by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Identify what's special. If you have difficulty doing this, practice looking at a group of things and asking, "If I could take only one of these things with me, which would it be?"
When it comes to discussing what to do with kids’ school papers, I’m not only talking to parents of young children. I’ve talked to and heard stories about people in their 50s and 60s who have devoted large amounts of space to storing their kids’ papers from school.
I’m not talking about class photos and report cards, I mean every quiz, report, coloring page, and so on that their child signed their name to and brought home.
Boxes and boxes of papers that teen and adult children have said they have no interest in. However, the parent is convinced that at some point in the future, their children will be thrilled to move 26 boxes of spelling quizzes and reports about the volcanoes into their own homes.
Whether your child is three or thirty, I’d like to suggest a more manageable (and, perhaps, appreciated) way of keeping your child’s paper-related memories.
Create a Memory Box
I remember reading how author Gretchen Rubin decided to tackle her daughter’s paper by limiting herself to a pretty file box for each girl. She set up hanging file folders, one for each grade, to hold special papers – class photos, family holiday photos, report cards, the invitation to the girl’s birthday party, and so on.
Because she was limiting saved papers to those that would fit each daughter’s school years into a single box, Gretchen chose what best reflected each grade. (At the time she wrote about this both girls were young and so she selected what was saved. I don’t know if as her daughters got older, they selected what was saved.)
Basically, these memory boxes were Gretchen Rubin’s choice of memories for each daughter. And that’s the thing, when you save your child’s papers, you are curating your memories of their time in school.
Help Your Child Learn to Identify What's Important to Them
Kids may be inclined to keep all their school papers because they never learned how to curate their collections. In class, their teacher may have them keep all the papers for each subject in a folder and so your child doesn’t realize that they can pick and choose what to keep.
With young children, it may be easier to have a box where all school, extracurricular, and camp papers are deposited throughout the year. I don’t mean documents that as the parent or guardian you should keep in your files, but the tests and coloring pages that are kid-generated and -oriented.
Then, at the end of the school year, sit down with your child and have them pick out their favorite five (or however many work for you) papers to keep in their memory box. Keep the process moving with promises of ice cream or a movie when all the papers have been sorted.
Finally, recycle anything your child doesn’t want. I know, you’re afraid that you child will want their fourth-grade math tests when they have kids in the fourth grade; but, no, no they won’t.
Think about it – how often have you thought, “Wow, I wish I kept my fifth-grade report on Oregon”? I’m thinking, never.
Practice Curating Special Papers
Maybe you have a wall of boxes filled with old school papers. You can’t imagine simply picking up a box and dropping it into your recycling bin. In that case, plan to devote numerous evenings to sorting through these papers.
When it comes to keeping something, consider if it is your best memory of your child’s school experience. Is your child really going to be happy seeing a report card from sixth grade that was filled with C- and D grades?
When you’re debating whether to keep something, consider this – could you add a note explaining why you thought a particular report, test, or art project was special? If not, then your child may still view the items as a collection of useless papers from their past.
Remember, Saving a Few Things Will Seem More Special Than Trying to Keep Everything
Remember, just because you find these school papers important doesn’t mean that your child will have any interest in them – particularly if they’ve told you they have no interest in keeping this stuff. Even if you invest hours curating dozens of boxes down to one or two, there is still nothing saying that your adult child will appreciate the collection you’ve kept for them.
And, if you are thinking, “I’ll hold onto everything so my children can make the decision someday,” know that an overwhelming quantity of stuff will only make it more likely that your children will toss the items without a second glance.
Think about your curation from this point of view - you are telling a story about your child's school years. What do you want that story to say?
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.