What do you do with all the artwork your kids bring home from school? What happens with all the drawings, paintings and macaroni collages they also make — lovingly — for you at home? They’re so cute, but refrigerator doors can only hold so much!
My wife and I implement a simple process of editing, displaying and swapping that serves us well. It does take a little honesty and “tough love,” but it works out quite well.
Step One: Edit
In essence, these pieces of art tell a story. You can watch Jr.’s skills evolve, and notice what he notices in his daily life. This story, like any other, needs editing. Now that the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to sit down with the stack and identify the keepers and the rest. What does a keeper look like?
- A first. For example, we saved my daughter’s first attempt at drawing people who weren’t stick figures. I’m wearing an actual shirt! Other firsts might include a new home, new puppy in the family and so on.
- A beautiful piece of art. Every now and then they’ll knock your socks off with something that looks downright good. Those examples definitely go in the keep pile.
- Holiday Theme. As I’ll explain later, it’s nice to grab something to represent Christmas, Thanksgiving, summer or whatever you celebrate. Only one, though.
- Something Meaningful. Maybe you’ve got something that was made on a special trip, on a memorable occasion, or for a reason that has great significance to you and your family. Just be careful not to let your emotions get the best of you here or you may go overboard.
Step Two: Display
Now that you’ve identified the cream of the crop and eliminated a lot of clutter potential, it’s time to give the winners the respect and prominence they deserve. Here are a few ideas.
- Frame them. You can find inexpensive matted frames in various sizes at photo supply stores, craft stores and even the supermarket. They hang on the wall and really make that art look special. We’ve found that you can store three or four paintings or drawings in the frame behind the piece being displayed. So, we’ve got four frames that actually store 16 pieces of art. As the seasons (or our whims) change, we simply take the frame off the wall and rotate which piece is in front.
- Make a digital photo book. Shutterfly and Apple’s iPhoto will let you create beautiful hard-bound books of photos. You can snap photos of your children’s art and in a few steps have a beautiful coffee table book of their work. This is especially useful for items that might break like pottery or tree ornaments. These are also great to share with grandma, grandpa and other loved ones who don’t get to see your childrens’ art in person. Finally, here’s how to get great photos of objects at home on the cheap.
- Create a home gallery. This can be a lot of fun and gets the kids involved in the editing process. Pick one area of the house, perhaps a single wall, to be the art gallery. Avoid Jr.’s bedroom because you want this to be visible to all visitors. Have her select the pieces to be displayed. I love this idea of putting a frame around an office clip mounted to the wall. How easy to swap pieces in and out. When the gallery gets full, take a photo, then pull that “exhibit” down and begin replacing it with the next one.
- Re-use. That painting needn’t be a painting forever! You can turn it into a greeting card or laminate larger pieces and use them as place mats.
Step Three: Swap
When swapping out some pieces, consider sending them to far-flung family and friends. Chances are they’ll love having them.
Another option is Kids Art for the Cure. This organization takes donated artwork and puts them on greeting cards. Proceeds go to recognized cancer research organizations.
Or, consider Child’s Own Studio. This company builds actual stuffed dolls based on your child’s drawings.
What do you do or have you done with children’s artwork? Share your success stories in the comments.
The winter holidays are coming and, for those who celebrate and have kids, it typically means the acquisition of new toys. It’s great for the kids but becomes problematic when the new bounty is piled upon last year’s. And the year before that. Before long, you’ve got clutter on your hands. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the mess, keep things tidy, and, best of all, keep the kids happy about it. If you’re looking to part with used toys, the following are several ideas for what you can do with older, outgrown or otherwise unused toys.
It’s always nice to donate a toy to someone who could use it and there are plenty of options. Here are a few that should be available in many communities for very lightly used toys:
- Toy drives. To find a toy drive in your area, contact a local church or chamber of commerce. Organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts also organize drives, so seek them out in your neighborhood.
- S.A.F.E. Stuffed Animals for Emergencies. This organization delivers donated stuffed animals, toys, books and blankets to hospitals, children’s services, homeless shelters and hospitals across the country. You can find a chapter in your area here.
