The Great Artwork Dilemma: Keep Everything Your Kids Do?

BlogHer Original Post

Girl with artwork

At some point after I had my first child, on a visit back to my hometown, my mother offered me my baby book. It was carefully filled out for the entire first year, plus had various school pictures and papers tucked inside it. And then there was a small stack of other childhood detritus -- a few report cards, newspaper clippings where I was mentioned for some school thing or other, and one drawing I'd done in kindergarten. Just one.

I was neither surprised nor upset by this discovery. In fact, I was pleased to have the one picture. I did not grow up in a house where our childhood artwork was ever put on display on the fridge or elsewhere. In fact, when I came home with a lumpy clay head in third grade and my mother insisted it would make a perfect "kitchen witch," I remember being upset about that for years (I thought she was making fun of it), though of course the fact that she still has it in her kitchen is a small point of pride to me, now. Normally, when completed masterpieces were brought home, my mother would admire them, then throw them away. That's just how it was. I can't remember if it bothered me as a kid. As an adult, I guess I feel like it was a pragmatic approach, if not a terribly warm and fuzzy one.

But last week the New York Times' Michael Tortorello wrote a much-discussed piece about how different families handle the influx of kiddie artwork, and what it all means. You can watch your child's personality unfolding! See clues to their innermost beings! And -- naturally -- how parents handle the care and storage of said artwork probably says a lot about their parenting styles, too.

Getting rid of clutter makes me happy. I have never been, nor will I ever be, the kind of mom who keeps everything. That would make me insane. But I love my kids, treasure the stuff they make at school, and try to make calculated guesses about what they might enjoy seeing later, when they're older. The truth is that the older they get, the less I keep. There's a large, flat box in my closet that I started when my oldest started preschool, back when the teachers used to make little books with them for every occasion. So sure, I have the one where my daughter did the Thanksgiving interview wherein she claimed I cook a turkey by setting the oven to 750 degrees for 10 minutes, and the Christmas story from my son where he drew a picture of Jesus and Santa dancing together. In elementary school I select a few projects each year to tuck away. Now that my daughter's in middle school, she hangs her various Science Fair ribbons and such in her room, but should the day come when she wants to clear off her bulletin board, I'll take those, too.

When the kids were very small, I designated a wall in their playroom and rotated through hanging up their artwork in there. Nowadays I have a shelf for "treasures" here in my office -- my own personal menagerie of clay and other sculpture -- and beneath it I hang an assortment of paintings, cards, and other items the kids make for me. When something new comes in, something old moves to the box in my closet.

The point is, I save stuff, sure. But in nearly thirteen years of being a parent, it all still fits in one box. Which is just fine with me. And that means that over the years I have both thrown stuff away under cover of darkness and waded into the murky waters of, "I love all of these, but I think if you can pick just one for us to keep, maybe we'll recycle the rest." The first few times I did that it was as if I was ripping the kid's heart out and stomping on it, of course, but guess what -- they adapted. The kids know I don't keep everything. It doesn't seem to have scarred them any. And when I do hang something under my treasure shelf or put it in the keepsake box, they beam. I like to think it's a good balance. Someday, when they're adults, I hope they'll enjoy looking through what I've kept for them, and they will feel neither slighted nor like their mom is a hoarder. Heh.

Talk of how to handle kids' artwork has been a popular topic since Tortorello's piece:

Christine at MommyMatter.com is a saver:

I may be setting myself up for many boxes full of these artist treasuries, but I could never look at it as trash. I plan on each year putting their artwork in specific boxes so I can look at the changes as they get older. See the memories, the thoughts and the creativity bubbling inside of them. A kids’ artwork is a cherished piece in my family. My Mom has even framed WeeMan’s very first finger painting and hung it right in her “office”. It is things like artwork that make motherhood so much better. It is their gift to you, and it is the simple things in life that mean the world to any parent.

While I agree with the sentiment, the logistics of never throwing any of it away kind of frightens me. (Not to mention that my kids have given me tons of "gifts" over the years, and I would no sooner save every piece of paper than continue to hang on to every squashed caterpillar, either.)

The TODAYMoms Blog posted about the overwhelming response to their Facebook post on the topic, noting that readers had lots to share:

We posed the question on our Facebook page, and while plenty admitted to pitching pictures, others shared ingenious ideas. There's the mom who takes digital photos of favored artwork, uploads them to a photo-sharing site, and then creates a book at the end of the year. And the mom who creates an art gallery by hanging photos on a wall covered in corkboard. Another keeps folders of her kids' art, and when it starts overflowing, she suggests, "Let's send the art to Grandma so she can see it." And another has her daughter make paper chains out of the art that isn't displayed and says, "She hasn't noticed yet how the chains seem to disappear."

The comments there are an interesting read, including several from adults whose mothers saved it all and now talk about seeing that as hoarding behavior and the hassle of having to deal with sorting through and throwing away, later, too.

Looking for ideas on how to save and display some (but not all) of those works of kiddie art?

  • Mother & Baby Tips has a quick list of suggestions.
  • Suite101's Rachel Norton proposes five easy rules to live by when it comes to sorting, saving and tossing.
  • And Shana at Ain't No Mom Jeans has some great display ideas, complete with pictures and links.

Where do you stand? Save it all, pitch it all? Somewhere between?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir Kamin believes that the best things in life tend not to be tangible. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

Original for BlogHer

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