Building a Small Space Homeschool Library

Last month I shared our craft storage solutions for small space living (say that fast five times). Today I want to share with you how we're building a small space homeschool library.

When I mentioned writing about this in my Spring Book series, there was a strong interest. As in, "please do write about this Renee".

I am happy to oblige since this topic marries homeschooling, books, and organizing - three of my loves.

Several of you were interested in both how we set up a homeschool library in a small space and the books we choose to own. This first post is about our physical library space - how and where we keep the books. I will write another post on the books that are actually in this library.

Thinking small

For the last six months our family has lived in a 750 sq. foot chalet. But even before living in this small space we endeavored to keep our homeschool library to a minimum.

A small homeschool library? Don't homeschoolers want their kids to read books? Hundreds and hundreds of them?

I can't speak for all homeschoolers but I can say unequivocably, yes, we want our kids to read hundreds of books. In fact, we're literature based homeschoolers, learning from living books, not texts. We just don't think we need to own them all, in hard copy.

And at the risk of being called a homeschooling heretic I believe you can homeschool well with a limited at-home library, as long as you can access other resources in your community and on the Internet.

If you have a good library in your community, or access to inter-library loan you are in a sweet spot and truly don't need to build an extensive at-home library if you don't want to.

Let's say you don't have access to a good library but still want to keep your hard copy (books that take up space) book collection to a minimum. Hello e-books and e-readers.

Why a small homeschool library?

In case you're wondering what kind of homeschooling freaks we are ("they want to keep their books to a minimum?") let me re-iterate something here. This is not about limiting our children's access to resources, rather it's about keeping our living space requirements to a minimum.

Why would we do this? Keep our living space small while raising three kids.

Because we want to have freedom from a big house. The freedom of no mortgage (that's the big dream we're working on). The freedom of less maintenance. The freedom to travel and in short, spend our time and resources on other things besides a house. Like hiking for six months, traveling to Europe for an extended stay when the kids are teens, and going to Montréal for a month.

That's the philosophical foundation to why we'd even consider limiting a homeschool library. (Just like we limit the collection of everything else in our life.)

We want to live in a small space, because small spaces free up resources of time and money.

But then of course, there's only so much stuff you can fit in a small space. It goes without saying that we don't have a "school" room either. My post at Simple Homeschool in June will talk about small space homeschooling in general. Let's get on with the library part.

Creative book storage

Like I've said already, for the past six months we've lived in a small cabin. Thankfully the chalet has lots of big windows. I think this is key to enjoying small space living - lots of natural light, this isn't a pioneer prairie soddie we're living in.

Part of the reality of lots of windows and a small house is very little wall space. In fact, virtually no available wall space for traditional bookshelves. If we were here long term we would build something to suit our purposes but we're not so we've made due and this is what we've used.

Apple crates.

We bought these handmade crates when we used to live in Maine. They were built by our farmer's husband, who was a professional woodworker. They are unfinished pine and cost us $10 each. They are solid, made to last. They were an incredibly good deal. 

We left them unfinished (we're lazy like that) and if we're not careful we can give ourselves slivers if we reach into a crate absentmindedly. I've learned not to do that.

We also own a couple less sturdy boxes, antiques actually that we picked up over the years at yard sales and such.

We're not the only people onto this I idea. I found a few cool links, how to make shelves out of apple crates.

Some of these links show how to make an honest to goodness shelf, stacking them up permanently. We have preferred to keep them unattached so we can move them around the house where needed. This has been very handy in our current home where we have to get creative about the space.

The double great thing about these crates is that if they are sturdy enough (and our farmer/woodworker ones certainly are) that you can move books in them also. With all the moving we've done this year this has come in handy.

I seriously love these crates so much. Unlike the plastic bins we use for craft supplies they are both functional and beautiful.

If you don't have a farmer/woodworker in your life (we don't right now) you can check the larger chain craft stores, this is what one family did in the links I shared.

Maybe you could even pay a high school shop class (do they teach that class anymore?) or a technical school student to build them for you if you aren't handy with wood and tools yourself.

I know some of you are curious about what books are actually in those crates. You can tell by the photos in this post. But my next homeschool library post will have a more detailed description of the type of books we own.