- Goodwill. Goodwill works to foster employment training opportunities for those it serves. The vast majority of funds brought in through its stores serves that purpose.
- Local fire department. Firefighters and EMTs often keep stuffed animals around to give to children they must transport to the hospital. Call the department in your area to see if they have such a program.
Repurpose Old Toys
Repurposing is where it gets fun. You and your child can let your creativity run wild and think of fun and useful ways to repurpose old toys. It can soften the blow that comes with giving something away. Often children can have an emotional bond to a toy they haven’t touched in years. Tricks like these allow them to keep that toy around (or a part of it at least).
Repurposing helps kids (and parents) realize that making something can be more fun than buying. It fosters a real sense of ownership and accomplishment. Finally, you’re keeping a hunk of plastic out of the landfill in many cases. Here are some great ideas for re-purposing old toys.
Website Apartment Therapy has gathered 10 fantastic projects for old toys from around the web. My favorites include:
- Plastic toy as planter. This fantastic tutorial shows you how to turn a plastic dinosaur into a cute planter.
- Wooden block wall hangings. My wife and I bought so many wooden blocks for my children. At 7 and 9 years old, they’ve lost interest. This quick how-to from snug.studio shows how to turn them into wall hangings for book bags, hats, jackets and more. Very clever.
- Animal head toy coat rack. A very clever and useful project from Make: Craft uses the heads of discarded plastic animals to make a good-looking coat rack.
- Tree ornaments. When I was very young, my mother cut the plastic animals that hung from the mobile above my crib and turned them into Christmas tree ornaments. They’re still among my favorites (wooden peg puzzle pieces also make great ornaments).
I know that kids aren’t thrilled about receiving clothes as gifts, but it happens. Even I have a T-shirt collection that drives my wife a little crazy. Last year, she had several made into the quilt pictured below that has graced my bed ever since.
Honor the Memory
We often fail to part with things not because of the item itself, but with the memory or emotion it represents. This is especially true as kids grow up. One way to honor the memory without incurring clutter is with a shadow box like these from Lawrence Frames. Add an item or two and discard the rest. The memory is intact, and the clutter isn’t.
I also love this wall decoration made from small, unused toys. What a nice way to let Jr. keep some of the items he loves without letting them form a space-hogging pile.
You won’t be able to sell all of your old toys, of course. But some vintage toys and collectibles can attract buyers. Before you list your little treasures online, you’ll need to take some photos. A good photo can make or break a sale. Here’s a fantastic tutorial on how to photograph your items for the likes of ebay. And, Thomas train sets are very popular this time of year for sale on Craigslist.
There’s a lot that can be done with old toys. If you can, have your kids take part in the process you choose. They’ll feel a part of the decision and enjoy seeing the toy’s new role.
Kids excel at many things, including the acquisition of stuff. From books to LEGO bricks, and dolls to video games, it all piles up and leads to the inevitable question: Where should they put this? There’s a larger question at work here, too: do they need all this stuff? Listed below are a few gift ideas to help children answer both questions. And don’t worry, they’ll enjoy opening these gifts, too.
- A notebook. My nine-year-old is a real “Forgetful Flower” (she takes after her father). So I’ve gotten her to adopt a habit of mine: writing things down in a notebook. Filednotes Brand sells this super-cute “Summer Camp” 3-pack of brightly-colored notebooks that comes with a three matching pencils and an oversized rubber band that make a great stocking stuffer. My daughter uses hers to write down classroom assignments.
- Labels from Mabel’s Labels. These super-cute labels clearly display your child’s name, come in many sizes, colors and themes (dinosaur, nature, etc.) and stick to just about anything. We’ve placed them on clothes sent to camp, inside baseball hats and other sports equipment, lunch boxes and more. They also make dog-tag style bag tags (older kids won’t be embarrassed to use them) perfect for hockey equipment, laundry, etc. We’ve even put the clothing labels through several washings and they’ve remained intact.
- The IRIS LEGO 6-Case Workstation and Storage Unit is awesome. Shallow, color-coded drawers make it easy to find the pieces you want. The top of the unit itself is a LEGO surface, so it doubles as a play area. LEGO bricks seem to reproduce on their own that his unit keeps their population under control.
