school work storage - easy ideas from big families

One of the questions I receive most often is about kids and the artwork and school work storage. As parents, what are we supposed to do with the piles of drawings and projects and papers? Even when they’re not in school, my kids are constantly making and creating. Add in school attendance and the amount of stuff coming home can be a bit daunting. Readers want to know: as a mother of six, what is my criteria for saving or throwing it out?

I think this is such a great topic. It’s a daily challenge for many families and there are all sorts of good ways to manage it. This is how we do it:

We clean out backpacks after school each day. I examine homework and art projects. Give lots of positive feedback and then throw almost everything into the recycle bin.

school work storage - easy ideas from big families

So what do we save and how do we save it?

– For artwork, if they’ve created something, at home or at school, without any direction, meaning it wasn’t a follow-these-steps art project, but something really out of their own head, then it will stay around. At least for awhile.

– Large or 3D Artwork will usually end up on our huge kids-artwork bulletin board in the family room, and will eventually be replaced by newer artwork.

– Any drawings in the 8.5 x 11 range will end up in a file folder (a different folder for each child). Then, when the folder is full, I take it to the copy store to get all the work bound into one book.

– For school work, if they really love it and are proud of it and it required substantial work, then it can stay. I have a box for each child — think oversize shoebox size — that’s big enough to fit notebooks and folders.

– Throughout the year, but especially at the end of the school year, the kids add favorite essays, composition books and other projects to their box. By they time they’re done with high school it’s full of meaningful highlights from their childhood education.

Here’s how another big family handles it:

– When we lived in New York, I had a friend named Karen who had 6 kids. And she had a dresser set aside for schoolwork and projects, with a separate drawer for each child.

– Any time her kids had school work or art work they wanted to save, they would add it to their drawer. So they might put in bigger projects like a sculpture, plus book reports, mixed with random math worksheets, or even misc party invitations.

– At the end of the school year, they would each clean out their drawer and were allowed to keep 3 things, which went into a keepsake box that would eventually represent their whole childhood.

I love this solution. If you have space for a dedicated schoolwork dresser, it might work for you too. I love that the kids have easy access to their favorites throughout the year, and I love that there’s a simple system in place for editing the collection down.

Which reminds me, no matter what kind of system you decide to implement, it’s best to start by answering these questions: How much stuff-from-their-childhood is your child going to want when they grow up and start their own family and home? How much room do you have to store things? How much time do you want to spend managing their artwork and school work?

Obviously, the answers will be different for each person. I’m not very sentimental about this sort of thing so it’s easy for me to say: Recycle it all! But that might be heartbreaking to someone else. Additionally, I’ve moved a lot, and my mother has moved a lot, so the idea of me or my mom dealing with boxes of creations from my childhood would never have been a good idea. 

Same for my own kids — if I had saved everything they’ve ever made, we would need a school work storage unit by now. Not even joking. So keeping everything wasn’t ever a realistic option for us. You may have less kids or more storage space and be able to keep more.

In short, my philosophy with kids art work and school work is:

– Display current artwork.
– Replace it when new items are created.
– Save only a very few select items, and only projects that are true originals or that your child is particularly proud of.

What about you? How do you approach school work storage? How much have you saved so far? How do you store it? And how often do you or your kids like to go through it and reminisce? 

P.S. — Pro-tip: as your kids get older, there’s a lot less art work and a lot more school work. And happily, school work is usually more compact and easier to deal with. More good news: I’ve been collecting ideas for how to use and display the artwork you’re keeping. I’ll share those ideas in a follow-up post.