Are you new to FIMBY and don't want to miss that post? Simply subscribe with RSS or e-mail and you'll get it delivered to your reader or inbox automatically. And in the meantime you'll get a bunch of other good stuff too. Pretty photos and more posts on creative, adventurous and intentional (beautiful) family life. 

Any questions or comments about small space living or small space libraries?


One of the questions I got was:

"I want to make some of these for myself. Yours look like a good size. Could you please tell me the dimensions of your "farm" made apple crates?"

Here's my sketch, with dimensions.

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  • Kirstie

    Kirstie on May 17, 2012, 7:54 p.m.

    I really agree with your approach. How often do you normally weed through your books, and what do you generally do with the books you get rid of?

    I have found that 'Amazon trade in' offer good deals on some education books, but part of me is concerned that it is some massive conspiracy to buy up all printed second hand media... (Sorry - I know you don't have Amazon deliveries!).

    I do love e-books/kindle though, and particularly the way they have transformed self publishing.

    Looking forward to your related posts!


    • renee

      renee on May 18, 2012, 10:38 a.m.

      We give them away. Last year, before we left Maine we had a yard sale and I sold some of the better homeschool ones there. I've weeded through our book collection now three times in the past year. But before the year of the move I probbably went through our books once a year. 


  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on May 18, 2012, 12:46 a.m.

    "I believe you can homeschool well with a limited at-home library, as long as you can access other resources in your community and on the Internet." - YES!!!!

    I have gotten rid of so many of our books this year simply because we have access to them at the library. Although we don't live in a small space, we have downsized our book collection a great deal this year and continue to do so.

    I used to think that as homeschoolers we would need a large library in our home. Now I believe we just need a library card!


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on May 18, 2012, 2:18 a.m.

    What a smart idea! I LOVE this! We live in a really small space and there seems to be books everywhere! I love my space to be well organized, but it seems that since we are never here for long periods of time, I don't want to invest in storage options, but this fits the bill! Thanks for the idea!


  • Melonie K.

    Melonie K. on May 18, 2012, 6:43 a.m.

    I see the WildCraft game there too - we love that game! We recently jumped on their HerbFairies offering & are really enjoying it. I love that the books are loaded on the kids' iPads, so a little more room on the regular bookshelf. Because we move every few years we have to watch the weight of the books too. Love your apple crates!


    • renee

      renee on May 18, 2012, 10:43 a.m.

      Melonie, Yes, we jumped on the Herb Fairies offer also. Brienne is so into it. And I'm thrilled she's learning so much through story! She's got her binder with journals and coloring sheets etc. She's reading the books aloud to me from my Kindle and listening to the story on her little ipod - which is the most basic little model there here. We're considering getting B. an iPad as no one in the house has one (so it would be nice to have this tool around). I know she'd love to read the stories on there, in color.


  • Rachel Wolf

    Rachel Wolf on May 18, 2012, 12:13 p.m.

    We're recently unloaded 80% of our books. It is freeing! We haven't dipped our toe in the e-reader world yet, but my sister has a Kindle she's passing on to see how we like it. I love peeking into another homeschooler's library and recognizing a good percentage of the titles from our own small library. (And of course, our favorite game.)


  • Michelle

    Michelle on May 19, 2012, 12:27 a.m.

    Even though we started to homeschool this year I decided to decrease the amount of books we own. We have the space for the books we had but I had an epiphany when I was trying to decide how to organize and store our books: At the library the books are organized and cataloged. Makes more sense to me for the library to do the work, rather than me. We are very fortunate to have a great library for a small town so it was a very easy decision in the end to downsize our own book holdings.

    By the way Renee--I love your blog. I have been following your adventures for over a year now. We are avid skiers at our house too and spent many hours on the snow this year, in spite of the less than stellar conditions. It is a passion for us and we can't wait to do some back country skiing next year if the conditions are better. We stuck mostly to the ski resort this year. We plan to do more hiking this summer too in the White Mountains. But to spend a couple of months in Montreal--that sounds very exciting too.


  • Mama

    Mama on May 19, 2012, 12:50 a.m.

    Love the crate idea! Other than my stacks of books in storage, I keep some available for myself on a shelf in my clothes cupboard, and the kids books/library books I keep on a self-standing shelf in the living area. Not very big, but most of the books the kids "read" are library books anyway!


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