A Letter to My Children Concerning Their Artwork

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Dear Children,

I love you. You know that.

In fact one of you, and I won’t name names, is already over that game I play where I say, “Hey, I have to tell you a secret,” and then you come over and I whisper “I love you so much” in your ear. You can deny it, but your eye roll says it all. Regardless, I will continue to tell you how much I love you a gazillion times a day. This will never get old to me. Never. And one day, if you have kids, you will do the same. I can promise you that.

But I digress. Back to the topic.

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We need to have a serious chat about something. I love you. (See, there I go again.) And that means all of you. Including everything you create with those perfect (although usually extremely dirty) little hands of yours. But as we approach the beginning of another school year—with one of you starting preschool and one of you starting (gulp!) kindergarten—and in anticipation of the family trees and pumpkins and snowmen and doily hearts and clovers and bunnies and American flags that you’ll undoubtedly be bringing home throughout the year, I need to ask you to slow your roll on the amount of artwork you create. And I use the term “artwork” loosely to include your drawings and paintings, any craft projects you make, those pages you’ve ripped out of activity books to color and adorn with stickers, the random Post-Its and scraps of paper I find all over the house with cryptic writing and various symbols drawn on them, and anything covered in doodles. Oh, and those pieces of paper that look completely blank at first glance but really have a few teeny tiny lines or dots or squigglies on them so that they cannot be used in the printer. Hopefully you get the point.

But why, you ask? Well, because we just don’t have the refrigerator space, or wall space, or cork board space, or desk space, or floor space, or shelf space, or closet space, or drawer space, or filing cabinet space, or car space, or purse space, or diaper bag space, or under-the-bed space, or under-the-couch space…to showcase every blessed piece of your artwork.


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Plus, and I know this is going to sound very harsh, but it’s true… not every single thing you draw is a keeper. I refer you back to those papers with two barely visible markings on them. Or the colorful, glittery scraps not even you care to keep track of (and that I’m constantly getting stuck to the bottom of my feet). And while I’m sharing secrets, your drawings the other day didn’t accidentally fall into the trash can. (Read “recycle bin” if that makes you feel better.) Mommy put them there. On purpose. (Although apparently I didn’t bury them deep enough.) Because Mommy and Daddy’s most-used filing cabinet is, I’m sorry to say, our trash can.

Now, don’t wrinkle your noses up at me. You’re going to thank me one day for this. Honest to God. How do I know? Well, first, I can promise that you won’t want to be strapped with the mortgage payments we’d be ready to hand over for the house(s) we’d need to buy for the sole purposes of storing all of your art.

And second, when you’re older, you will have no idea what to do with the 83 gazillion boxes of old artwork that we’d be pushing on you the second you have your own place. How do I know this? Well, when I was little, Gramma (hi Mom, you know I love you) kept pretty much everything I made and saved it all in boxes. And when I got older she’d plea with me to take all of the stuff she had saved because it was taking up too much room. You know why it was taking up too much room? Because there was too-damned-much stuff in there, that’s why. Sure, I’ll admit that it was kinda fun going through things and seeing how extremely talented I was from a very young age. (Ahem.) But after that, I had no idea what to do with the boxes and boxes of discolored papers that smelled like they had been sitting in a basement for 20+ years.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of your art pieces are forever keepers. But hows about we make a pact moving forward for all the rest?

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I know it upsets you to think about me throwing away all of your hard work. So, I promise I won’t throw things away willy nilly anymore (because I have to admit, I did feel a little bad when you found that stuff in the trash). If there are things you want to keep, we can. We can do a weekly rotation (although if I’m being realistic, let’s say monthly; ok, fine, twice a year), and then we can re-evaluate. If you still want to save something once its display time has elapsed, let’s save it in a photo. I can take pictures and we can save them on my computer or on a CD or thumb drive. Or heck, even on our “cloud.” Then we can throw away/recycle the actual art. This has the twofold benefit of 1) saving space (in our house, anyway, oh and in yours in the future) and 2) keeping a record of your art that doesn’t yellow or take on that musty basement smell over time. Then, if you want to get crafty and creative with the pictures down the road, do it! It’ll mean you’ve activated some lazy recessive gene of mine that until this point in my life has remained pretty dormant.

What do you say? Do we have a deal?

Looking forward to all of your future masterpieces. Just don’t expect me to save them all.

Love, Mommy

Related post: Oh Crap,The Kids Are Inspired

About the writer

Mackenzie and her husband have three children, ages 5, 3 and 1. When she is not busy deejaying dance parties, fighting off ferocious dinosaurs, or changing diapers, Mackenzie spends her "free" time working as a freelance editor, attempting to keep up with the dishes and laundry, and chasing the ever elusive dream some may know as sleep. Find her on her blog, Raising Wild Things, on Twitter @rsnwildthings and Facebook.

