Brace yourselves, moms and dads. If you have kids in elementary school, the deluge of crayola-ed cows, fall-leaf collages and tissue-paper wreaths is about to hit. It's an onslaught that has buried many a refrigerator, not to mention dining room tables, kitchen counters and whole family rooms.
Before you rent off-site storage to preserve every precious scribble, take a calming piece of advice from Jennifer Farrington, president and CEO of Chicago Children's Museum. "Art is not a receipt of your child's childhood," says Farrington, a mother of two, ages 7 and 9. "We as parents have to get over that."
In other words, it's okay not to keep every scrap of paper they produce. "I think it's good to teach kids not be accumulators, but to save what's special and memorable" says Kathy Peel, organizational guru and author of The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home (Picket Fence Press, 304 pages, $16.99). "It helps us to live better because things are not taking up all the space in our homes."
Here are the best ideas we found to help you get a handle on that artful clutter.
1. The gallery: Create a display space where new artwork can be displayed for a week or two. Think beyond the fridge/magnet combo: try a clothesline hung in your child's room or, in a more public area, a retractable clothesline mounted across a window — when guests come over, simply unclip the artwork and snap the clothesline back into its base. Or hang an artsy arrangement of empty frames on a wall, then use adhesive putty to stick artwork inside, allowing for a rotating display of kid art — which instantly can be transformed into an artsy wall display by emptying the frames again.
2. The boxes: Once pieces have had their run in the gallery space, it's time to consider where (and if) they'll be stored for the long term. Peel recommends a two-part system: An easily accessible box (use simple cardboard storage boxes or even clean pizza boxes your kids can decorate) for things children would like to keep until the end of the school year. These can store under beds or even under your sofa. And a long-term plastic bin, for things you plan to save indefinitely, can live in the attic or basement. At the beginning of the summer, sit with your child to sort through and pick out the year's best for the long-term bin. "Compliment their work, and make it kind of a game. Say, 'Let's save the 10 best from this year,'" Peel says.
3. The albums: One way to convince your kids that it's okay to consign their creations to the recycle bin is to create art albums. "Photograph it and get your child to document what it was," says Farrington. Put the photos and your child's quotes into artwork-themed albums. Create easy albums with plain-paper scrapbooks, or go all-out and create your own bound volume of favorite pieces — an easy project to accomplish through photo sites such as kodakgallery.com. (Three-dimensional works, which are hard to store and imminently breakable, are great subjects for photography.)
4. The computer: Peel suggests using scanned or photographed artwork as rotating screensavers on your computer. Farrington suggests simply making files on your computer for each year, creating long-term, no-space storage for artwork. To go one step further, try creating an online gallery at a photo-sharing site that can be viewed by grandparents or other family members.
5. The fragment: For those large pieces that just won't store (or display) neatly at home, Farrington suggests trimming them down to a pre-designated size. One method? Favorite parts of oversized pieces can be cut down to 8 ½-by-11 size, punched with a three-hole punch, and kept in a binder until they are ready to be stored or purged.