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I throw away my kids’ art. By Bonnie Rochman for Babble.com’s “Bad Parent” column.

I throw away my kids' art.

By Bonnie Rochman |

We are outside playing precariously close to the recycling bin when my son decides to rummage through it.

“Mama, you threw away my picture of a shark eating a diver in a chain-metal suit!”

Me, incredulous: “I did? I don’t know how that ended up in there. Thank you so much for rescuing it.”

So goeth the daily dilemma over juvenile objets d’art. My kids think anything with so much as a crayon scribble is worth saving. My house, meanwhile, is gasping for air beneath an avalanche of construction paper.

I had to choose how to handle this dilemma. The scenarios: One, save everything. Two, don’t. Given the options, I’ve chosen to be ruthless. If it doesn’t make me laugh or cry, it’s gotta go.

Being mom to small, copious artwork-generating kids is essentially incompatible with my Type-A personality. I thrive on paring things down, weeding things out. In my house, I have eight trash cans for five people. I am allergic to clutter, which is not surprising considering I grew up in a home where my father saved everything, up to and including store circulars . He piled them up in his car, on his desk, on the floor of his closet. Still does. In response, I became a neat freak. And until I became a mother, or at least until the kids hit preschool, I was able to maintain a minimalist household. But now? My kids generate a minimum of one piece of artwork a day, and that’s conservative. If I never trashed any of it, I’d be overrun by nearly 10,000 pieces of paper by the time they left elementary school. Recently, I realized it was time for “the talk.” No, not that talk.

Gently, I took my oldest aside. “Sweets, we can’t save everything.”

Surely he’d understand.

I was met by a blank stare.

“Why not?” he asked, and he was serious.

I stammered something about not enough storage space. He looked confused. I felt guilty.

Honesty was not working. So I changed gears, fine-tuning my stealth art-disposal skills. If I’m going to throw it away, I make sure it’s wedged securely under several layers of potentially camouflaging detritus. Coffee grounds are good. Likewise with the recycling bin. I never toss that worksheet full of big A’s and little a’s near the top of the pile. Inquisitive eyes can spot one of their outcasts anywhere. I bury it beneath the Sunday paper and layer in a healthy dose of junk mail just to be safe. I’ve considered investing in a shredder.

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About Bonnie Rochman

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Bonnie Rochman

Bonnie Rochman writes about parenting for TIME. She is a former TIME intern who has also reported from the Middle East, Myanmar and Vietnam for the Boston Globe, the Jerusalem Report and Fortune. A former staff writer at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. — where she was the paper's parenting blogger, chronicling the wacky yet universal idiosyncracies of her three children — she now lives in Seattle.

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23 thoughts on “I throw away my kids’ art. By Bonnie Rochman for Babble.com’s “Bad Parent” column.

  1. TwinHappyJen says:

    I have a couple of big artists myself… what I do is just scan in the really cool pieces, so I have them forever! :-p Without having tons and tons of paperwork laying around…

  2. Toddlermom says:

    Grandparents. We try to foist as much art as possible onto the grandparents.

  3. anonymom says:

    I take digital pictures of mine holding the artwork. Digital files are so much easier to manage!

  4. redkitten1975 says:

    I like anonymom’s idea.  And if they really want to keep some of the hard copies, set up a 1/2 inch binder for each kid, for each year, with plastic sleeves. Once a month, gather together all the art, and ask them which ones THEY want to go into their “memory binders”. Even if you fill a binder each year, the drawing tends to taper down a lot by the time they’re 8 or so, so that’s only 4 inches of binder per kid. Pretty manageable on a bookshelf.

  5. Elizabeth Hart says:

    I was a keeper until I received a box of my very own childhood art. Now what on earth did I need all that for?? It was good for a few laughs but that’s about it. So I keep the pile of the kids’ art in one place and every now and then pull out the jewels to tuck away into a portfolio. The rest is slyly recycled and somehow never missed.

  6. too much art says:

    I trash most of it, after I scan the really good ones, which I then post on flickr for out-of-town family to look it.  Some of the bigger ones (things drawn on that gigantic easel paper) we use as wrapping paper–especially good for grandparents.  Each kid has a little binder for the exceptionally good ones (and if it’s one of those really scribbly ones, I try to write down, in my kid’s words, what the picture is about).

  7. goodpaper says:

    second the “wrapping paper” idea. it works great. really.

  8. momtothree says:

    What a funny and honest article! Loved it! With three of our own, I finally had to start cracking the whip on the paper trails too. I agree, if it makes you laugh or cry, it’s a keeper…otherwise, it’s got to go!

  9. rufus griscom says:

    i love the digital photos idea … that’s a good one.