- Wall-mounted sports storage racks. I love these great-looking racks for storing/displaying snowboards, wakeboards, surfboards, skateboards and skis. Teenagers will like them because their gear looks cool presented like this. You’ll like them because it gets that stuff up off the floor.
- Nintendo DS game organizer. These game cartridges are so tiny and they love to disappear. This organizer holds 12 cartridges and offers easy access. There are similar storage devices for all handheld gaming systems. Include a new game with the organizer, and it will make most any kid happy.
- Lap desks. In dark and bright models, a lap desk can be incredibly useful gift for a kid who likes to do homework on the couch or in a comfy chair. My kids covered theirs with strips of Duck Tape in crazy patterns for a custom look.
Younger children who aren’t yet into skateboarding, gaming systems, or homework might enjoy books that have underlying themes on uncluttering and organizing:
- Room Enough for Daisy by Debbie Waldman. Little Daisy has so many toys, she wishes for a larger bedroom to accommodate them all. Eventually, her mom convinces her to donate some items to a rummage sale. Cindy Revell’s illustrations are really cute.
- Too Many Toys by David Shannon. David’s books are fantastic, starting with the hilariously relatable “No, David!” Too Many Toys has a similar theme to Room Enough for Daisy, in that David is required to thin his massive collection of toys. It’s a fun story that my kids think is funny and I find quite charming.
- Mr. Messy, part of the Mr./Mrs. series by Roger Hargreaves, is an untidy fellow until he meets Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy.
- More by I. C. Springman is about a hoarding magpie whose friends teach him the value of “enough.” Again, the illustrations are great and the minimal text great for new readers.
I’ve got one last tip to share. My wife and I have two kids. To make things easy on Christmas morning, we wrap gifts strategically. Presents to Child A from mom and dad are wrapped in Paper A. Those to Kid B are in Paper B. Finally, gifts from Santa are magically in a third paper. This way, we avoid the “Who is this from?” question as well as “Is this mine?” It works very well for us.
The full 2012 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.
A new school year has begun here in the US and that means parents will be chasing the kids down for forgotten homework, crumpled permission slips and library books that were due weeks ago. Not to mention the trail of shoes, hats, jackets and backpacks, which, in my house at least, lead to the refrigerator. Save yourself some frustration — and teach the kids responsibility at the same time — by creating a “landing area” for all their stuff.
When I was young, my sisters and I were often late for school because we spent too much time in the morning running around like headless chickens who can’t find their Trapper Keepers. Such drama is easily avoided with a little planning and practice. It begins with picking the right spot for a landing area in your home.
Pick The Perfect Spot
Your kid’s landing area won’t be effective if it isn’t in the right spot. Finding that spot isn’t as easy as it sounds. The key is to identify an area of your home that’s in the arrival traffic pattern, preferably the very beginning. It’s tempting to consider a beautiful desk or cubby that’s far from the door. (Or even Jr.’s bedroom.) But, if Jr. is anything like my kids, he’ll either create a path between the door and his room, or lose his stuff somewhere in between.
My wife and I have identified a small cabinet just inside the back door to our house (no one uses the front door unless they’re selling something). Now, the kids enter and just as they’re tempted to shed their backpacks, hats, gloves and coats like molting snakes, they see the table right in their path.
Set It Up
When setting it all up, consider what you’ve got to capture. The list will likely change as the seasons do, so keep that in mind. If you live in an area that experiences the highs and lows of the four seasons, leave room for bulky winter clothing. Here’s the list of items we’ve accommodated for, and where each one goes.
- Backpacks. The young student’s staple. We bought a small, child-sized coat tree from a discount department store to hold two backpacks. It works great and, since the backpacks are all that the tree holds, it handles their bulk easily.
- Clothing. We went Shaker-style here and I put two rows of wooden pegs on the wall, one above the other. There’s plenty of room for hats, coats, gloves and scarves.
