10 Commandments of Saving Your Little Artist’s Masterpieces

Got kids? Then you have artwork. Masterpieces. Pasta creations. Hand-print animals. Oooh, those are the cutest! Here’s what I wish someone had told me early about saving my kid’s artwork. Please pass this along to every pregnant woman or new parent that you know.

10 Commandments of Saving Your Little Artist's Masterpieces

1st Commandment: When saving children’s artwork, Don’t Save Carbs. Cheerios, pasta, beans, candy…any kind of food art should be admired, then take a picture of your kid holding the carb-tastic item, then toss. In fact, we might even call this the Golden Rule, because if you disobey this Golden Rule, you are sure to be parting with some of your gold…and paying it to the exterminator after the ants and critters find your carbs.

2nd Commandment: The smaller the kid, the larger their artwork. In preschool, they will come home with oversized collages and paintings that don’t scan or store easily. At some point, they are guaranteed to come home with a life-sized tracing of themselves. Display them for a while. Cherish them. Then digitize them- BEFORE they get too beat up to be worth saving.

3rd Commandment: Don’t keep everything. As soon as possible, swap out an older piece for a new one and – gasp!- let your child see that some of their stuff does end up in the recycle bin. The magic words to use with them are, “We can’t keep everything. Where would we put it?” This is a life skill you are teaching your child. Don’t let their tears fool you. They are smart, and they know that you can’t keep everything.

4th Commandment: Document their name/age/grade on their artwork immediately. On the front. Where you can see it. Sure, today it’s unmistakably Timmy’s handiwork, but in a couple of years, you won’t be able to remember if it was Timmy’s, Tommy’s, or Tina’s!

5th Commandment: Photograph 3-D items, too. That science fair project or papier-mache mask is not going to store neatly or compactly back at home, but you can snap a picture of the proud artist with her creation, and remember it always.

6th Commandment: Save original works only, not worksheets or the teacher’s work. For your first child in the first 5 years, everything might seem masterful to you when it comes through your door. I mean, just LOOK at those perfect squiggles! But if you review a batch after some time passes, it will be pretty obvious what work was your child’s, and what was uninspired. Just choose the best to store and celebrate.

7th Commandment: Do make photo books. Right. This one is obvious, but you might feel like you don’t have enough time, money or talent to pull it off. You can absolutely outsource making photo books to an APPO professional. But if you choose to do it yourself, the easiest way to get it done is to stack the artwork from oldest (top) to newest (bottom), then scan or take a picture of it in order. You can then upload to any service or software, and simply print one item per page. You’ll have a stunning book in no time, with no formatting required.

8th Commandment: Do share them with your kids, whether they are young or adults. Youngsters will love to see their work in a “real book,” and they love knowing that you also take pride in their work. Adult children might never give their early artwork another thought if it’s stuffed in a bin in the basement, but as a coffee table book, they can enjoy it every time they visit your home.

9th Commandment: Do throw out the originals, once you have a hard copy of your digitized portfolio. The exceptions are hand-prints, which lose scale once you digitize them. You may also keep some fine art, which you hopefully have framed and hanging on your walls. Award winners might also be worth keeping and displaying. You have my permission (and heartfelt plea) to toss the rest.

10th Commandment: Don’t keep it all because you are sure that your child will or should want it all someday. They might be happy to see a few items, but most adult children do not want a disorganized and disintegrating crate of 30-year old papers dumped on them.

It’s really, really hard to decide whether something is a keeper the day it comes home. Like everything else in life, it’s much easier to decide when you’ve sorted like items together. I like to do this in the summer, in between grades. As the kids have gotten older, it’s something that they can help me with, keeping them busy for at least part of a day during the summer. I end up with 4 piles (sometimes more):

1) scan, then toss

2) scan and keep, usually things with original hand prints or formal certificates.

3) don’t scan but keep, like books the kid made

4) toss, including things with carbs attached.

Want to see how this works in real life? Here’s what my process for sorting and organizing school papers and kids art. Just click on the video below.

Sorting through your children’s artwork might take you an afternoon, but I promise it will take you less time than you spend on cursing the disorganized piles of kids artwork that you stash behind dressers, under beds and in closets.

What is your favorite of the 10 Commandments above?