Today's mission is to declutter kids' art so that it is no longer a huge mountain or pile of papers, and instead is something you and your kids can look through and actually enjoy, instead of being overwhelmed by it.
This mission is designed to be done while working on the Craft Organization Challenge here on the site, which is part of the 52 Week Organized Home Challenge.
Of course, really this isn't the type of declutter mission that you can do just once a year and stay caught up. As with many types of paper clutter, this is the kind of mission that you need to do consistently, and habitually, while you are going through this stage of life where kids are creating mountains of artwork regularly. I've given more tips on making it a habit for the future below, after you've waded through what you've currently got.
But when I give this mission each year I always hear from some readers who don't want to part with any of these items, and others that are overwhelmed about which pieces of art to keep versus what to get rid of.
So those are the things I'm going to discuss today to give you confidence, first, that you're making a good decision to winnow down the amount of artwork you're keeping, and second, to feel comfortable with the choices you're making which helps get rid of a lot of self-doubt and guilt that come with this process otherwise.
Finally, please note that technically according to the Declutter Calendar today you're only supposed to focus on decluttering kids artwork. Early next month we'll declutter kids' school papers when we do the Back To School & Homework Organization Challenge.
While I've given you different days to do these tasks I've found the process and questions you should ask yourself are the same, so I'm referring to both of them below, and I'll reference this article again when the day on the calendar rolls around for us to tackle school paper clutter.
Before you can get to the questions I've listed below that can help you with this mission, you've got to be convinced that decluttering some of this artwork is ideal and actually going to be a blessing to you, and not something you'll regret.
I understand that getting rid of some of these papers and your kids artwork can feel emotional. After all, you love them, you're proud of their accomplishments, and you want to capture what they were like at a certain age. But not winnowing down the portfolio does not change the fact that kids grow up. It just postpones the decisions and adds stress in the form of clutter on top of that.
Kids produce more artwork than I ever thought possible. Sometimes 20 "masterpieces" at a time, at least if your kids are anything like mine. And there is no way all of those can reasonably fit in your home, and even if they did, there is no way, collectively, you can look back over each of those pieces and appreciate them in the years to come. Because it isn't just 20 in one day. It's more like 20 every. single. day, and it quickly adds up.
Someone is going to have to deal with those mountains of papers at some point -- you or your kids. Imagine sitting down to look through all that stuff that's accumulated over years and years. If it fills you with dread it will your kids as well. So don't pass the burden on to them.
Now, instead imagine you have kept just the best of the best, and your task is to look through it again in a couple of years. All of a sudden you can imagine that being a pleasant enjoyable task.
My point is, everyone likes to look at the highlights, but no one wants to wade through everything! So do everyone a favor and keep the highlights now for everyone's enjoyment, and also to keep clutter from overtaking your home right now.
Now that you're (hopefully) convinced that decluttering some of these papers and art is a good idea, here's 6 questions to ask yourself when you are doing this mission so you know what to keep versus get rid of, without feeling guilt or facing indecision.
Reminder 1: When decluttering the point is to get it out of your home. Some of these items can be gifted to family and friends, within reason, perhaps the second best of the best kinds of stuff, and then the rest can typically go in the recycle bin. Yes, I just said that some of this art will go into the trash. Get your mind used to the idea. It will be a good thing, really.
Reminder 2: If you're facing a mountain of these papers already just breathe. Don't get overwhelmed by the stacks. Instead, take it fifteen minutes at a time, and eventually the stack will significantly decrease. It will just take quite a few of these fifteen minute sessions.
Often kids draw or color the same thing over and over again, such as perfecting how they like to draw a flower for example. You may want to take representative samples of how this drawing style evolves over a series of months or years, but you certainly don't need 8 pictures of blue flowers your daughter drew today. Choose the best one and move on.
Similarly, for school papers, one worksheet showing how they wrote the alphabet at age 5 may be interesting. Every single one they filled out this month would not.
