Organizing Kids’ Artwork and Papers

This is a topic I’ve written about, helped clients resolve, and talked about to Mom’s groups and it is always sensitive. (How can I not keep every scrap of paper that Seamus or Chloe have created? The agony of making me choose!) Children bring home mountains of school papers and artwork to proudly show their parents how much they’ve learned and accomplished during their day. And it’s all beautiful. It’s wonderful but it can take over your home, room by room, if you’re not careful.

So let’s separate Artwork from School Papers (no longer to be capitalized) and address those separately. I’ll talk about school papers first. These are the report cards, progress reports, samples of school work (emphasis on the word “sample“), activity participation certificates, school play or concert programs, and even things not associated with school per se like important letters and cards say, from confirmation or kindergarten graduation, class photos, team photos, mentions in newspapers, etc. I think you get the picture. For all of this I recommend getting a plastic file box with a lid (the one pictured here is from the Container Store) for each child and creating hanging files for each school year and putting them in the box. As these papers come in and you want to keep them, file them in the appropriate spot. As your child grows you’ll be able to give them this responsiblity and eventually the whole box.

file box

Any discussion of artwork created by children can bring on a variety of emotions so I will insert my speech on memorabilia here:

          • there is no set rule for what you should keep
          • you’re not a bad parent if you throw some things away
          • not everything is a treasure. If everything is a treasure, nothing is a treasure. Think about that.
          • you and your child will have to work out what to keep long term

During a presentation I gave, someone asked me what they should keep every year as in, how many pieces of artwork. I couldn’t give her a specific answer because I can’t make that decision for her. There is no specific number. However, here are some suggestions for what to keep from each school year:

            • a sample of art that your child drew or painted
            • a sample of a craft that they created like pottery or needlework
            • a sample of their handwriting
            • a picture of them holding one or some of their favorites

I have a client who has a budding artist in her home so her volume of artwork archives is significantly larger. Her son likes to create large scale drawings  that end up being rolled up and stored vertically. I know she is planning on hanging some of the pieces and framing them but she will also have to cull through, with him, the specific pieces he’ll want to keep.

A suggestion that I thinks works well is to take pictures of the artwork, some of them with your child holding the artwork, and create a yearly book via Shutterfly or MyPublisher. If you follow the same format year after year you’ll have a wonderful collection of books to look through and that will look great on your bookcase.

The one rule I would suggest is to keep all Christmas ornaments that your child creates. These can be a fun journey through time for them and can also be passed on to them later. I still have a much prized ornament made lovingly from a cut toilet paper tube, glitter, and a bell. Unfortunately most of the glitter has rubbed off so people wonder why I hang a toilet paper tube on my tree.

How about you? What artwork and school papers do you keep? I’d love to hear how you manage this potential clutter creator.

Happy organizing!


True confession: my least favorite place to organize


This may be professional suicide but I have a confession to make about my least favorite place to organize:   the unfinished basement. I don’t know if it just stems from my childhood fear that there was some sort of monster lurking in the shadows underneath the stairs or the abundance of spiderwebs but the basement is just not my favorite place to organize.

That being said and off my chest now, I can tell you that it is a place that I can organize very quickly because I know what lurks down there and I don’t want to be there very long.

This is good basement organization: ordered, off the floor, clean, & easily retrieved.

This is good basement organization: ordered, off the floor, clean, & easily retrieved.

If you have boxes that you put in the basement during your last move to “go through someday” now is the time to do that. Just do it. Before you have a flood or other water damage that seeps through the dirty cardboard and ruins your priceless photographs or other memorabilia. Chances are, if you haven’t looked at it in more than 5 years and you don’t know what’s in there off the top of your head, you don’t need it.

Cardboard is my nemesis. That and wire hangers make me crazy because of the bad things they do under the guise of being helpful. Cardboard is perfect for sending packages and helping you move but it is not for long term storage. It gathers dust, doesn’t protect from moisture, attracts vermin, you can’t see through it, and is ugly. Go through your boxes to make sure you know what is in there and if you need to keep anything, put it in a clear box with a lid and label it. Plastic is not impervious but it is a step in the right direction.

Do not let your basement be your old project dumping ground.

Do not let your basement be your old project dumping ground.

