How to Keep Kids’ Art from Cluttering Up Your Home

Each year at Christmas, a ritual: The handmade pottery ornament, a snakelike coil sitting atop a square disc, is lovingly unwrapped by the artiste. The reverse side notes the ornament’s creator and provenance: “Anjolie, 2B.” A happy gasp goes up, “Oh Mommy, look! Anjolie 2B!” Taking her cue, the mother sneers dryly, “It looks like a turd.” And, as if on cue, peals of laughter erupt from both mother and daughter.

The artiste, of course, is this author, and the mommy is mine; it’s not quite the saccharine tale people expect of a cherished Yuletide memory, but it suits the dark sense of humor we share just fine. And, year after year, while we wipe tears from our eyes, having laughed so hard at the absolutely hideous ornament I made in the second grade, I’ve asked, “Mommy, why did you keep this terrible thing?” She has no good answer, but we’re both glad she did.

Parents everywhere know the dilemma of turd-like art: What do I keep? How can I display or store it? What can I throw out, and how?

Engage your children in selecting artwork for display

Lee Fairchild teaches art at Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, Calif., where she puts on an end-of-year schoolwide art exhibit featuring at least one piece of art created by each student. Her curation method involves engaging her students in the selection process by asking open-ended questions about their art, like “tell me about this.” She encourages parents to do the same at home — to go through the art together with the little artists themselves, and to have a conversation about what they like best and why. Once you and your child have selected art to display, Fairchild offered this idea: Hang frames with the glass removed, so that children can tack art inside. “Frames elevate art and signify that it is special.”

Mike Barish, a marketing writer who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., uses a similar approach with his 4-year-old son, Calvin, engaging him in the process of selecting the art that gets displayed. “When he’s proud of a picture, he’ll ask us if he can tape it to the windows in our kitchen. He hangs those special pieces himself, which is adorable,” Barish said, adding “thankfully, he doesn’t ask us to hang all of his drawings!”

Other options for displaying artwork include using a wire outfitted with clips, clipboards with work displayed gallery-style, the Lil’ Davinci Store & Display Art Cabinet Frame or Graham & Brown interactive wallpaper, which is printed with empty frames in which children can hang photos or notes — or even create art right on the wallpaper itself. Floating shelves can be installed to create a gallery of sorts for displaying 3-D creations like pottery thumb pots, papier-mâché masks, and dioramas.

Create a system for storing children’s art

Kate Martin, a certified art teacher and professional organizer based in Round Rock, Tex., knows how overwhelming the amount of artwork children bring home from school can be; she works with parents to establish guidelines about what to keep and what to toss, while managing the guilt that often accompanies those decisions.

Martin offered a simple starting point for parents overwhelmed by their child’s creative bent: “Get all the artwork in one place.” She suggested putting an empty bin next to children’s backpacks and teaching them what she calls the “ta da! and ta dump” method: Have them show you their artwork when they arrive home from school and, before it can end up on the dining room table, kitchen counter or floor, have them put that day’s masterpieces in the chosen bin. Portfolio-style storage, like the Lakeshore Learning My Keepsake Portfolio or Blick Studio Series Softside Portfolio, are good choices for holding flat paper creations, while IKEA boxes are inexpensive storage options that can hold larger pieces like pottery or papier-mâché projects.

Consider upcycling your children’s art, and don’t toss it while they’re watching

Ellen Delap, a professional organizer from Kingwood, Tex., has a firm rule when it comes to parting with one of your child’s artistic creations: “Never discard it in front of the artist.” She acknowledged that discarding art can be challenging and urged parents to do what they think is best for their child, adding, “letting go of it once it is photographed is easier.” Barish has found this to be true, “My wife, Jordana, has started taking photos of some of the artwork before we throw it away. That way we have a record of it — a digital gallery, so to speak — without the clutter.”

Martin suggested upcycling artwork for use as thank-you notes or wrapping paper for gifts, or making a collage using the best parts of each piece. Nadine Warner, a creative strategist who lives in Evanston, Ill. with her partner Lori Fong and their four children, ages 2 to 12, explained her method: “Depending on my mood, I’ll toss whatever doesn’t feel special,” adding wistfully, “as the kids get older, it gets harder to toss their artwork. I recognize that the time when they are in the house is growing shorter, and someday I may regret tossing some of the things I did.”

Digital storage options can help you let go of the physical objects

Parents today have options for handling turd art that my own mother didn’t. Digital storage sites like Keepy, Artsonia and Shutterfly allow parents — and teachers! — to upload photos and videos of artwork that can be shared with family without taking up physical space in your home. All three sites are also available as apps, making it easy to snap a photo on a smartphone and upload it; they also offer privacy options so that only the people you choose are able to view your child’s work and personal information. Artwork stored on these sites can also be turned into a book or keepsakes like magnets, playing cards, mugs or, yes, even a turd-like ornament of your own.

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and host of the podcast “Ask a Clean Person.”

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