If you have school-aged kids you know how much paper comes home on a daily basis. It’s pretty crazy. I don’t know exactly how many pieces of paper my kids bring home over the course of a year, but it feels like thousands. And since I’m sentimental about their school work and artwork and pretty much anything they touch, at times I felt like the paper clutter was taking over my home. I go into detail about my compulsion in this post.
The question of what to keep was a major headache that took me a while to figure out. But when I finally did, I realized it was the best solution for a sentimental hoarder like me.
How to Keep Everything…Sort Of
I came up with a brilliant system for figuring out what to keep and what to toss. Actually, if I’m honest, I stumbled upon it. This wasn’t really a light bulb moment. This was purely accidental because I was too lazy to go through the papers when they came home and I didn’t want to end up with paper piles all over the house.
Pay careful attention because I’m going to outline my process. Here it is:
- Step 1: Remove bundle of papers from child’s backpack
- Step 2: Put papers in an empty drawer
- Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2 every day
- Step 4: Ignore the drawer all year…or longer
If you think I’m kidding about this, keep reading. Realistically, I couldn’t part with those papers as soon as they came in the door. There was no way I was going to be objective about my kids’ school papers because to me it was all awesome and there was no question I needed to keep every single bit of it.
And since I couldn’t not keep it all and I didn’t know what to do with it, I put it in a drawer and put off the decision. This is also known as procrastination which I happen to be really good at.
Once I decided this was the way to go, it became a routine. The papers came in every day, I looked them over and appreciated what my smarty pants kids were capable of, and then I put them in the drawer.
The Aging Method
It was a pretty good system until I ran out of room. But no worries, I had an empty basket I could use. This went on for a while until finally four years later (yes, four years!) I really wanted to use that drawer stuffed with my kids’ papers for something else. It was time to face the music.
I opened the drawer and something funny happened. The papers that seemed so special and impossible to get rid of when I first put them in the drawer looked a little different. After four years, I’d had some time and distance from them and now I saw them in a different light. I could be a little more objective about what was worth keeping. And this is how I came up with what I call the aging method.
As with anything in your life, if you give yourself enough time you’ll eventually gain a different perspective on things. Worksheets and artwork I couldn’t even think about tossing were now much easier to go through and get rid of.
If you want to try this, start with a container (drawer, box, basket, etc.). It might be helpful to add a label for the year, either calendar or academic. This will make life a lot easier when you go back and decide you want to store papers based on school year or by grade.
There are some important things to keep in mind when using this method:
- You have to have the extra space to put your kids’ papers in and then keep for a year or two… or four. I had just moved into a new house with more extra space than I knew what to do with and this was the perfect way to make my procrastination tendency work for me.
- It’s important to have the container you use in a central location. It needs to be easy to put papers away almost immediately after they come home in order to avoid the crazy paper piles.
- You should be ok with the fact that these are all deferred decisions that you’ll now have to make in one sitting. If you’re not bothered by putting in the extra time to go through a whole lot of paper then you’ll be ok.
- Depending on your kids, you may not want to tell them (especially when they’re little) where you’re keeping the papers. My little one figured out I was storing his stuff in the drawer and every now and then decided to pull things out and spread them all over the floor. This wasn’t fun.
How Long Should you “Age” Your Kids’ Papers?
This is a matter of personal preference. How attached are you to them? If you’re like me and it’s impossible to think of getting rid of any papers your kids bring home, then it may take a few years.
But maybe you just need until the end of the school year to see what special gems are truly worth keeping. This may also be a fun way of reviewing the year with your kids and to celebrate their achievements. It can be a good bonding experience that’s perfect for wrapping up the school year.
However you choose to handle it, just know that there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. You should take as much time as you need to gain perspective.
How Much Space Do You Need?
It’s helpful to have a rough estimate of how much paper will be coming in over the course of the year. This will vary based on the grade your kids are in. The amount of paper seems to increase as they get older and there tend to be more worksheets and tests versus artwork.
The more kids you have, the more paper you’ll need to store, which will affect the size of your container. You can also have multiple containers, maybe one per child or one per school.
Because I didn’t actually plan this out ahead of time both boys’ papers went into the same drawer. I didn’t bother to separate anything but did start to label papers that didn’t have a name so that I could sort them later.
Guidelines for Sorting
As I was going through the drawer, I was surprised by how much stuff I had kept. I had teacher handouts, newsletters, word lists, and a ton of Scholastic Readers. Maybe I thought I might refer back to them at some point. Of course, that never happened.
With so much paper to sort through I managed to come up with some general guidelines I found helpful.
- Papers with handwritten responses
- Original crafts
- Original drawings
- Worksheets where all they did was circle correct responses or paste pictures
- Coloring pages
- Handouts that don’t have your kids writing on it (anything from the teacher, word lists, etc.)
- Bad art. We never want to think our kids produce bad art but sometimes they do. It’s ok to get rid of the scribbled up paper.
