Here is a riddle for you... If you have 10 weeds in your garden and you pick 1 weed a day for 10 days, how many weeds will you have in your garden? Zero weeds, right? Wrong! You'll have about 1,000 weeds! And this is how it goes sometimes with school papers and kids' art. As soon as you think you've got it under control, as soon as you make some tough decisions about what to keep and what to toss or recycle, a wave of more comes crashing into your home.
Why Schoolwork and Art Are so Difficult to Manage Quantity is the issue here. The sheer quantity of papers, art, and projects that come home from school and extracurriculars is enough to make managing them overwhelming. This is especially true if you have kids in preschool and lower grades. Over the summer, you may tell yourself that you’re going to sort, edit, and file so you are ready for the next school year. That task can be monumental, however, so good intentions are often outweighed by understandable procrastination.
Setting Guidelines for Saving To avoid the tedious task of going through a year or more of your child’s work at one time, you need to keep the quantity under control as each year progresses. It is helpful to set guidelines for yourself. I suggest that you only keep the items that truly show your child's individual creativity or a milestone specific to them. If it looks like something that was teacher-led and every kid in the class went home with the exact same item, consider talking with your child about the process of making it and then letting it go (perhaps when they are not looking).
Here are some questions to help you decide if an item is a unique expression of your child's abilities and development.
Was this the first time they did something? For example, was it the first time they wrote their name or the first time they drew their family?
Was this something they created totally on their own?
Does this display a favorite of theirs such as a favorite animal or theme? My daughter drew dozens and dozens of rainbows for a while. We kept a few of them to mark the chapter in her creativity.
Managing Sentimentality Items with sentimental value are notoriously difficult to part with. After all, your sweet child created them! But we must learn to separate our children from their work, or we will keep every piece of paper they touch, and that is not exactly sustainable.
Think about this. If you have so many pieces of paper that represent your child’s learning, thinking, and creativity that they have to be stuffed into multiple storage boxes in the back of a closet, are you really honoring or appreciating them?
Believe me, I know it is difficult to let go of things that your child put their precious energy into. It doesn’t matter whether it's a museum-worthy piece, a scribble, or just their math homework. But if you want that effort to ever see the light of day, limit them to a manageable quantity. Carefully select the most significant or meaningful work so that you can easily page through or display those representative samples in the years to come.
A Lesson from the Masters If your child has a particular talent, it can be even more tempting to hold onto “the early works.” But we can take a lesson from the art masters. Many renowned artists, musicians and writers have reused canvases, copied projects over and over before coming to a final piece, and scrapped several of their drafts and projects while keeping only their best, most creative work to display to the world. If they can do it, we can do it for our kids, reserving a curated collection of their childhood work for future enjoyment.
Consideration for Other Opinions Editing your child’s work may also be difficult because there are other opinions to consider. Besides your own, another parent, caregiver, or your child themself may want to weigh in. It can get complicated. It's important, however, to hear and respect those opinions and strike a balance where differences may appear. Talk to them about quality over quantity so you can create a truly special collection, not just a massive stack of stored papers.
Also ask yourself who you are keeping the items for. Are they for you? Your child? A potential grandchild? Keep in mind, you are probably the person who cares the most about your child’s work. Is anyone else really going to want five boxes of math and geometry homework? Most likely, the intended recipient would rather recycle them than weed through a stockpile of papers to find the few treasures that may be in there. Do them a favor by making thoughtful selections along the way that result in a meaningful compilation of childhood memories.
Storing and Displaying Even after you’ve done a significant amount of editing, the remaining schoolwork and art can be difficult to store and display, but here are a few ideas:
Limit Yourself to 1 Folder or Bag per Year - When your child starts preschool, buy a banker box and 14 hanging folders labeled for each school year until they graduate high school. Put your child's items from the school year in the corresponding folder. Once the folder is full, it's time to review or stop saving items. The same concept can be used with a large plastic Ziploc bag for each grade.
Use Art Storage Frames - Li'l Davinci Art Frames are a brilliant way to both display and store your child's art. They hold up to 50 pages, so you can keep popping in the latest masterpiece. When it's full, you can move them to that year’s folder or bag.
As a mom of two young children AND a professional organizer, I have tested lots of schoolwork and art management systems first-hand. My philosophy is that saved work should be enjoyed now, not just stashed away in a box for future discovery…or recycling. If you need more ideas for how to keep that pile from growing while holding onto what’s most important, don’t hesitate to get in Contact. I’d love to help!