When looking back later at kids' artwork later it is always more interesting to see their original art, instead of pictures they colored in a coloring book, for example. The more creativity and imagination your child has used in the art or school work the more likely it is to be a highlight worth saving.
While a coloring page, as I just mentioned, is not normally quite as interesting as something more original, on the other hand it can be fun to compare the scribbles of a two year old versus the in the lines, with shading and added patterns, coloring done by the same child as a seven year old.
I use this as an example of what I'm trying to get you to think about when asking yourself this question.
Additional examples of this question in application include, does this essay show their current obsession with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which will probably fade in a few short months? Or does that handprint (or footprint) show how very tiny they currently are as compared to how they'll grow in the future?
The point of this question is that the stuff that tells the story of their childhood in an obvious way is more likely a keeper.
Artwork and school papers which show a personal connection to family or friends are much more likely highlights than more generic art or schoolwork.
For example, a picture where your child draws their family, including the cat, with labels, is much more likely to be something you'll cherish years from now than the picture of a superhero.
Similarly, generic worksheets, or essays about the history and life of Abraham Lincoln will not hold your fascination many years from now in the same way that an essay about what your child did on their family vacation to visit relatives does.
If your child whips off 20 drawings in 20 minutes then the likelihood of any of them being keepers is much slimmer than the picture they sat down and worked on for hours and hours. You want to keep the best of the best, or something that tells a story of their life or development, not every single scribble they make.
Sometimes we feel more guilt about throwing away (or recycling) artwork or school papers than our kids do. For them, often it is about the process of making the art, and they aren't as concerned about the finished product.
So I often ask my kids which item they want to keep versus to toss. Yes, they may answer "all of it," but that only happens if you ask it as an open ended question. Instead, provide them with choices, such as asking, "which one of these five drawings you made today do you want to keep?" and they will typically tell you honestly and not be as hung up about getting rid of the other four as you are. They'll know which is their favorite and then you can feel less guilt getting rid of the rest.
Now this is not to say that you need to blatantly throw away, in front of children's faces, artwork they've proudly handed you as a gift. Depending on what it is you might want to keep it, but if you ask yourself the 6 questions and it doesn't make the cut (I will be honest and say this happens to me because one of my daughters gives me, as a gift, every single piece of art she does!) do save the best of the best and discretely get rid of the rest.
I've found that if I've saved the special stuff, and also kiss and hug them as they present each piece of artwork to me, and make a genuine comment about it right then such as "I like how you colored the unicorn's hair like a rainbow," so they know I actually looked at it carefully, then they're happy. Discretely getting rid of 80-90% of those daily gifts outside their presence isn't going to hurt their feelings at all. They already got what they wanted, your attention, appreciation and love right then when they gave it to you, and they know you treasure the gifts because you save the best of the best.
As I mentioned above, if you've already got a huge amount of kids art or school papers to deal with, this mission isn't going to be quick. After you break it down into 15 minute sessions and finally go through it all, the final step in this mission is to make sure you never have to go through such a large mountain of papers again.
To make sure it never accumulates this much again you need to create a habit of going through the papers and art, at least weekly, to sort and winnow it to a more reasonable amount.
If, for example, papers come home each Friday, then this is a great day to do it. If there is no set time they accumulate for your kids perhaps you make your habit of going through these papers tied to another weekly habit, such as each time you pay bills, or sort through other papers that seem to accumulate on your kitchen table, or whenever it makes sense to you.
The point is to make it a regularly occurring event and then it is more like a 15 minute (or 5 minute if done consistently) mission, instead of something overwhelming.
After you've decluttered the artwork, the next step is to organize and store what you do keep. That's a totally new topic though! So far, I've gathered some ideas on the sister site, Household Management 101, about organizing kids artwork here to get you started.
I hope this has inspired you to get rid of your excess kids artwork and craft projects, to winnow it down to a more reasonable amount.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.
I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions (eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!
I would love to hear from you, sharing your thoughts, questions, or ideas about this topic, so leave me a comment below. I try to always respond back!