Q&A Wednesday: what should I do with kid’s artwork & crafts?

Reader Jennifer Sutton recently asked

What to do with papers & crafts from your kids from school?

It’s a perennial issue for any parent — the rate at which those masterpieces are created is pretty astounding. If you don’t have a system for organizing them, they can quickly take over kitchen counters and clog up mail tables.

I definitely share your pain. Not too long ago our kitchen counters disappeared under an avalanche of papers.

Art projects, sheets-upon-sheets of paper demonstrating a growing grasp of phonics and fine motor skills, weather booklets, chicken soup with rice poetry notes, – you name it, and it was on the counter.

The detritus of a 3-day-a-week preschool program and first grade.

As I started to tackle the mountain, my mind wandered to the hundreds of posts I have seen on Pinterest of moms painstakingly turning their children’s artwork into albums or a gallery of thumbnails (for hundreds of dollars no less).

Like this:
Organize kids artwork in a tile
{image via: The Great Remember}

And this:
collage of kids artwork
{image via: Apartment Therapy}

I looked back at our pile and wallowed for a moment. My urge to dump the entire lot in the trash bin seemed so harsh.

“Gosh, I must really be a bad mom,” I thought to myself.

I tried to put the brakes on the mommy-comparison doom loop that had been triggered, but as you know, once it starts, it can be hard to stop. I desperately did a mental catalog of my overbooked schedule trying to think of a time slot I could use to turn this artwork and such into a display project.

Fortunately, I was rescued by a question that flashed across my mind.

Do you really need the physical artwork in order to honor the memory of this year?

The answer was a resounding no.

I thought back to the time I had to go clean out my closet at my mom’s house a few years after graduating from college. All those notebooks from physics & AP English I thought I’d definitely go back through someday? Trash. Notes passed to and from friends in class from 3rd grade on? Ditto. Art projects? Gone.

All that stuff, while meaningful in the moment, was nothing but trash ten, fifteen, twenty years on.

And so it will be for your children too.

Tossing tired artwork most certainly does not cause the memories of the past year to disappear. You do not need physical objects to hold on to remember that your two-year-old went to a preschool program and thrived.

So rather than fetishizing the artwork, why not do everything you can to enjoy it in the moment and then get rid of it?

Here are a few ideas for doing just that:

Save kids artwork to use as wrapping paper
Save your children’s artwork in a storage container or portfolio bag and whenever you need to wrap a gift, use their masterpieces. I do this for abstract pieces of work that come home from preschool. I keep a portfolio bag at the back of our coat closet just inside the door so it’s easily accessible, but out of the way. Grandparents LOVE getting gifts wrapped in artwork.

Organize kids artwork by hanging an Ikea shower string on a wall
Hang a shower string from Ikea on a wall and then hang your artwork of the moment on with clips or clothespins.

organize kids artwork by hanging clipboards in a grid on a wall
Hang clipboards in a grid section on a wall in your kitchen or playroom. Then rotate worthy artwork through the clipboards.

Affix vinyl frames to a bedroom door to frame art
This clever blogger cut out vinyl frames and stuck them to a child’s bedroom door. Tape some clips to the vinyl and hang the artwork – or just use tape! I love how the bright yellow frames add a lovely pop of color.

Gallery wall of kids art above a coat rack
If you have a kid-height coat rack, it would be a brilliant spot to display masterpieces. If you don’t you could always do something similar in a playroom or child’s bedroom.

Nail pieces of trim to a wall to hang art on
Mallory & Savannah at Classy Clutter have come up with a genius solution. Purchase some pre-painted trim at your local Home Depot or Lowes, have them cut all the pieces for you. Then once you are home, nail the rows in place and you have a gallery that’s ready to go!

Rotate kids artwork through easily with Wexel frames
We display the best work from the week or month on a magnetized Wexel frame in the playroom and keep a stash of larger paper canvases in the portfolio in our coat closet to wrap presents. Anything that doesn’t make it to either of those gets tossed immediately.

What do you do? Do you think I am a minimalist Grinch on this topic?

  • Sarah

    I make an annual photo book of pictures of my daughter’s art. They are pretty inexpensive on Snapfish, and she loves looking through them. They take up little space on a bookshelf, and she is so proud of her “art books”

  • Daisy

    This is a really great idea. I think I’ll use it.:)

  • KathyH

    Second on the great idea! You must scan all those things in, then? Easy enough. Totally going to do this, too.

  • KathyH

    We are pretty lame and just tape up all of my 3 year old daughter’s things in our kitchen on a big, empty wall. Then when the season is over we throw the stuff that is generic and keep the things that are more definitive of this time in her life. For instance, the cottonball snowman? As cute as it is, it goes away come summer. But then there was the unit they did about first aid where she traced her hand and then they got to put a band aid on their owie of choice. The teacher asked why they got the owie and then interpreted it below. Brooke chose her owie to be “The puppy bited me.” To me that’s a keeper because it’s more indicative of her stage right now.

    Having that mentality has helped me not feel guilty about throwing the generic art away and making sure I save the things that might have more meaning one day.

  • Kathy

    This is in my “to do” list as well; I’ve saved the artwork in portfolios until i can get them all scanned. There is also an app called “Artkive” that lets you input the names and birthdates of kids so you can take pictures of it with your phone and “catalog” it that way….it’s a good way to remember who made what when. So when it’s time to print the book/calendar/etc of art, there’s a frame of reference for it.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @bee476dc7e85e540bc92e7fdc49b977d:disqus – there’s nothing lame about your approach at all. It’s the only way to sanity.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    Great idea @44dd2b193de979f5d47e10a7599a9f60:disqus – thanks for sharing!

  • Vanessa

    I like how the article started out about not spending a bunch of money…but then it took the expected turn aka spend lots of money…

  • Vanessa

    Ok I’m such a whiner. I really do love those magnet frames even though they are 96 bucks.

  • SarahButtonedUp

    @ef18a9195c633e424f3863c35639d7ed:disqus – Believe me, I hear you and think your comment is totally fair! You definitely DON’T have to spend a dime. I thought about not including the frames because of the price, but I personally love them – and the way they help me make rotating artwork through the house. I do use a combo platter of all of the above – and the only thing I ever spent $ on was the magnet frame. :)

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