- An “inbox” for school-to-home communication. This one is a biggie. If my 9-year-old were a super hero, her power would be losing papers, permission slips and notes in a single bound. A simple plastic in-tray from an office supply store fits the bill here. Now when she and her brother arrive home, they move papers, etc. from their backpacks to the inbox (more on encouraging this behavior later).
- An “outbox” for home-to-school communication. As you know, some forms must be returned to school. Place them in “Out,” and have Jr. check it at night before going to bed.
- A snack/lunch bag area. I’d love to say that I make lunches and snacks the night before and keep them in the ’fridge, but that’s called lying. After hastily putting these items together at 7:00 AM, I plop them in the bag area on the table. The kids then toss them into their backpacks.
- Library books. After receiving a few threatening letters from school librarians last year, I’ve designated a spot for library books. The rule is, if you see one there, place it in your backpack.
A landing area is all well and good only if it gets used. You can help that happen with a little behavior motivation. Prior to my career as a professional geek, I worked as a special needs teacher. We used the Applied Behavior Analysis model of instruction, and today I use some of the same techniques in my parenting. In this case, a contract system will work wonders. Here’s how to set it up.
Explain the landing area to the kids and let them see it. Tell them how it works and why you’re going to use it. Then, set up the contract. For example, I have a simple dry erase board that onto which I’ve drawn two rows of five squares. For every day that the kids put away their stuff and empty their backpacks before descending upon the house, they get a star in a block. If there are five stars at the end of the week, they receive a small treat.
Note: it’s important to pair praise and affection with the treat. That way, you can eventually stop using the contract and reward (that is the goal, after all) as your hugs and appreciation will be enough to maintain the behavior.
That’s it! Good luck setting up your landing area. Understand that it won’t work perfectly every day, or even every week, but keep at it and save yourself and your kids some frustration. You’ll probably be very glad you did.
Reader’s Digest is a fun periodical. Recently, I was happy to come across this article as I was checking out their site. The “6 Ways to Tame Kids’ Clutter” isn’t groundbreaking content, much of it is common sense, but it is still helpful advice. I’ve always found reading common sense solutions in writing makes them click.
“Baby Plays … allows parents to receive four or six toys in the mail every month, assembled and ready for playtime. Call it Netflix for the toddler set.”
There is a flat fee based on the number of rentals ($29, $32, and $36 packages), and all of the toys are guaranteed to be lead-free. According to the article, “the toys are sanitized with Clorox wipes and loaded with fresh batteries before being shrink wrapped and boxed for shipment.” Additionally, all toys come with a postage-paid box for returning the toy when your child tires of playing with it.
Toy rental sounds like a terrific idea for keeping play room clutter under control, especially if you don’t have a toy lending library like the one discussed in today’s earlier post. This service also seems like a perfect gift a grandparent could give a grandchild.
Having a 20-month old is a bit like taking care of a drunk friend. They don’t really know what they are doing, but they are having fun while they do it. My daughter is getting into the “terrible twos” a bit early, so hopefully they’ll end early.
One thing that seems to get worse as she gets older is the toy accumulation. I’ve mentioned this problem in some prior posts and I must say that my wife and I continue to struggle with it. I’m always on the lookout for new ways of curbing clutter that is kid specific. So, I was pleased to read this article in the Detroit News that had a long list of kid specific clutter tips. Tips such as:
- Divide and conquer:
Big toy boxes make it too easy for toys to get jumbled together. Better: a bin for Legos, another for action figures, another for dollhouse furniture, etc.
- Toss the flimsy crayon boxes:
Same goes for the marker and colored-pencil boxes. Instead, put drawing tools into lidded boxes or bins. And don’t bother saving every free crayon you’ve collected from restaurant visits. Teachers say most kids just grab the top two or three anyway.
- Craft supplies:
Keep a vinyl tablecloth with the art supplies. It’ll be on hand to protect the table or rug (skip disposable ones: not sturdy enough).
These tips aren’t earth shattering, but they are helpful. The accumulation of toys is the hardest thing to get under control, in my opinion. Forces beyond our control are at work. These forces, mostly Grandma and Grandpa, are unrelenting. Be vigilant in your removal of old and unused toys, and your toy clutter will stay manageable.