  10. mommychat says:

    take digital photos, email them to grandparents, and use the hard copies for wrapping paper … I have a new strategy now!

  11. sleepless mom says:

    I take digital prints of all the artwork..and then I make a book of her art work and label it by her age or grade….it’s really nice…takes up less room and it’s for life…. then I trash the originals -well most of them, some I can’t part with

  12. misboots86 says:

    LOL. I don’t have any yet, but I teach second grade. Just imagine 17 of them making a picture or two a day.. “You should take it home to Mom” and you get “But I made it for YOU!” Its a little easier for me, cuz when I trash/recycle them, I do it at the end of the day when they are gone. In the AM its gone and I tell them I took it “home”. :D . Something to look forward to.

  13. WSP says:

    We’re supposed to be keeping all that stuff?
    (Okay, so I take a digital picture of it before I toss it.)

  14. s says:

    I wish my 6-yr-old would make this much ‘art’! What he does make is painstakingly done, planned out over days. I’m angry with my parents that they didn’t save the 2 pieces I sent to them–we worked on each of them for a week.
    Now that I’ve completely disqualified myself as having any basis for an opinion, I will suggest you get that shredder you’re considering. My kid loves them! You will have to supervise very closely, of course, but I bet your kids will happily feed the sharks to the paper-shark.

  15. mumus says:

    I had a good laugh reading this. I’m constantly culling the stack of art work on my three-year-old’s table, stuffing the less inspired pieces in the bottom of the trash can during her nap time. Right now she’s really into cutting with scissors, which makes my job a little easier because she snips her own work into oblivion.

  16. Mother of a two year old son says:

    I, too, enjoyed the article…Until last week during a spring clean, I’d saved everything my two year old son has created since he picked up his first crayon. I’m a first time mom and each of these creations at the time were a marvel. Last week, though, I started filtering, but just couldn’t throw out very much. I like the digital picture idea. I like the wrapping paper idea. I put what I couldn’t throw away just yet in an archival box, one made for scrapbooking. Eventually, though, there’ll be too much and I’ll end up tossing more of it.

  17. asinner says:

    I read a great suggestion once – it was something like you find a place to stash everything away and then once a month you ask the child to their ONE favorite to keep forever and ever. I LOVE that idea.

  18. Mombo5 says:

    Fantastic ideas! Here’s another possibility. I converted an old storage area/walk-in closet into a “quiet room” for the kids (right next to my office). I put a comfy chair and a little desk w/ an easel in there and stocked it w/ lots of arts supplies, workbooks, coloring books, sticker books, books, and small toys. When they make something really cute I have them help me tape it to the walls, which are now covered in their artwork. It’s like their own personal art gallery — and they’re pretty proud of it. They like to look at all of their “pieces” and talk about how old they were when they made them. Cuts down on the clutter and lets me, them, and other people who visit appreciate their most special creations.

  19. Nicole Feliciano says:

    Wonderful.  Thanks for the article.  I’ve been wrangling with the same guilt.  A pal had a good suggestion.  She stashes a month’s worth and then sifts through it with the kiddies, Then does the same at the end of the year.  Only what will fit in a flat box gets stored for the duration.  And I must say, I am thrilled that my mom kept some of my treasures.  I have shared them with my girls.

  20. Amanda Gersh says:

    I sympathize completely.
    I have written a little series on this subject over at my blog for
    Cookie. If I do say so myself my Tot Art Storage Curtain is rather a
    swell Ikea hack:
    http://www.cookiemag.com/magazine/blogs/crabmommy/2007/10/tot-art-3-you-g.html
    Everything I don’t dig I chuck without remorse. It’s bad when the kiddo
    goes through the trash, though and spots suddenly prized masterpieces…

  21. Susan Berman says:

    I’m guilty of saving almost everything that has any emotional content or aesthetic quality. That’s why I started SouvenarteBooks — we’ll take all that work, and design and print a beautiful hardcover coffee table book so you can treasure and enjoy those special moments of creativity.  I have made many books for my own children but the original art is still stored away safely for my kids so they can enjoy them at some  time later in their life.

    Check out my website, http://www.souvenartebooks.com.  Thanks, Susan

  22. imalee33 says:

    We have a clip on the fridge that displays art work. Each child gets a clip. We go through the papers everyday and if he wants to replace the old one, we throw it away and replace it, it’s his choice. He can also post good grades with the same clip. This really holds down on the papers and he feels included in the decision making process :)

  23. OHiMom says:

    Thanks to Parents Magazine, I found a fast and easy solution to this problem. Take a picture of the artwork, project, whatever with a digital camera…you can then transfer the pics to your hardrive and then do a slide show, as needed. And, once they are on your computer, you can put them on a flash drive or cd and hand them out to relatives to enjoy.

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