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A Parent’s Guide To Throwing Away Children’s Artwork

Yesterday, I threw away a large trash bag filled with artwork created by my children. The massive pile is the result of artwork accumulation over the course of one month. In one month my children managed to fill an entire garbage bag with artwork.

I don’t want to brag, but I’ve become sort of an expert on throwing away children’s artwork. I can look at a masterpiece and decide in minutes whether it should be kept or tossed. I haven’t always had this skilled. I’ve developed it over the past three years. My oldest son’s first year in preschool was a tough one. Everything he brought home was magnificent. I wanted to display every page of random paintbrush strokes he made. For the first week I did. A month into preschool, I knew I was going to have a problem. He only went to school twice a week but the preschool artwork was multiplying overnight and taking over our house. I had to set some ground rules and I had to set them fast. In case you are having a similar issue, I’ve shared them with you below.

What to Keep:
1. Handprints: Any craft that includes handprints is a keeper. Years from now, you’ll look back in shock that your child’s hands were ever that small. That being said, watch for sneaky preschool teachers. Knowing that handprints are a keeper, you might notice an abundance of artwork containing handprints coming home. Be smart. You probably don’t need to keep two different handprint crafts made during the same week. Your child’s hand has not grown in 48 hours. Pick the cutest one and toss the other.

2. Handwriting: I love watching my son learn to write. When he started writing his name, he wrote it completely mirror-imaged, as in, you could hold it up to a mirror and read it perfectly. I thought maybe I had a boy genius until his teacher informed me this was actually very common. Since then I’ve been fascinated watching him develop his skills.

3. Creativity: I love the artwork that comes home with imperfections. When my two-year-old comes home with a perfectly constructed cut out penguin, I know that I’m actually looking at artwork created by my child’s teacher. When the penguin has three eyes and a beak where his wing should be, I know my child created it. You can’t keep all of these crafts, so choose the ones that best display you’re child’s creativity.

4. Pictures: Similar to crafts with handprints, I’m partial to crafts with pictures of my kid. These crafts seem to perfectly capture a moment in time. Not only do you see their artistic ability, but you can also remember what they looked like when they made the craft. Be careful though, teachers know that parents are a sucker for pictures. Choose you’re picture crafts wisely.

What to Toss:
1. Food Art: A marshmallow snowman might look cute today but in 10 years this craft will not hold up. You will find yourself pulling out a piece of construction paper with three dried glue circles and a pile of marshmallows. The same is true for cheerios. You might be safe to keep a noodle necklace, but that’s as far as I would extend the food allowance.

2. Sticker Art: My kids come home with a lot of pieces of paper covered with stickers. At first, I examined these pages and smiled at the creative placement of stickers. I wondered what my child’s creative process was when she put baby Jesus on top of the camel instead of in the manger. A few weeks later, I watched my child create one of these crafts. What I thought was a carefully planned masterpiece was, in fact, my child placing stickers randomly on a page while trying to eat a granola bar at the same time. Sometimes she didn’t even look at the piece of paper before putting the sticker down. I don’t want to sound cruel, but years from now, you will not want to marvel at your child’s sticker placement. Remember that you can’t keep everything. Sticker art is an easy toss.

3. Fragile/Complicated/Awkward Art: I will admit that this category is the hardest to part with. Last week, my son came home with a homemade weathervane made from a plastic cup, a pencil and a paperclip. It was adorable. But here is what I know about this craft: it’s new home is an over-sized bin packed with crafts. This weathervane doesn’t stand a chance. Years from now, I’ll pull out a plastic cup, a pencil and a paperclip and wonder why I saved such junk. If you must, take a picture before you toss it, that way you can still remember it.

I was going to add crafts made with glitter, but I realized the tendency to toss glitter crafts has more to do with my hatred for glitter than any rational reason to eliminate it. I will say this. Glitter is an annoying attention-stealing craft. You might only have one craft that has glitter in your craft bin but over time that glitter will disperse onto all other crafts. You will not be able to enjoy any other piece of art without seeing remnants of glitter. Trust me when I say glitter crafts are best remembered in a picture.

As a final piece of advice, let me impart on you the most critical point of this post. Please dispose responsibly. This means using the outside garbage can. You cannot casually toss this artwork in the kitchen trashcan and risk your child finding it. You might as well just tell your child that they don’t matter to you. They must never know that you throw their artwork away. You must keep an acceptable amount of artwork on display at all times on your refrigerator or elsewhere around the house. You must casually reference the bin of artwork that you keep in the basement full of their masterpieces. They must believe that everything they make is carefully being preserved somewhere. Luckily, their little minds haven’t fully formed and they don’t realize that there is no way all of their artwork can fit in such a small container.

Happy craft tossing!

Comments

Lauren M. Hug, J.D., LL.M.
Reply

You truly have a gift, Susan! Another post where I’m laughing so hard I’m crying. I just read it out loud to my hubby … and he actually listened and laughed, too!

You’ve hit all the major craft issues. Food projects and glitter are on my immediate toss list. I’m a bad mommy, because those are crafts I will toss in plain sight of my children.

Oh how I wish I had read this post back when my first-born started preschool. I would have had much less guilt about throwing pretty much everything away. Now that I’m homeschooling both my kids, I have panic-attacks about not doing crafty projects often enough. I know that if they were in a normal school, I, too, would have a garbage bag full of crafts per month. But, I’m feeling slightly better now, since the projects we actually do all fall into your keeper categories. Maybe I’m not failing them too badly after all.

Susan Ward
Reply

You homeschooling moms are very lucky! You can moderate the number of crafts. I’m jealous.

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