Uncluttering your children’s artwork and school papers

Kids often create an enormous amount of artwork — and then there’s the huge volume of schoolwork they come home with, too. Keeping it all would be overwhelming, but how do you decide which things to keep?

Eliminate duplicates

Kids often draw the same thing over and over again. How many nearly identical pictures of cats or superheroes do you need? Consider just keeping representative samples done over the years, which show how your child’s art has evolved.

Jessica Hinton wrote that she used to keep every piece of art her toddler made, but she’s changed her ways:

Today my daughter made 20 portraits of her baby sister, but I only kept one that she called her “favorite.” More likely than not we’ll keep it on the fridge and throw it away when another replaces it tomorrow. Or maybe, just maybe, this will be the one we’ll frame and hold on to for years to come. Maybe.

And as Susan Ward noted, even handprint art — something parents tend to keep — can be overdone:

You probably don’t need to keep two different handprint crafts made during the same week. Your child’s hand has not grown in 48 hours. Pick the cutest one and toss the other.

Choose original art

Drawings your children create out of their imagination will be more meaningful than those where they just filled in the colors in a coloring book.

Keep papers with a personal connection

The essay entitled “My Summer Vacation” or “My Family” is probably more meaningful than the essay on George Washington. Weekly spelling tests can probably be tossed, but a few samples of your child’s handwriting over the years might be fun to keep.

Other likely keepers are the papers (artwork or schoolwork) that showcase your child’s personality and talents. If your child decided to write the essay about George Washington in haiku, it might well become a keeper.

Consider ditching the macaroni art

Anything that’s three-dimensional is going to be harder to store than simple pieces of paper. You may well want to save some of these projects, but for others, it may work fine to just take a photograph of the art. Consider having your child hold that artwork when you take the photo.

Ask your children what to keep

Your children may have their own ideas about what is worth saving. If a particular piece is especially meaningful to your child, it’s probably a keeper, along with a note explaining the significance, if it’s not obvious.

Parents often have more difficulty in parting with the art than their children do. Michael Tortorello, in an article for The New York Times, quoted David Burton, a professor of art education, talking about kids and their art:

Once they’re through with it, they may lose interest in it very quickly. The process is more important than the product for the child.

But Burton also notes that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to see you toss the art into the trash hours after they create it.

Remember that your children, when they’re adults, will thank you for not keeping everything

Most people enjoy seeing a representative sample of the work they did as children. But too many papers takes away that joy.

As a commenter wrote on Apartment Therapy:

A friend of mine was just given a GIANT box of old art and school papers and she cried. Not from joy or sentiment, but from the burden of having to deal with it. It’s now collecting dust in her basement.

Aby Garvey summarizes things nicely:

I use the “ahhh …” test, and keep things that really tug at my heartstrings. It’s the original artwork or the creative writing stories that are most special to me. Spelling tests and math worksheets just don’t have the same tug, but we might keep one or two of those, just so we can see how things change from year to year. By including my child in the process, I also make sure we keep items that are meaningful to her.

15 Comments for “Uncluttering your children’s artwork and school papers”

  1. posted by pat on

    I still try to keep a few assignment papers even though my kids are now middle school and high school age. By a few, I mean no more than 5 per year, but I do try to include both the good and the (funny) bad. There’s always some essay question on a test that gets a very creative answer each year.

    My mom didn’t keep school papers or artwork of mine, so all of that’s lost. Ironically she did keep some of her old spelling tests, from the 1940′s one room schoolhouse days, which I still have. One of these days I will find a museum close to the area she lived in to donate some of her momento’s to. My kids never met her since she passed away many years before any of them was born, so they don’t have a connection with her stuff.

  2. posted by Mike on

    My folks gave me a folder with my college essays in it from 22 years ago. I cringed. Boy, was I ever full of myself. The sheer ignorant arrogance in those letters is difficult for me to convey with any accuracy here. If those letters were captains of a ship, there would have been a mutiny before they left harbor.

    I wouldn’t have minded never seeing those again, though it’s kind of nice to realize how much I’ve grown as a person since then. And now, they’ve been obliterated, and nobody ever WILL see them again. I did scan-to-PDF the admission letters, SAT scores, report cards, and other items of note, though, and I’m very happy my folks saved them.

    Now I know a little more about what to save — and what not to save — for my three kids.

  3. posted by MaryJo @ reSPACEd: Budget Organizing on

    Yes to that great list of criteria for saving versus tossing! I also advocate saving artwork that is the best of the child’s ability at that time. So for example, the super detailed drawing of their neighborhood that they spent hours on and were so proud of or the first paragraph that they wrote successfully by themselves in first grade.

