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Budding Artists – Taming Your Children’s Art Clutter

As the end of the school year is swiftly approaching, parents are faced with what to do with all the art (and school work) clutter their children have produced. Now, when I call it clutter that is not to say we don’t love what our children created, it is just that the sheer volume is overwhelming. It seems as if once a child can hold a crayon, their paper seems to multiply faster than fleas! But what is more amazing is our attachment to each and every one they create. Whether it is a masterpiece that Van Gogh would admire, or one that is scribble scrabble (a phrase my kids teachers have used) we can’t seem to let go of our budding artists/scholars work. And this is only compounded by having more than one child! 

If you were to save each and every piece of paper our children worked on in their thirteen years of school, you could fill an entire standard bedroom! Moms who find out I organize homes always ask how they can better organize their children’s art and school work. They all seem to want to cut it back but don’t know what to let go of. I mean, how can you let go of something your child created. It seems like you are giving or throwing a piece of them away!

The good news is the older they get, the less paper work they bring home. The bad news is you can’t keep it all! Making the decision of what to keep and what to toss/recycle can be easier if you face it head on. You need to create a limit or standard and a means of storage of what you will keep. Each family and situation is different, so there is no set standard, but you can figure out your own set of guidelines. 

I typically save art that is art. Not the painting swirled in a circle with the teacher writing “A Motorcycle” above it. I also keep things that show progression in their development. Be it writing letters, or drawing a flower, or a worksheet, I will be able to look back as see their attempts at mastering a new learning challenge. Also, I save items that are about them. A self portrait, an interview from preschool about what they want to be when they grow up, a drawing of the family, an essay of their summer vacation, and so forth. You don’t need to keep the 4th grade book report they received an A++ on, unless you somehow are related to the person in the story!

Keeping the work you have decided to save can be a challenge. Here are a few suggestions on different approaches to keeping the memory alive of their precious childhood:

  • A scrapbook or file box that shows progression and growth. Start at the beginning and work your way up to high school. Make sure you don’t fill books or boxes. Your child will not have the same attachment to these as you will. Be picky, and set your limit. Your child will appreciate that you don’t hand them boxes and boxes of their work when they are adults. Parents are always surprised at how their children don’t have the same attachment to the items that they do.
  • Photo of your child with their art work or school work. Hang your children’s art/school work on a blank wall and take a picture of them with their work. You can place multiple works on the wall and have one photo! You will capture the memory, but save it in a much smaller form. Also, the glitter and rice (cereal, beans, you know what I mean!) will not be left in a box for so many years that the glue has disintegrated and left you with a mess!
  • Scan or photograph their artwork and school work. Create a digital scrapbook of their work. You will be able to arrange a book in no time that shows their development and progression. This will cut down on the size/volume of papers you accumulate. This doesn’t give you “permission” to save it all. Again, be picky about what you save. Your child will not appreciate your hard work of scrap-booking all they did in school if it is a twenty volume series! Use what is most valuable, and toss the rest.

Some moms tell me their children may get upset if their work is thrown away so soon after creating it. For my children, I have a large magnetic board that has their weekly art/school work on it. This sets a limit/boundary as the board can only hold so much. As they bring home something new, I have them help decide what should come down to make room for their new work. You will be surprised at how fast they will take something down to make room for their new creation. You can see what they value in their eyes, not yours! 

I know all the little scraps of paper that say “I love you Mommy” are so hard to throw away! But be strong, know your children love you, and that you have a limit as to what you can keep. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you if you need to throw it away! And a little disclaimer to the toss process, recycle what you can!