I remember the scene like you would remember any horrifying experience. Summer was winding down, I was about to have baby, and I wanted stuff organized and ready to face the new school year. I pulled out the piles and piles (and piles) of paper of pictures that Kaitlyn alone had created over the last few months. I wish there was some way to transfer my memory to these words so you could experience it with me. Alas, you will have to be contented with knowing it covered the entire floor of my office and it was high. Above my ankles.
This is the moment I realized I needed a much, much better system for organizing the kids’ artwork. Up until this point, things had been pretty smooth. Brayden pretty much considered coloring to be torture time even as an 18 month old. I had always just taken a day once a year to photo all of the crafts made in the previous year, keep some, and thrown away the rest. It wasn’t super fast, but not super long either.
The once a year tactic was not going to work any more. Neither was once a quarter, obviously. I had an artist on my hands. Not only that, I was going to have two more children to add to the mix. I needed a better system. This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.
Phase 1: The Pre-Sort
Each day, go through your child’s backpack or pile of art creations. Throw away anything you do not need any memory of. I won’t tell you what you do and don’t need–that is for you to decide. When Brayden was in Kindergarten, I kept every paper. When Kaitlyn was in Kindergarten, I kept only tests and art projects. I cut down even more these days–we don’t need to remember every score on every test.
I put things I want to keep into hanging file folders on my wall. There they wait until the next phase.
Quick note–kids love to have their work displayed and I love to display it. Kaitlyn and McKenna have a large magnetic board in their room and we also hang things on the fridge. If something will be hung, I hang it. I don’t put it into my hanging file folders until the item is done being on display.
Phase 2: The Photo Session
Just about every Saturday, I get all of the papers I have saved out and I take a picture of each one. I put each paper on a white foamcore board and put the foamcore next to a window in my house so the pictures will be nice.
Doing this weekly means it only takes me about 10ish minutes each week. Sometimes I will skip it on a Saturday if things are crazy and I need to cut something.
Phase 3: The Sort
Once I have taken the photo of the item, I put it in one of two piles. One pile is to keep and one is to throw away. I only keep a handful of things. The reason is just so the kids have something tangible to look back on their elementary years. I loved looking through my items so I want the kids to have the same experience. I am nostalgic.
I immediately throw away the throw away pile. You have to act quickly so kids don’t see the pile and intervene.
Phase 4: Storage
For storage, each child has a nice file box. It is just cardboard but offices will use them to file things in. Brayden will make it through elementary school with just one. Kaitlyn might need two. I keep these boxes in our game closet downstairs. The kids often get their boxes out and go through their papers. I don’t mind this (as long as they clean them up). Things don’t stay as nice as they would, but the point is for them to remember what they did. I also have a photo of everything whether we keep it or not.
That is as far as our storage has gone so far. A fun idea is to take it a little further and to print a memory book or a picture collage of their projects. For a child like Kaitlyn who loves art, this would be a treasured book to go through. For a child like Brayden, it would be a book on the shelf that rarely got looked at. If you have minimal storage space, this is a good option and you could save just a small handful of hard copy items.
That is it! This process makes things very simple. I have never been overwhelmed like I was that summer day all those years ago.
You can get more ideas from my post Managing the Paper Influx.