The end of summer vacation for my kids is fast approaching so it’s time to make room for the deluge of school papers coming my way in September. In my previous post, I tackled how to sort two years’ worth of my kids’ school papers that sat in a drawer for four years. My next step was to figure out how to create a system to store the papers I decided to keep. Once I assessed how much paper I had for each child, my goal was to store it in a way that was manageable and would allow us to go back and enjoy looking through them from time to time. After the work of sorting and purging was done, coming up with a storage system was surprisingly easy.
(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure.)
Should You Keep the Originals?
This is the question most moms ask themselves when it comes to their kids’ school papers. I touched on this in my previous post but I feel it’s important to revisit this topic.
If you’re a minimalist then you can probably purge down to the few gems you feel are worth keeping. Some moms even create photo books with copies of these special memories. This is a great option if you don’t have a sentimental attachment to the original pieces. It also works well because you can keep more in less space.
Unfortunately, if you’re a sentimental keeper like me, this option won’t do. I’m very attached to the originals. I go into detail about why this is actually pretty normal in my post What to Do with Sentimental Clutter. But in order to hold on to the things that are worth keeping, I have to be really intentional during the purging process. If I try to keep too much, I’ll end up with an unmanageable pile that will be a lot harder to store.
The storage system I go over here is for those of us who will be keeping originals.
Storage Container Options
The next step was to pick the right type of storage container. I wanted something sturdy and attractive that would be easy to use.
Here are some options I considered:
This type of storage box seems to be the most common. You can pretty much get one anywhere for cheap and it has the added bonus of protecting your papers from moisture. It’s also lightweight and you can keep it anywhere including unfinished basements or attics. If you want to get fancy, they have the type you can use with hanging folders so you can store your papers vertically.
As convenient as plastic storage boxes are, I’m not a fan for a few reasons. The first one is that I’m not crazy about plastic for the obvious environmental reasons. I’m trying my best to stay away from buying plastic going forward.
I also don’t like the look of plastic, especially if I’m going to have these out in the open. I wouldn’t be happy with having to look at plastic containers all the time. And putting them in a closet wouldn’t help with easy access.
And most importantly, a lot of these boxes tend to come with snap-on lids. This may not be a big deal for some but I find that it just adds an extra element of time that might make unmotivated people like me less likely to want to deal with it. If I have to snap and unsnap a lid every time I use a container, I might not put things away as often as I should. It doesn’t take much to make me procrastinate.
If you’re on a limited budget this could work. If you buy the banker boxes you can use hanging file folders to store the papers vertically. These come with lids that are easy to take on and off. Cardboard is the easiest option but they aren’t all that attractive if you have them out. And unlike the plastic, they don’t offer much protection against moisture. Cardboard also doesn’t hold up as well and may deteriorate over time.
This is the option I went with. The cons here are similar to the ones for cardboard boxes because they’re basically sturdier cardboard covered in fabric. But if you’re using a nicer looking box, odds are you’re going to keep it in an office or common living space because why buy a pretty box if you’re not going to show it off. If you’re not keeping it in an attic or basement, moisture and temperature extremes won’t be an issue and the box should hold up for a while.
But the real reason I bought the pretty boxes was because these papers have important sentimental meaning to me. Things you take the time to store in a nice container are things you value, and my kids’ papers were no exception. I got these linen ones on Amazon because they were reasonably priced and gave me the look I wanted. I also liked that they had built-in handles and a label pocket both on the front and side.
The rest of the supplies for this project I already had on hand. I used colored file folders to divide the papers by grade. I also used a label maker that I’ve had forever to label the folders.
Not all of the papers were standard 8.5 by 11 so I needed to figure out a way to make the file folders visible. To make sure they were taller than the rest of the papers in the box I cut the folders along the bend lines near the fold. (You can’t see them in the photo but trust me, they’re there.)
Next, I labeled every folder tab by grade using the label maker. I had a file folder divider for each grade and I arranged the grades in chronological order. I could have done it by academic year but I found that using the grade was easier. I may add the academic years on the dividers as well because I think it’ll be helpful once we go through these papers in the future.
And that’s pretty much it. The box I set up for my 12-year-old includes school papers for grades Kindergarten through 6. I was impressed that I managed to purge enough paper to have it all fit into just one box. Based on the amount of paper in this box I’m going to assume that I’ll be able to fit grades 7 through 12 in a second box.
However, his preschool papers are still in an unpacked box somewhere in the house. When I find those I’ll include them in this box and probably end up bumping 6th grade to the next box. I’m still pretty confident that I’ll be able to fit Pre-K through 12 in just two boxes.
My younger son has about the same amount of paper per grade as his brother so my goal is to have two boxes per child for all of their school papers for a grand total of four boxes. This was a lot better than I originally predicted.
I plan to keep these in our home office so that we have easy access and can continue to add to them throughout the year.
Important Tip: I purchased these boxes as I was sorting through the papers, so I suspect that having the limit of a specific box helped me to be a lot more selective about what I kept.
Getting Started is the Hardest Part
Before I started this project the stacks of school papers were really intimidating. And while it did take a few hours to purge and sort through all of the papers, in the end, the fear of getting started was my biggest problem. I didn’t complete this project in a day but probably could have if I had been determined to get it done quickly.
Knowing that I have a place to store next years’ incoming school papers also helps relieve some of the stress of thinking about what to do with it all. In the best-case scenario, now that my system is in place and my space for incoming paper is fixed, I may have an easier time figuring out what to purge and what to keep during the school year. But if I’m too sentimental to let go, which is way more likely, I’ll continue to use my aging method approach— I’ll purge at the end of the year and store what’s left in these boxes. Either way, I’ll have a system to tackle the influx of paper.
This was one of the more important organizing projects I’ve tackled in a while. Figuring out what to do with our kids’ school papers is one of the more daunting tasks we have as parents. Getting this done before school starts will make things much easier throughout the year and I know anything that makes life with kids easier is a win.
There’s a reason Marie Kondo tells us to deal with the sentimental stuff last. It takes time to comb through cherished memories. But in the end, knowing that you’re preserving the stuff that’s most important to you is totally worth the effort.
Do you have any tips or tricks of your own for storing kids’ school papers? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.