It looks like my winter housekeeping week gave me the momentum I needed to finally close the door on a project that I’ve been working on for a few years now. (Has it really been years?) A miracle hath taken place in the year of our Lord 2021.
I always planned on having an organized collection of my children’s homeschool and artwork that I would give them one day. That has been a challenge because I lacked a good system for sorting through the paper avalanche as it descended upon me. The artistic production rate around here is pretty serious so it has taken some trial and error to streamline the flow, but looks like we have finally have a system.
Here’s the system that helps us create memorable archives for art and schoolwork in our home.
Signed and Dated
The single most important thing that I have done to organize kids’ papers to always have them sign and date anything finished. That way, even if you forget whose it is and when they made it (and you will), you’ll always be able to stash it away in a messy pile and sort it later. If you do nothing else, do this. (A name with the month and year will do just fine!)
Established Holding Places
I long ago gave up on limiting paper use. For how does one keep a wave upon the sand? (Oh, how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?) That’s why part of what we deal with at our house is piles of papers and unfinished doodles on my dining room table at the end of the day. What do you do with art that children might still be working on? We finally remedied this by giving each child a designated holding space for unfinished artwork. Each girl has her own tier on one of those Ikea Raskog carts next to my desk (so handy for all sorts of things!)
When we clean up the table at the end of the day, anything that is not yet finished or ready to be recycled goes on the art cart. Do these things ever get taken out and worked on again? Usually never, in my experience. But what I have found is that most of the time my kids simply need a holding place to put things whilst the passage of time helps them decide what is important and what can be abandoned. (Hint, they happily part with most of it later on!)
Of course when someone has made something they want to keep, the big rule is that they must sign and date it. Then it’s placed in a file basket next to my desk to be archived later.
Whenever these holding places get full, I go through the papers and separate school and artwork. Then I decide what will be filed into binders for keeping. (Worksheets and coloring pages go bye-bye). I have found it’s really helpful to let things accumulate for several months. When I have a 1-3 month perspective, it helps me cull through and keep the really valuable pieces that showcase personality or skill. I only keep papers; other crafts are tossed or displayed on our basement windowsill for a time.
Since the art cart is more of an abandoned project holder, no one seems to mind giving me the decision-making autonomy over its contents. (And I collected nearly a ream of perfectly clean paper from it last time!) Lots of times these works in progress are not dated, so I make my best guess and jot a month and year on it. Most of them move right along to the recycling bin.
Anything I want to keep gets placed in chronological order in three-ring binders. Binders are my favorite way to organize these papers because they’re so accessible. I know there are probably cool apps and services for this sort of thing, but the binders have been the simplest way to deal with my backlog. And when we are organizing big piles of things, simple and non-cluttered is what we need!
For many years I just hastily punched holes into the artwork and stuffed them into the binders. I ended up going back and putting everything into page protectors. (That was the ghastly part of this project which only took me all of the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice to do.) In the long-run they are way better because you don’t have holes punched in your artwork…and you skip the unpleasant task of aligning things into the hole puncher. It’s also nice for oddly-shaped pieces of art and the “books” my kids so often create with stacks of stapled copy paper. The plastic sleeves hold up well to frequent leafing-through. I use plain white dividers to separate the work by year.
I have a set of binders for art and a set for homeschool for each child. For the most part, I can fit several years worth of work into one binder. My favorites are 2-inch recycled kraft paper binders. I love the look, but to be honest, they are not great on durability! I would have gotten the plain, plastic white ones if I had realized how often they’d be handled and leafed through by little hands.
And there you are: kid’s papers cutely organized in over-priced, oh-so-aesthetic recycled kraft paper binders! I have some (probably false) hope for the future of my unwieldy digital photo collection after this!