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Anna 4 months ago

Taking pictures of all this stuff and saving it that way is a really good idea! I think I’m going to do this in the future before I trash it :)

Michelle Neckstad 10 months ago

With all of the artwork and crafts, I feel like I’m raising a gerbel!

Kristin 10 months ago

I had lived in that same hell as you are. To help I take photos of the artwork and then dump that crap outta my house!!! I try to separate it into 2 piles as it gets home and use 2 different assigned backgrounds so I can always look at it and say “oh ugly blue counter background is boy child” and “oh my ugly wood table is girl child” works of “art”. Someday I will get all that crap off my photos and get them saved on disks…someday, do not push me or I will need wine to “get over it”.

Mommy of 4 10 months ago

I don’t know why I never thought of taking pictures of art work to save. Great idea!!!

Kirsty 10 months ago

I keep the best one, which is lucky to make in to a box and I take a picture of the rest…problem solved, no hoarding…they will think we are crazy bat shit if we keep all of their work.

Sarah 2 years ago

Lol that was my son. You can imagine my surprise when the art teacher decided to have his art displayed. . But he doesn’t like art I told her… woops! Yeah, squiggly lines and lots of pink. I think she was trying to get him excited. Now his older sister is getting real competitive about her artwork.

Kelly 2 years ago

In my house I have one of those magazine holder boxes that I keep things that are 1. Flat and 2. pretty good but not ‘keepers’. Then we use that as our stationary. My daughter loves sending cards that she made (thank you cards, birthday cards, Hello I love you cards…), we get to share her art with family (you would be surprised how many fridges she is featured on) and as a bonus I don’t get mommy guilt for not keeping things!

I’m also a big fan of taking a small thing (sparkly heart, button fish) and layering it on top of other drawings to create a montage. Target sells these cool frames that are made for kids artwork, they hindge open so you dont have to take them off the wall, it is matted and there is a pocket to store art inside too. Changing the artwork is as easy as opening the door and sticking a new piece in the opening. (if I remember correctly they were under $20) My sister and I bought a set for my parents and we send them art from the kids on a regular basis, each grandkids has there own art frame and they are always excited to see what the other cousin has been doing.

Marta 2 years ago

Luckily, my kids seem to often forget when they’ve dropped off a massive amount of artwork for me from school so when 99% of it conveniently finds it way to the bottom of the recycling no one notices. I save the very best, but at 6 and 3 there hasn’t been TOO many of that yet.

Hillary 2 years ago

Cute! I’m on the hunt for a good way to store that stuff myself. We’re only at the Pre-K level and the ‘art collection’ is getting overwhelming!

Kathryn 2 years ago

As an elementary art teacher, I have to say, that most kids wouldn’t be sad to know you aren’t keeping everything. In fact, for many of them, the act of making it is far more important than the finished product. Keep digital copies if you want, but I would suggest a box and once it is full one thing has to leave before something new can join, and let them pick. That way the ones that are important to them are the ones that stay (you can always have your own stash if they decide to toss one of your favorites).
That and by about third grade most kids have slowed down a great deal if they are allowed to work at their own pace. So the end of the deluge is coming.

Denise 2 years ago

I took photos of my 4 year old’s art when he was just figuring out how to make things look real. I turned them into a hard bound photo book (using one of those photo companies) and it is AWESOME. And it fits nicely on a shelf. I’m planning on doing the same thing with his kindergarten drawings and make copies for the grandparents. Then I can happily toss all the originals.

Stephanie Barone Jankowski 2 years ago

This is such a GREAT idea! My kid completed one year of a 2-day-a-week preschool program and holy art projects, Batman!! I feel sooo guilty when I have to get rid of some, so I've just started asking him what his favorites are and we keep those. I need to add a room onto my house for this stuff!

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Of course! 😉

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

That's an AWESOME idea!!! I think I'll be decorating our garage tomorrow. :)

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Scanning is a good option, too! Hadn't thought of that.

Amber 2 years ago

I hate throwing their artwork out. But I have to do it because we’re military and we’re only allowed to bring so many pounds when we move. So I do what others have suggested and take a picture. I keep my very, very favorites.

Frankie Lawson 2 years ago

Hear, hear!!! My son made three dioramas in kindergarten last year, and I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I love the idea of the photos. Thank you!

Kimberly 2 years ago

My kids are older, and I have framed some of what they’ve done, but we still limit it to ONE piece per year per kid.

Lauren (Don’t Lick the Trash Can) 2 years ago

I have boxes of “art work” and my little guy is only 4! I need to take pictures! I can’t keep it all! Great post, hilarious!

Vickie St Clair Gimby 2 years ago

I just recently (and I am now a grandma) went thru and cleaned out "some" of my grown childrens art work – and It was kinda hard and sad but freeing all at the same time….