    Interestingly enough, I would toss all of the stuff that the last poster would keep (report cards, SAT scores, admission letters) and keep the stuff he wants to toss (all those essays). I think the essays, even though they are cringe-worthy, are something that are much more interesting for the next generation to look through than the results of tests and grades. I would much rather read my parents’ and grandparents’ arrogant essays than see their report cards. But that’s just me. I suppose if any of it makes you feel bad about yourself, there’s no point in keeping any of it.

    If you are interested in some ideas for how to store the artwork you are keeping, you can check out a blog post I wrote about it here: http://respacedpdx.com/2013/06.....an-option/

  4. posted by Fazal Majid on

    I scan and shred any greeting cards I receive. I expect I will be doing the same for artwork as well when my daughter is of age to start, or photograph them if they are too large to fit in a scanner.

    You could even make hardbound printed monographs of your children’s art using a service like Blurb. Takes much less space that way, and can even be used as coffee-table conversation pieces.

  5. posted by Tara from AboutOne on

    I tend to keep too much, and these criteria are great. It’s something to think about.

    Because we homeschool in Pennsylvania, we’re required to keep a portfolio that shows growth in each of the major subject areas. That makes it necessary to keep a certain volume of papers. I am constantly torn between when to photograph or scan (and save in AboutOne) and toss the original and when to hold on to the original. It’s always hard to decide.

  6. posted by Rahul on

    We’ve been taking pictures of their artwork and saving them to an online photo site. Once a year we compact it down into one photo art book for the year. Now when I get rid of one of their drawings, they ask first “did you take a picture of it?” If I say yes, they’re fine with me pitching it.

  7. posted by Beth on

    We have an old diaper box that we put all papers, art work, etc. in throughout the year (also keeps that “where’s that paper about soccer tryouts!!” syndrome at bay). One day during summer vacation, they pick out their favorites, we three hole punch them, and make a binder.

  8. posted by Marieke on

    Most importantly if you keep something: date it. And ad additional information. What it is what your child tells you about. it will mean so much more My oldest is 11 now and I tossed so many things lately that I can’t remember anything about…..

  9. posted by Jessica on

    I collect the artwork/paperwork in an IKEA magazine rack in the kitchen. When it gets full, I scan the best stuff and trash the rest when my daughter isn’t looking. My daughter knows I scan stuff and often she asks to have her favorite art scanned.

  10. posted by Diane on

    Definitely keep a few examples of their original artwork and papers, and essays written about the family, holiday traditions, etc. And definitely don’t keep every paper!

    As for projects, especially three-dimensional ~ always take photos! And take a photo of the child with the project, so you can record their age & how they looked (so proud!) at the time. I wish I’d done that when my kids were small, instead of just keeping the projects that would be tossed later…

    I kept a 3 ring binder with sheet protectors for each of my sons. You can store papers, test scores, report cards, awards, certificates, ribbons, school photos, class photos, sports/activity photos, newspaper photos in 1 binder. As they got older I separated this into 3 binders per child~ 1 for grade school, 1 for high school & 1 for sports. They are both grown now & still enjoy looking through their binders.

  11. posted by Marie on

    My mom gave me my “schoolwork box” when I moved out and I pitched the entire thing in the trash. I told her for years I would never want it, but she insisted on storing everything and then handing it to me like it was a priceless treasure. Nostalgic child artwork is a “parent” thing, not a “self” thing.

  12. posted by NoAlias on

    Artwork makes excellent stationery when writing to grandparents and other ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’.

  13. posted by Christy King on

    Great post. It’s always a struggle to try to figure out what to keep. One thing that helps me is to go through what I saved a year or two ago. I can usually more easily scale it back then than in the first go-round.

  14. posted by Stephanie on

    I love all of these suggestions. My 2 year old has started bringing art work home from daycare. And although she only goes twice a week, we’ve already accumulated a surprising amount!

    So far, I’ve been keeping the pieces that best represent her ability, and the most unique. I’ve been tossing the rest (1 scribble on an 8 x 10?). I’m also passing along the occasional great piece to her grandparents and great grandparents so they can decorate their fridges. And recently I’ve started using big, colourful pieces as wrapping paper.

    Share the love and recycle!

  15. posted by Vanessa Fasanella on

    I throw away everything, I hate clutter. But instead of feeling guilty, I just photograph every piece of artwork, then make a Shutterfly book of it. We need to remember the drawings that say I LVOE YUO!

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