In nearly every residential organizing project where there have been children living in the home at one point in time, there comes the moment when the pile or the bin or the box or the area of children’s art work is unearthed. Some parents have kept everything; the white paper with the faintest line of colour on it, because their child barely had the strength to grasp the crayon. Some parents whittle the pile down to a few artifacts from each year and they explain that to me with a guilt-stricken face as if they are confessing to some atrocity. Either way… it is time to chat about it.
In the organizing world I would say that there are 3 or 4 systems that are used for the management of children’s art work, and they are all good and they all are perfectly right for certain parents. The strategies have come a long way from just sticking it to the front of the fridge too. One option is hanging a small indoor “clothes line” along a wall where a few pieces can be displayed at a time by using clothes pins. In my opinion the kids should do this themselves, so the string should be hung at their level. Each piece of art work is to hang for a little while and then be replaced by the new items coming in. From there, the old art work can be archived by filing it or photographing it. A different spin on this is to actually frame some favourite pieces as décor in the house; you’ll see this option as you walk the path at Ikea – it sure does have a certain charm and gets people talking. My personal favourite is to digitize all the art work and have them rotating on a digital photo frame, along with other photos of people and events. There are even companies that are dedicated to preserving children’s artwork by scanning and binding a print of each piece into beautiful, personalized hard-covered books.
At first read, this all sounds great, but after having this conversation over and over I’ve found myself thinking deeper about this repetitive situation. Now before I get into this I have to say that I tend to be minimalist in my thinking. I find myself questioning the future of everything I purchase – seriously considering if it is eventually going to end up in recycling, stored-away never to be bothered with and worst of all – ending up in a landfill. It is also important to understand that being a minimalist does not mean that I lack or avoid sentimental attachment to things. Those that know me can attest that I love to feel deeply and passionately about things in my life. This situation is just highlighting to me that I want to feel deeply about the best things. I can’t help but ask…What is the end-game for a hard-cover book with all my kids young art work in it? Family heirloom? I’m not so confident.
I have often witnessed mature children being offered or given the carefully curated collection of their own childhood school and art work. The truth is that the vast majority of adults show little interest in keeping it. One client in particular comes to mind. Her Mom kept nearly every artifact from her entire young school career and gave it to her. This collection was a burden for my client. She never looked at, she moved it from house to house, and if she was reminded that it existed (in the very back of her closet taking up precious storage space) the immediate feeling she felt was guilt because she didn’t find it interesting or pay it the attention she “ought” to. In addition, she had kids of her own. She was busy parenting and marveling at her own children’s developments that there wasn’t time or desire for her to look back at her own stuff.
I am not sentimental about my kid’s art, but I am remarkably enthusiastic about the growth and development that is happening within my daughter, within her mind, her heart, her soul, her hands and fingers, her coordination, her spirit. These are the true “works of art” and “masterpieces” that I will marvel at. I will marvel at the things that live within my daughter, things that will never fade or get crumpled or end up in a recycling bin or landfill. If there is a sense of loss for some parents when they toss a child’s art piece they might want to question that feeling a bit more. Parents can never ever toss the skill that their child used to produce any art piece, it’s impossible, it lives within them and it is there for them to build on and expand forever.
So, at this point in time, my kid’s art will be stuck to the front of the fridge for a few days; sometimes it will be done ceremoniously, sometimes it will not. When the moment strikes me I will do one of the following: toss it without asking them, toss it after getting permission from them, toss it after I take a picture of it, try to reuse parts of it, hang it in their room without asking, ask them if they want to hang it in their room, have them consider giving it as a gift to someone (making it clear to the receiver that it need not be kept or treasured for any length of time), use it as a card (making it clear to the receiver that it need not be kept or treasured for any length of time) and sometimes I might even keep an actual piece. And of course, I have to mention that sometimes my kid’s art is going to go straight from the backpack to the recycling bin.
More importantly, I give myself permission to deal with my kid’s art in a self-loving and guilt-free way, knowing that there is no “one, perfect way to deal with it, always”. Flexibility, self-love, self-acceptance and self-celebration is key for me, in my head and in my heart. That is what I want to pass on to my kids.