The Next Step 2 years ago

Oh god no! You don’t want glitter. That is the herpes of the arts & crafts supply. You let that stuff in your house and you will NEVER get it out of the carpet. Even if you burn the house down.

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Definitely going to have to check out Artkive now for sure.

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Size does matter! And thank you.

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Ah yes, I definitely keep the hand and footprint stuff. So so so precious.

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Brilliant! Sending the photos to other people! :)

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

And maybe some glitter?! :)

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

Right!

Raising Wild Things 2 years ago

I like that approach, April! And yay for your daughter. :)

Kathy Radigan 2 years ago

I love the idea of taking a picture of it!! I do the rotation art gallery thing, but, wow, with three kids, there is a lot of it!!! Don’t get me wrong I love it, but you are right, there just isn’t enough space. I do keep a folder for special tests, and work that is very special to me or to the artist. Great post, thanks!!

Kathy at kissing the frog 2 years ago

I like that idea, April! A friend of mine takes a picture and puts it on a CD, then throws the original away. To me there’s something about holding it in my hand that I like. That said, I definitely have to go through several boxes and trash some of it.

Kylie 2 years ago

It’s horrifying, isn’t it? There is so much of it. And they are so proud. I still haven’t gone through my daughter’s papers from the last day of school. I think it’s all going in the recycling bin. She will never know. They don’t care unless they find it in there.

The worst is all the art with their hand and footprints? How can you throw away something so precious? But there’s so much!!! Ah, the dilemma.

Myndee 2 years ago

Too funny. I second Artkive, and they aren’t paying me either…but they are welcome to. 😉

The Next Step 2 years ago

LOL, yeah, you gotta hold out for the higher level of effort. :-)

The Next Step 2 years ago

Oh I have long ago explained to my oldest that I take pictures so we can save them forever and then throw out the actual art because we don’t have enough space. The only things I keep are things that have her handprints on them. Because size matters, and a photograph just doesn’t show that. :-) Hilarious post!!

Amy – Funny is Family 2 years ago

We have a gigantic accordion file that stores the “keepers” by month, and at the end of the school year, the kids decide which ones they want to keep, which ones they want to send to all of the grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins around the country, and the rest get filed in that eternal art file in the sky. The garbage. I’m talking about the garbage.

Jill 2 years ago

I use Artkive (and no, they are not paying me), a mobile app on my phone that lets me take a picture and then I can tag it with the date, what kid and what grade. Granted I don’t take pictures of every little scrap of art that comes through the door but the “nicer ones” get a picture and I do save some. You can view the photos and if you want, make a book. It’s great and I now have much more space in the house for all my shoes!

Amanda 2 years ago

Hilarious!! When I see the art work displayed at my son’s preschool I laugh out loud at my kid’s art. Usually he has one blue line and a cottonball glued on. I’ve learned to save only things that have a little effort put into it. You know, four blue lines and two cottonballs.

HouseTalkN 2 years ago

AMEN! We have four children and if I saved all of their art, someone would call “hoarders!”

April 2 years ago

We have a rule. If I can tell what it is I will keep it. If I cannot tell what it is supposed to be…trash. So far, so good. Although it has actually upped my daughter’s game. 😉

Lizzi Rogers 2 years ago

Ha! Very cool answer to the problem. I've also heard of people designating one surface as a 'gallery' and then letting their children decide which piece goes when a new one is contributed.

Nicely done – congrats on the feature.

Marian Hargrove 2 years ago

Five kids and many gazillion pieces of "art" and I found what works for me. If what they made makes you laugh out loud, or bring tears to your eyes, it's a keeper. Other than that, take a picture, and out it goes after it's prerequisite week or month on the fridge.

Sarah Ritterhoff Williams 2 years ago

I would post some (not all, mind you) artwork on the garage wall that was visible when I pulled the van into the garage. Huge space. Kids loved seeing their stuff several times a day. When it got dirty, I'd pull it down and put up another. Not out of sight, but out of the house.

TaRaysha Smith 2 years ago

I have so much "art" it's not even funny. 13 years of the stuff. and she has decided to take up drawing….

Andrea 2 years ago

Absolutely the best!!!! I feel guilty too when I “accidently” let it fall into the trash but man oh man you just can’t keep it all!!!

Chris Green 2 years ago

I solved this problem years ago. I take a quick digital picture of any art project that is not flat. Flat things get put on my scanner and are saved digitally too. Now I have files that the kids can look at anytime. Sometimes I'll print some out to use as backgrounds on their scrapbook pages.

Kiwi 2 years ago

Our local craft store sells this terrific box that just fits a scrapbook album and a few mementos. I am making 1 for each kid’s baby book and 1 for their school years book. This way everyone has a space limit on keepers and they don’t take up so much space in anyone’s basement/closet.