My kids’ art supplies cabinet was a horrific mess. I was avoiding it for a variety of reasons that I go over in my post What to Do with Sentimental Clutter. At some point it finally became unusable; the boys just weren’t able to find what they needed a lot of the time. After finally getting past the emotional barriers, I was able to move forward and organize my kids’ art supplies in a way that was user-friendly and easy to maintain.
Here’s my step-by-step process. These steps may seem obvious but sometimes when you’re in the middle of a project and overwhelm sets in, it can be helpful to have some simple steps to follow.
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Step 1: Empty the Space
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo advises removing everything from a space when you are in the process of decluttering. At first I disagreed with this. I thought this approach might be too extreme, especially if you have lots of items that would take a while to move. When I started this project, I finally understood what she meant. Sometimes a mess is just too big to work around. I removed EVERYTHING from the cabinet and it took a lot less time than I expected. The time it takes to clear out your space will obviously depend on its size and the amount of stuff you have. My small cabinet clean-out took less than ten minutes.
Step 2: Clean
If your space has been cluttered for a while it’s a good idea to clean it. Cluttered spaces are usually neglected. If you’re not tidying a space, you’re probably not cleaning it either. Plus, it will feel much better to put items back into a clean space. Again, the amount of time this will take depends on the size of the space. I quickly vacuumed my cabinet and it took less than five minutes after the vacuum was set up.
Step 3: Sort and Purge
Sorting everything into categories and purging unwanted items is the most time-consuming step. The sorting is fairly straightforward. Group like items together. Having things laid out in categories seems to more easily allow us to really see how much of each item we have.
This sorting step also made it obvious what needed to be removed from the cabinet to a different location. Once I designated the cabinet for art supplies it became clear that books and toys couldn’t go back in there. The miscellaneous stuff was adding to the chaos and sorting it made it much easier to relocate things that didn’t belong.
Once we can really “see” everything, it’s time to decide what to get rid of and what to keep. This is the most difficult part for me- and probably for most people. Purging my kids’ artwork was where I thought I would get stuck but once I got started it was much easier than I expected. There were lots of papers that had only one or two crayon marks that were easy to toss. I inspected the rest as objectively as possible and kept only the artwork that I felt was worth keeping.
After this initial purge, I included the boys in the process. My twelve-year-old is not very sentimental about his artwork. He easily set aside the majority of his pile to toss. And then there’s my nine-year-old… He’s is a keeper (like his mom) and picked out items from his brother’s discard pile to keep in his own pile. My younger son kept a lot more of his own art than he discarded. But in the end, his pile was manageable enough to put into his basket and there is still plenty of room to add new art.
As expected, sorting and purging took a while. Categorizing and the various stages of purging– first by me and then by the boys– took about two and a half hours.
Step 4: Implement a System
Once everything was sorted and I had decided what was going back into the space, it was time to set up my organizational system. It was important to make the system simple and easy to maintain. The fewer things we keep in the cabinet the easier it’ll be to keep it organized and tidy.
Here is what we ended up with: two fabric bins like these for finished artwork (one per child); a Dollar Tree container for crayons; coffee cans for markers and colored pencils; a caddy like this for miscellaneous items like glue sticks, tape and scissors; a tray for construction paper and one for white paper. That’s it!
It took a while to gather the supplies, wait for them to be delivered or go out and buy them. I didn’t keep track of this but I can say that once I had all the items I needed it took less than thirty minutes to put into the cabinet and rearrange to my liking.
Like most projects, this needed to be broken down into manageable tasks. The tasks don’t have to be completed on the same day. But once each step is done there is a real sense of accomplishment that helps propel you toward the next step. In the end, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to finish an organizing project. Doing just a little at a time can go a long way.
Check out the video below to see how I actually completed this project.
I like what you are doing to help people save the items they must keep and purge the rest.
I do have a suggestion- I love project photos…i see you included “before” (shelves of the original momentos). But I LOVE to see the end results as well….not just suggestions of totes or bins of saved items but really display some of the cherished items to give them purpose of sharing them on display.
May i suggest medium to large shadow boxes? These hang on walls to remove cluttered boxes or totes. You can show off 3D^ items like spoons, cups, as well as flat art, letters, photos etc. A DIY person can make them affordable/rustic out of simple pine boards (even fence boards are affordable) and be fancy if they wish to add a plexiglass front (“plexiglass” is safer than real glass if you have children running about). You don’t even need a frame for plexiglass, just drill 4 or more holes and directly screw onto the shadowbox.
Lexi, thank you for the suggestions! These are very helpful. At this point my kids have moved on to painting on canvas. I put these right on our bookshelves and we swap them out as they create new ones.
I was going to add an after photo but found that the Youtube video at the end of the post was much more effective at showing my process.
I love this! I’ve started taking pictures of my kids artwork so I can save it without the clutter. You can upload to several photo storage websites to have space for a lot of files. I’m using google photos because the storage is unlimited and free. I need to go through our closet and purge and reorganize again soon. Thanks for this!
Krista- I’m glad you found my post helpful! And thanks for the tip. I’m sentimental about holding on to the originals but I think I’ll have to compromise and scan at least some of them eventually.