The basement is also a gathering place for project leftovers that you may or may not need to keep. I can tell you that wall putty, cement, joint compound, and 1/4 filled cans of latex paint will not last forever down there. Anything that is water based that has been opened will have a shorter lifespan than you think so buy small unless you are doing some major renovations. Also, consider storing those types of repair materials in a less humid and cleaner environment. Latex paint can be put into glass jars if you have a half gallon or less. Make sure you label the jars with the maker and color of paint as well as where it was used in your house. You could even attach the paint chip to the jar to be super organized. Seal these jars tightly as any air is going to cause them to dry out. Also, clean the cans and seal them back well if you’ve got enough to keep the paint in the original can.

While we are on the subject of paint, if you’ve repainted any rooms in your house, you don’t need to keep the old paint, do you? No sir-ee. That means you can clear that paint out and make room for the new paint. Less stuff=less clutter.

Not sure what to do with random leftover screws or nails? Use a glass jar to corral all of them (or use 2–1 for screws and 1 for nails) so that you then know where to look if you need a screw or nail. It’s all about creating a home for everything, even if it’s temporary.

While I don't love cardboard, it's perfect that it is not on the floor.

While I don’t love cardboard, it’s perfect that it is not on the floor, it’s organized, and it’s accessible.

Last but not least, don’t neglect your basement. If you never go down there then make sure whatever is down there is secure and safe. Add shelving units or pallets for what you do need to store down there so it’s not on the floor. Sweep the floor and get rid of cobwebs. Add some lighting so that the monsters have no place to hide. 🙂 Your home is a reflection of you and your basement is your foundation. Let it be a clean and ordered foundation.

Happy organizing!

Is it Trash or Treasure?

Happy Friday, y’all and welcome to the last weekend in February! Can you believe the 2nd month of 2013 is already coming to a close? Yes, time does indeed fly when you are having fun.

So I read an interesting article this week on Houzz which has sparked quite the buzz among readers regarding clearing treasures and memorabilia from homes. There seems to be dissension among the ranks as to what is trash and what is treasure. Should it stay or should it go? Several people commented that they were so glad they had held on to letters and other memorable treasures from their family and there were an equal number who said there was no need to burden your home with things from your (family’s) past.

Personally, I think having a box letters from ancestors is a wonderful peek into history and should be treasured. However, crates of letters, boxes of china, 42 bud vases, random books about topics that don’t interest you, and anything else in excess is just too much to hang on to. I have saved every card and letter from my husband because he writes so well and puts a lot of thought into his writing. These are all in a pretty, lidded box that is on the shelf in my closet that I can see every day. I have saved the last birthday card I got from my Grandmother in 2007 because I knew her vision was failing and she wouldn’t be writing much more.

However, I have tossed at least a dozen of her belts and purses that she sent to me because they weren’t my taste, didn’t fit my style, and, most importantly, they didn’t hold any special meaning for me. THAT is the key to making decisions on what to keep: does that object hold a special memory for you? I did keep a purse of hers from that assortment that I borrowed from her during our trip to Europe when I was 13. That purse has special meaning to me and reminds me of a fun trip with her even though I don’t use it very often. I use it occasionally but mainly I just pull it out every once in a while and recall that special time with her. If it were stuffed in a box with thousands of other things I wouldn’t be able to see it and enjoy it anymore.

The decision to keep or toss is a personal one and should not be influenced by others. Sometimes letting go needs to happen in stages and sometimes you truly can’t bear to part with the objects. Just remember you can’t keep everything and the memory lives forever in your mind.

Have ever thrown something away, in the process of clearing clutter, and wished that you hadn’t? Have you found a special way to preserve keepsakes to honor the memories? I’d love to hear your stories in the Comments area.

Happy organizing!

What Every Family Needs to Organize Their Kids

One of the most frequently asked questions I get about organization is “how do I organize my kids’ constant paperwork?” While the same principles apply to organizing adults’ paperwork, typically a parent will get this started and then it gets passed down to the child to maintain, thus teaching them valuable organization skills. The problem comes when no system is in place and it feels like a herculean task to get it sorted out to begin with, much less come up with a system to maintain going forward.  This is where Neatsmart offers you an easy method to manage the paperwork and activity-tracking chaos:

  1. Get a small filing box for each child. This is where you can get creative with your choices.  Everyone from Container Store to Office Depot has an option for you. Choose something with a lid to protect the papers from dust and other damage and so you can stack them if necessary.
  2. Fill the box with hanging files in a pretty color or your child’s favorite color. Create a tab for each year of school.
  3. Here is what goes in the box: at least 1 school picture for each year, copies of recital programs, honor roll announcements, sports brackets, newspaper clippings, report cards, special cards or letters sent, etc. Think of this as the school memories box that you’ll eventually pass on to your child (because you will) and fill it with the little things you never really know what to do with but you’ll both enjoy looking back on years from now.

