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Why I Throw Away My Kid's Artwork

I Love My Kids, and I Also Love Throwing Away Most of Their Artwork

little girl painting with paintbrush and colorful paints on desk background

There are a few things my kids produce in abundance: dirty laundry, toothpaste smears in the bathroom, and paperwork. It's one of the things you don't really think of until you become a parent — but there are so many papers. It comes at me from all angles. They bring home from school what feels like a 500-sheet ream of paper per week of worksheets. And at our house, they have formed their own artwork assembly line, drawings and doodles coming down the conveyor belt at a pace that's impossible to keep up with. It's like they're working day and night, furiously fulfilling shipments in their own kids artwork Amazon warehouse . . . only no one is placing orders.

So here's what I do with most of the schoolwork and artwork that gets handed to me a on a daily basis: I throw it away. Yep, right in the trash. It's liberating.

It's not that I'm a heartless mother, void of all sentimentality. In fact, I adore my kids and document them to an obnoxious degree. I take millions of pictures of them. My Instagram feed sits comfortably in the annoying-mom-babbling-about-her-kids category. I cry when I think of the inevitable passing of time as they grow older and their childhood slips through my fingers. But I still throw away their artwork.

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Life is busy! There are so many things to keep track of. There's a reason everyone is going bonkers for Marie Kondo — we all have too much stuff. So I say save less of the papers!

I do love their creations. But my process is to admire it, praise their effort, and then dispose of it. I'll say, "I love this skeleton you made out of glue and Q-tips! You did a great job!" as my foot slowly inches toward the recycling bin. I'll admit, it's not a perfect system, mostly because my kids are not fully on board. My 5-year-old son recently spotted one of his masterpieces in the garbage can. The drawing was on a torn scrap of paper, his medium was running-out-of-ink blue marker, and the subject was what looked to be perhaps a spider? "Mom!" he yelled, as he fished it out the trash, the accusation of betrayal in his eyes, "My paper!" Here's what to do if you find yourself in a similar predicament. Apologize for throwing away his artwork. As your child watches, make a big production of placing the blue spider-thing drawing in a safe place. Then, when your child goes to bed . . . throw it away. This time make a point to conceal it with a layer of trash. Feel euphoria sweep over you. One less paper to deal with.

Of course, I don't trash all of their artwork. I save the meaningful pieces. The picture my oldest made for me while I was in the hospital with her new baby sibling. The paper where my middle child first successfully wrote his name in adorable wobbly letters. I keep a three ring binder, and these important papers go in protective sleeves and will be cherished for years to come. We also have a bulletin board where we display some of their favorites. After a week or so, we clean it off and rotate in their new favorites. But do I buy into the idea that I need a whole special filing system, labels, file cabinets, and a storage unit to keep every scrap of paper they've ever touched? No. I appreciate the parents who take the time to catalog every piece, but that just doesn't work for me.

One or two binders or scrapbooks will do the trick. I like to only save the things that make me laugh, the notes that make me cry, the artwork that they worked particularly hard on. Beyond, that — I let it go. My house is so much less cluttered and my kids won't care . . . eventually.

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