Sunday, February 6, 2011


The other day Katy looked into our dining room, and cried out in anguish, “Mommy, my sticker picture is in the recycling bin! Why is it in the recycling bin?!” Busted! Katy caught me tossing out some of her art. I pulled it out with little explanation, saying something brightly like, “Oh, I don’t know, honey. Would you like it?”

Another time she asked me for her “light bulb picture”—another sticker picture, made in Sunday school. I hemmed and hawed, sure that one had seen the bottom of the recycling bin, too. But I checked the file folder where I save some of her work, and breathed a huge sigh of relief to find it there. Her face lit up with relief when she saw it, too! Whew! She carried it around and talked about it for the rest of the day, even adding some drawings to it.

I do not save every picture Katy draws or colors. I do not save every tape picture, sticker picture, button picture, cotton ball picture. How do I decide? I try to keep anything that she has shown a great interest in—carried around for days, asked for a couple days later, that sort of thing. I usually keep a first: first crayon drawing, first pen drawing, first time the scribbles started looking like shapes. I keep things that I think show interesting development, as when Katy wrote two different kinds of lines, and called one “writing” and one “drawing”, and again when she called one a “story” and one a “list”; I find those fascinating and worth saving. I haven’t saved much she has done in preschool because she has shown little interest in these pieces, hasn’t wanted me to hang them up, and hasn’t wanted to carry them around, as she often does with things she really likes. (My suspicion is that the teachers do more of the work on these projects than she does, so she doesn't care about them too much.) I don’t have a tried-and-true set of criteria for making the decision; I just want to have a sampling of her work from her early years.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to New York Times article from January 26, entitled “Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic,” about mothers who are no longer allowing their children’s art to take over the house, choosing instead to throw it out. One mother of a preschooler is quoted as saying, “It’s my job to avoid raising a hoarder, and I’m leading by example.” She says her child does an average of two to four crayon drawings a day, so it’s pretty unrealistic that she could try to save every one. (She also mentions that her child sometimes fishes pieces out of the trash, and she then throws them away again!) The article compares “keepers” to “chuckers.” As with so many other things in my life, I try to inhabit some region between the two. The world does not revolve around my children, and my house does not exist for them alone to the exclusion of the two adults who live with them. At the same time, I don’t want them to think that their work is worthless, literally garbage.

I’ve read many, many household organizing books which deal with the subject of containing children’s artwork. Almost universally they recommend sitting down with your child at the end of the school year to go through the “collected works,” letting your child help you make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. Katy is a little young for that. She wouldn’t really understand the decision I was asking her to make, and as soon as she saw ANYTHING again, it would become a “keeper.” I’m pretty sure that whole approach would be counter-productive at her age. At this point, I just try to “read” her signals, and then make my decisions accordingly. And when I do toss something, I do it at night when she’s in bed, and push it down in the can or bin where she can’t see it the next day! Is that cowardly? Is that dishonest? I really don’t know, but it’s what I do.

So, what about you? Are you a “keeper” or a “chucker”? Do you keep everything your child produces, or do you have a system for thinning the stash to reasonable proportions? Am I flirting with creative destruction by tossing some of my kids’ work on the sly? I’m still a “new mom” in this particular area of parenting, so educate me, please!


Anonymous said...

Love this! I too have been "busted"! I'd have to say that I am "organized keeper"... Our system is simple: I give each child a shirt box and we put all the special things in that box for that year... once the box is nearing full, I look thru and discard any that we no longer want to keep. They only get the shirt box for that year, so if it doesn't all fit, something has to go out. I feel like I have a better perspective with a little distance between the time the "art" is created and when I am evaluating whether or not to keep it. If it's been months since the "art" was created, I can take a step back and evaluate it's "worth"... is it sentimental? was it created with a special someone? or at a significant time or event? does it have a "story"? is it a new or developing skill she just mastered? etc. I can say that it has been a good system for us.

Andria said...

The shirt box is a great idea, Mary. You must have quite a pile of boxes at this point! (though of course their art and craft output probably thins out at a certain point). I think you're definitely right about the perspective of time..doesn't feel so wrenching to toss it when it was made months ago and hasn't really been thought about or referenced since then.

Unknown said...

I totally do the same thing! I wait til after bed or after my son's left for school and then "thin" the papers. I can't stand clutter, particularly paper clutter (I know, it's horrible I think of my son's work or art as clutter- but there can just be SO MUCH!) I don't know if it's right or not, but I tend to save the things that I find "cute" or of particular significance to him or me. A year or two ago I tried to have him help me sort and that actually worked well (even for a kid who likes to "save" and "protect" scraps of toilet paper and dust bunnies). He was probably about 5 or 6 then. And I have totally been caught before--one of the few times as a parent I've been at a loss for words was when trying to explain why my son's "special" paper was in the recycling.
I love the article that you mentioned- I want to look that up. And the shirt box idea is great- I think we'll try that!