This accomplishes 2 things: it gives a home for these types of papers and it helps to teach your children organization skills. You probably won’t file every paper every day but I would designate an area of your home to temporarily capture these papers and then as your children get older they can help you put these papers away. It will be a fun trip through memory lane each time you look at old pictures and report cards that your kids will ultimately be glad you saved.

Here is what does NOT go in the box: birth certificate, passport, adoption papers, social security card, and artwork. The first 3 or 4 items should be in a separate file where you are storing the family’s important papers. These are not things that you’ll need to readily access and you don’t want your kids rummaging around in at this point.

Artwork can be handled a variety or ways, depending on the volume. Some should be displayed in the house whether it is on the refrigerator or a large bulletin board where it can be admired. Important pieces that you want to keep can go in a portfolio binder. Others can be photographed and later made into a book or just viewed online. I know it is hard to throw away any of these pieces but you just can’t keep everything unless you have unlimited storage and time to catalog it all.

Another thing every family with kids needs is a calendar that everyone can see. Most often this will be in the kitchen or mudroom or family room. All activities that involve the kids should be put on this calendar: birthday parties, sports practices, sleepovers if they are scheduled in advance, birthdays, doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, games, vacations, application due dates, church events, I could go on and on. It is especially helpful if this is kept close to where mail is opened so that you can immediately put the event on the calendar when you are advised of it via mail like invitations and appointment reminders. Everyone in the family can see what is going on and start to take responsibility for their activities. This doesn’t mean everyone remembers everything J but it does mean everyone knows where to find out what is going on. I know lots of us have personal planners that we keep with us either in our purse or briefcase or on our phone and, yes, this is duplicative. The benefit of this calendar is that everyone can see it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to write things twice to help remember better!

So spend a little time putting your file box and file folders together and they’ll serve you for many years to come. You’ll have a box full of memories ready to pass down to your kids who I promise will thank you later. J Get your calendar up and start putting all of the family’s activities on it to keep everyone schedule straight.

Happy organizing!

Valentine’s Day & Managing Memorabilia

Happy Valentine's Day! This is our yummy dessert I made to celebrate.

Happy Valentine’s Day! This is our yummy dessert I made to celebrate.

First off, Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! Thanks so much for stopping to read my blog and I hope you all have lovely days. I am usually a little bah humbug about Valentine’s because for a long time it was a reminder of not having a Valentine and I resented the Hallmark holiday.  I am happily married and still feel like you should show your love everyday instead of just once a year but I have to admit I get caught up in the decorating aspect and just having fun with it.

This does lead to a question that I get a lot from clients which is how do I deal with paper memorabilia? What do I do with the old birthday cards, letters, notes, etc. from various holidays? Of utmost importance is that you decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. Now that I’ve said that, know that you can’t keep everything. What I think you really want to focus on are the ones that mean a lot to you—special birthdays, cards with memorable messages written in them, notes from relatives, etc. I don’t think the generic birthday card from your dentist or insurance company warrants keeping unless you have a special relationship with them. J

So what do I do to manage these cards, notes and letters that I want to keep?

Box of wedding memorabilia, including honeymoon boarding passes

Box of wedding memorabilia, including honeymoon boarding passes

  1. Designate a location for them: this is an absolute MUST! Get a pretty lidded box or designate a drawer in a piece of furniture for this type of memorabilia. Everything needs a home and if you know where to put it, it won’t end up in a pile of other stuff somewhere.
  2. Box it up: Semi kolon makes some great looking boxes for this and they look fabulous on a book case or shelf. These are found at Container Store and Sam Flax. I used one for cards and things from our wedding. I knew I wasn’t patient enough for #3 but I at least know where everything goes and enjoy going back through the box periodically. You can also get attractive wicker or rattan boxes at Cost Plus or HomeGoods. Just make sure it has a lid to keep the contents dust free.
  3. Make a scrapbook: This suggestion is for the crafty people out there. You can make a really nice book out of the cards by using a photo album or empty scrapbook. Etsy has an amazing selection of unique, handcrafted ones.
  4. Scan or take pictures of the cards and messages. You can make a photo book easily with Shutterfly or TinyPrints. Even if you just keep the photos, you can organize them on your computer so you can easily retrieve them to view later. Just remember you need to back up your computer on a regular basis

I hope these ideas help you in managing some of your paper memorabilia. Remember to keep and honor what is important to you. Having multiple, random piles is not honoring the memories; having a pretty, accessible home for them is. Do you have other suggestions for how you keep up with cards, notes, and letters?

Happy organizing!