Around his fourth birthday, a boy I was fostering began drawing what he called “ghost families.” He couldn’t quite draw people, but he could draw something that resembled ghosts, and they were darling. Once he landed on his artistic specialty, he lingered there for a while—that is to say, the stacks of colored construction paper with ghost family after ghost family began to pile up. I could hardly bring myself to part with a single one, knowing he’d be in my life only temporarily. Each one felt special, and yet…how many ghost family pictures does one woman need?
(Eleven, apparently. I just counted, and apparently this woman needs eleven ghost families.)
It can feel like every guided preschool art project, finger-paint masterpiece, and self-portrait is too precious to part with. But a decade into parenting, I’ve learned that these creations just keep coming and coming. The sweet “stick-figure family portrait phase” eventually morphs into the “intricate battle scene full of all kinds of imaginative weapons phase.” (No, just us?) You will love it all, and it will take over your home—unless you come up with a good method for saving the memories while allowing most of the paper to slip through your fingers. Here are some suggestions to try.
Save a representative sample
Themes will emerge in your child’s artwork over time. The aim is to capture a little bit of (almost) everything. Once they’re grown and gone, you’ll likely want a nice selection that reminds you how they always drew people with giant heads in kindergarten, or that year they got really into making their own comic books. What has worked for me is trying to capture a sample of my favorites.
I do this by stacking my son’s creations in a pile in the basement all year round. At the start of a new year (oh hey, that’s right now!), I go through them and purge. Given that I’ve got a whole year’s worth of art in front of me, I can more clearly see that I don’t need seven versions of essentially the same scene. Pick your favorite from each main category and drop it into a dedicated storage bin.
I’ll also say I don’t keep everything he makes all year long in this pile. Far from it. My kid is the type who—when times are normal and he’s in a classroom all week—tends to bring home fresh sketches he’s done almost every day in between working on classroom assignments. I can usually tell right away if it isn’t worthy of keeping forever. But if I’m undecided, it goes in the pile.
Mail original artwork to family
Some kids become overly attached to every bit of art they create and cannot bear the thought of you parting with it, but the front of your refrigerator is officially out of space and you’ve got to purge a few things. I bet grandma and grandpa would like to receive some original artwork in the mail, and giving the artwork away to someone they love is less painful than giving it to the recycling bin.
Let your child pick out a sample of their creations to send to far-away family and friends. (Just don’t send a bunch of stuff to other parents of little kids, unless you want the same in return.) Those loved ones can decorate their fridge with it, save it with their most cherished items, or ditch it themselves; it’s theirs to do with as they please now.
You know what’s easier to store than 100 pieces of original artwork? 100 photos of that artwork. This is a method I used when my son was in the early daycare and preschool years, and seemed to come home every day with some kind of epic project they’d created.
In my memory, they were all made on extra large, thick construction paper with various glued-on accoutrements made of rice or cotton balls or pipe cleaners. Whether it be a snowman with actual sticks for arms or a shamrock painting that had been drenched in gold glitter, I’d often oooh and ahhh over them, and then think, “How will I store this?” They’re amazing! I never want to forget them! If I keep all of this, we’re going to need to move to a bigger house!
To ease my guilt of parting with such beauties, I snapped pictures of them and added them to a designated folder on my phone. You could also take it one step further and create a private Instagram account for their artwork, which has the added bonus of being easily made into a smaller book of their creations later.
Highlight your favorites in a big way
If you have the space, we’ve recommended in the past that you either highlight your kid’s artwork on wall that is usually ignored, such as the walls in your basement stairway, mudroom, or laundry room. Or let them decide what to display in their own bedroom, using a magnetic primer.
But you could also kick it up a notch by choosing a few to elevate to Framed Status. You don’t need to go wild framing every last picture they love—the point of the framing is that it’s only reserved for your absolute favorites. Add a couple here and there in spaces throughout the home, or create a small artwork collage in your home office or in their playroom. It will make them feel special to have their artwork so visibly cherished, and you can put the rest in that pile in the basement.