Using this criteria I was able to reduce the pile by almost half.
Check out the video below where I walk through the sorting process.
How Long Will it Take to Sort?
This will depend on how big your container is and how much paper you managed to store in it. I stuffed two years worth of papers in my drawer for both kids. It was a big drawer!
How Long It Took Me
Keep in mind that I was sorting through paper I thought I would never part with. Going through your kids’ drawings and school work and deciding what to get rid of can really tug at the heartstrings. I was expecting it to take forever. It took all of an hour and forty minutes, not the eternity I expected.
What I Learned
In the end, I managed to use my hoarding and procrastinating tendencies to come up with a system that worked for me. It may take a lot longer to go through and sort my kids’ school papers but at least I know I won’t look back and have regrets about getting rid of things.
So are you a keeper of all your kids’ papers or are you ok with purging regularly? Please share in the comments below.
In my next post, I’ll tackle how to organize and store your kids’ papers once they’ve been sorted.
All resonates with me … a mom who wants their kids to be kids forever …
Now 17 and 15 and in the throws of a house renovation project it was time to do something … it wasn’t just the school work but also the baby clothes … toddler clothes etc you get the idea.
Lessons I learned:
1. There is no perfect answer – do what you feel right so you balance memory with house calm!
2. The kids are not interested in keeping things! Though clearly gushed over the cute things of earlier years.
3. If you don’t get on top of it now, you will pass the problem to your kids who will hate you for it! So this means you will have completely the opposite impact of your original intent went you were creating their archives in the first place!
Good luck in your journey – it will be a unique one … they all are …
I have a similar system and I felt like I was doing it wrong so I had to read this post to see what other moms are doing. I get a box and fill it for the year so even anything, i.e. pictures or crafts done at home by my son (now 6) throughout the year I put into the box. I have yet to go through the box and throw out anything. I keep every piece that comes from school that he’s done anything to. Just to see his handwriting improving and all just melts my heart. I was recently telling my husband “where are we gonna store these boxes through the years?” So, I started looking into paper scanners. Where I could simply digitally scan each document (of course not ones with cotton all glued to it lol) and email them to an email address I created for him. Then when he graduates in another 12 years I could digitally retrieve anything I wanted. The ones with the cotton balls I could keep in the labeled boxes and possibly go through when he graduates lol. I feel like that may help with the piles of boxes in the extra closet. idk just an idea I wanted to share.
Hi Nidia- Thanks for your comment. Some moms think this is a great solution. I actually wrote a post about this and I’ll link it here. It can be tricky to know how to preserve the memories once the time comes. https://journeytowardsimple.com/what-to-do-with-sentimental-clutter/
But I don’t think their is a wrong way to do it. And I really like storing things in the cloud because, as you said, your kids can access it if they wanted to. Google drive and Dropbox are good options as well.
Kathy 702 says
LOL !! 43 years later I still have my daughter stuff !! stored like this . the boys are 18 years younger than her so their stuff is stored in the same way !! I have even started scrapbooking trying to sort these papers . I guess guilt has won !! But we are mothers we are entitled !!! I have another excuse my mother saved “NOTHING” !! I often wish for things I done in school .Thank you for this article . It really helped me know I am not the only one !!
Sammy Sampson says
I am in my 60s. We were in the military for 30 years. Guess what I did last week…
I went through a big tote of my kids school papers that we lugged around with us for three centuries! My kids have little interest in the stuff I went through page by page. But I sorted out the most special items to farm out to those little darlings ( who are now approaching their forties!) It was fun, bittersweet and oh so liberating to let go. I probably unloaded at least 50 pounds of “treasure.” I should have done it YEARS ago.
My daughter will start her senior year soon. I kept all of her art and papers in labelled boxes sobce Preschool.. They have aged since. This summer I am sorting in prep for displaying for her graduation party and have decided to only keep certain pieces. For larger art pieces, I am taking a photo then pitching. Of course, she being 17 thinks most of it is trash.
Laura at Fairly Southern says
This is a fantastic comprehensive guide! I don’t even have kids yet, but honestly I need to do some sorting of my own school papers that I STILL have, 11 years after graduating high school! Eek!
Thanks, Laura! Yeah, school papers are tough for so many of us. I think I even have some of my school papers tucked somewhere in a dark corner of my house. 🙂
Andrea Arceneaux says
I had to giggle when I read this post. This is the story of my life, mostly because my daughter is so sentimental. She would keep every piece of paper she ever received. The sheer volume of paper has forced me to be less sentimental. Time does make sorting through the endless mounds of paper less daunting.
My son is like this too. (I guess he gets it from me.) He helped me with some of the purging. The fact that he hadn’t seen those papers in years made it easier for him as well.
Great advice. So much papeeeeeeeeer, ahhhhhhhhhhhh! I love your system because it’s close to mine and now I don’t feel like I’m procrastinating, I’m systematizing.
Thanks, Anne! It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s not procrastination, it’s “aging.” 🙂