Decluttering Your Child’s Artwork

Some paintings created by my son Gabriel
I particularly like the colors in these two paintings by my son, Gabriel
I talked a bit in my post, Letting Go, about our recent attempts at getting rid of things that we don’t love, need, use. What if you love something, but it exists in such tremendous quantities that something has to be done about it? Christmas ornaments come to mind, but I’ll save that for a different post because what I want to talk about is my children’s artwork.

Let’s say we don’t put a crayon into our child’s hand until they are a year old (it was earlier than that for us!). That means that, when I began my decluttering adventure, I found roughly 8 years’ worth of artwork (combined total for two children) in a giant stack in my basement. We do craft projects nearly every day, and they spent part of every day of their preschool lives doing craft as well, so you can see how quickly that can multiply. Each piece is unique, captures their developmental milestones in visual format, and, especially now that my son writes “To Mommy” on almost every piece, is very difficult to let go.

And yet, I could not justify taking a three-foot stack of kids’ artwork to Helsinki with us. What to do, what to do? I turned to the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra for help with this tricky situation!

I was able to immediately reduce the giant pile-o-pictures by pulling out some nice ones and sending them to out-of-state relatives. This made me feel good because I was sharing part of my children’s experiences with them, and they were appreciative too!

I’ve already blogged about Zero-Waste Wrapping Paper, but it’s worth mentioning again. Larger paintings, especially those that come from easel paper, make great home-made wrapping paper. Not only does it add a personal touch to your gifts, but it doesn’t contain the heavy metals present in many commercial wrapping papers and can, therefore, be recycled. Double bonus.

Note to pack-rats: Do not fool yourself into keeping a life-time supply of child art for wrapping paper. Only keep enough for a month or so, or one major holiday at most, because you know they’re going to keep painting more!

Recycle, But Scan First!
Once you’ve sent some of the artwork on and set aside enough to wrap a holiday’s-worth of present-wrapping, it’s time to recycle 95% of the rest. Yes, I kept a small file-folder of items from the 8 years of artwork: Gabriel’s first rainbow painting, Lily’s first flower, a special drawing of Grandma, Gabriel’s first picture of our family.

But before I recycled, I took photos and/or scanned in the best ones and plan to keep those digitally for posterity. We have a combo printer/fax/scanner that is amazingly high-quality for the price, but I also took digital photos of anything too big to fit on the scanner bed. The photos are slightly lower-quality than the scanner, even with my 12.1 megapixel camera, but are good enough that I could easily put together a photo book for each child sometime in the future if I wanted to (and I do!).

I’m also planning to publish a digital album of their work so that friends and family can see the art they create in Finland. There are so many free services out there for digital storage these days (Picasa, Facebook, and Evernote just to name the ones we actively use) that it makes sense to store things this way instead of on CDs or even a disk drive that might contribute to your clutter.

So how have you found creative ways to declutter? I’m always looking for new ways to simplify!

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