Toss it

Yes, I Throw Away My Kid’s Art

It’s not just about decluttering — there’s an important lesson.

My son jumped off the school bus yesterday with a familiar roll of paper sticking out of his backpack. I pulled it out and admired it, "Wow, look at this painting! Can you tell me about it?"

He quickly related his ideas, thoughts, and enjoyment of the second-grade art project before it hit the trash can with a familiar crunch.

That's right. I openly throw away most of my kid's artwork. Sometimes I even use it to fuel the bonfire for our weekend s'more festivities.

#meanestmomever?

I don't think so. In fact, by recycling my kid's art, I am keeping the clutter in my house under control, and I'm teaching them some important lessons. Life isn't about collecting a bunch of beautiful things; it's about enjoying the journey along the way.

As adults, we see the finest pieces of art hanging in galleries and museums across the world. These pieces typically represent a snapshot of the human experience. Do you know why you enjoy seeing art in this way? Because it’s curated. There is only a small selection of things that are easy to focus on and enjoy.

In our homes with children, we often struggle to curate the art. We rarely have the wall space and/or patience to manage the large quantity of precious creations that our children create to narrate their lives. This leaves us overwhelmed with the art and unsure of how to manage it.

Perhaps this will sound familiar: The piles of art accumulate until a fit of rage hits, and you cram the majority of it in the bottom of the garbage while saying a silent prayer that it goes undiscovered and your kids don't notice anything missing.

I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be afraid. Here's a three-step process to curate a few of your kid's favorite pieces of art and confidently toss the rest of it — right on top of the trash.

Appreciate the process

When you admire your child's art, focus your questions and praise on the process rather than the finished piece. "Why did you choose to use this color? What sort of things inspired this? Did you have fun making it?" When we can focus our commentary on appreciating the process, we can help our kids to understand that art (and life!) is more about the journey than the final product.

Designate space

You can (and should) keep some of your children's artwork, but with parameters. We have a dedicated space for short-term storage and long-term storage in our house. Each piece that comes in is admired and discussed. Then, 90% goes straight into recycling. The remaining 10% makes its way to a string with six clips that hold current favorite pieces. When those spots are filled, we use a "one-in-one-out" policy to bring in the new.

A few of the most favored pieces go into a single long-term storage box, our "Art Box." When the Art Box gets full, we curate through and recycle anything that has lost its sentimental value. It's true; just because that Thanksgiving placemat that felt special three years ago doesn't mean you will feel the same way today. Our feelings toward sentimental items do change with time.

If you can't remember why you saved it three years later, you definitely won't remember 30 years later. So, yes, even the long-term storage can benefit from curating, and by limiting it to a single box, we are forced to do that.

Model letting go

Our homes and lives are overflowing with stuff. By cramming things to the bottom of the trash can in secret, we may teach our kids that letting go of things is scary. By showing our kids that we can confidently set the art free, we show them that we can appreciate the creation process and make space to keep the creative juices flowing for new works.

When it comes to our kid's art, let's appreciate the joy it brought them to create it. Then, show them that it's safe to discard to make room for new experiences.

It's okay to let things go; growth happens in the process, not the product.

Denaye Barahona Ph.D. is a family coach, author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Her work has been featured on Netflix, Real Simple Magazine, The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many more.