for clothes or experiences as gifts and tried to do a gift exchange at Christmas.  One gift each + grandparents since they were clearly going to ignore desire to limit gifts.  She received dozens of gifts.  I still don’t understand how that happened.

    I have a friend who gets her kids to bring a toy to give away every time they visit a house with a kid smaller than them.  Love the idea, just need more friends with smaller children!

  15. By Christy on April 01, 2011

    I keep the toys to a minimum (not as few as I’d really like, but not too many either) but never thought to do it with books.  I’m so going to try this. 

    Thanks for the suggestion.





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