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Kids’ School Work (what to save and what to toss)

Talking about kids’ school work today!  What to save and what to toss.  I’ve been a bit scattered this week.  Attending too many random appointments and meetings.  Putting out one fire after another.  Hopping from one project to the next.  And doing a whole lot of organizing in-between.

So you could say it has been a typical week around here.  :)  I tore my office apart.. again.  And while I’m still trying to figure out what to do about my kids’ albums (that I never have time to work on!) I think I’ve finally figured out how I want to organize all of their artwork.  I’ve had a few systems in place that I’ve shared before, but lately I’ve been feeling like I need something better.  I’m excited to get everything organized and my new system in place!  And to have my family room floor back. ;)

When I posted my reader survey in January and ask you what some of your biggest organizing challenges were, one thing I heard over and over was the challenge of all things PAPER.  Especially all of the paper kids bring home from school.  It’s quite insane isn’t it?  The sheer amount of school work and art work that they produce and bring home.  It can definitely be overwhelming and I know it can often be hard to decide what to keep and what to toss so I thought I’d share my thought process when it comes to saving kids’ school work.

First – I don’t save a lot.  I really don’t.  Often I’ll set things aside in a pile that I think I want to save, but then when it’s time to go through the pile I usually only end up saving a small amount of what I set aside.  Because here’s the thing.  I have a box of school work that my mom saved for me from when I was in school.  I love it and I’m so glad I have it.  But the last time I looked through it was about 10 years ago.. maybe longer?  And I’m so grateful that she didn’t give me 10 boxes to store.  I want my kids to have a handful of special things from each school year that bring back fun memories.  I don’t want them to be burdened with too many papers that are a pain to store.

The school work I save usually falls into one of these categories:

1 – It has special meaning to me or my kids.  

2 – It shows their personality or growth.  

3 – It makes me smile and tugs at my heart when I see it.  

Here are some examples of things I saved and things I tossed..


These are a couple of reports/projects El did in 4th grade.  They are informational (happy she learned a lot about the Wood Duck!) but they don’t hold any meaning so they were tossed.


This is a report/project El wrote on La Jolla Cove that same year.  La Jolla Cove is a spot in San Diego we love to visit and spend time together as a family.  Aside from researching the area, El also wrote about times we’ve spent there and included lots of family pictures of us playing on the grass and watching the waves and the seals.  It will be so fun for her kids to someday see where their mom liked to play and hang out.  Keeper for sure!

p.s.  A fun spot to check out if you are ever visiting San Diego! :)


I toss most miscellaneous school work.  Daily worksheets, tests, random school assignments.  We hang things like this up on bulletin boards in our kitchen pantry for a couple of weeks and then they get tossed.  I might save one test or quiz from a school year just so my kids have a sample of how they did in a certain subject, but that’s it.


A few things I saved.  I’m a sucker for notes my kids write to each other so I saved Kole’s birthday letter to Addison.  She’ll appreciate that someday. :)  The top middle paper is a story Ad wrote about the first time my sister and I took her and her cousin Claire on Space Mountain at Disneyland.  It is hilarious!  A funny moment we all laugh about and she’ll want to remember.  I usually save things that have pictures of my kids on them at that stage (courage page on the top right).  ‘All About Me’ books that include lots of fun tidbits about my kids at that age are always saved.  And last but not least, I’m a sucker for hand drawn family pictures.  I don’t think I’ve tossed one yet.  I always look radiant in them. ;)


Kids come home with a lot of art work.  It’s all precious and beautiful and so fun to display in our home for a while.  But after it has been displayed it usually gets tossed.  I know there are a lot of great apps out there that you can use to take pictures and save kids’ art digitally.  Personally I just don’t need to photograph and save it all.  If it’s something really special to my child or to me I save it (and I want the original!).  Everything else is just part of their learning process and gets recycled.  These are all examples of art that didn’t hold meaning for any of us and so it was all tossed.


This is one art project that I did keep.  It is a self portrait El drew.  I love this so much.  From her short hair (I loved it that length!) to the freckles on her cheeks to the “more rainbows less rain” shirt she has on (her favorite shirt that year that she wore over and over) to all of the pandas in the background (she has had a major panda obsession for years).  It’s all just so HER at that stage of her little life.  Definitely one to save.



More things that were tossed.  All great work that was displayed for a while, but nothing that holds any meaning or felt special to me or the kids.



And a few more things that I kept.  A couple of Kindergarten math worksheets for Kole so he can see what his handwriting looked like in math that year.  A writing portfolio that holds all of the writing El did in 6th grade (I LOVE it when teachers compile things like this!).  And Kole’s preschool graduation hat.  I kept his hat for two reasons.  One because it has his handprints on it and I always save things with handprints!

And two because his Preschool graduation day was so meaningful for us.  I cried!  We realized when Kole was two years old that he had some delays and I worked incredibly hard for several years with him and a variety of therapists to get him where he needed to be.  He had amazing preschool teachers who we loved and were so grateful for.  They loved Kole and felt like family!  By the end of the year he was completely caught up and ready to start Kindergarten at grade level (an amazing accomplishment that his early therapists didn’t think was possible).  So yeah.. special day for our family and I will always treasure this picture and his cute little pre-school graduation hat. :)

So that’s it!  A little look into what I keep and what I toss when it comes to kids’ school work.  The paper struggle is real my friends!  You have to tackle it head on.  Deal with paper immediately.  Toss a lot more than you keep.  Figure out a way to organize and save what you hang on to.  I’ll be sharing my new system at some point to give you a few ideas!

Until then you can find me attending too many random appointments and meetings, putting out one fire after another, hopping from one project to the next..

and chipping away at the mess on my family room floor.


xoxo, Erin
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48 thoughts on “Kids’ School Work (what to save and what to toss)

  1. Great post on things to keep and toss. I hear you on all of it. Definitely keep what means the most and toss the rest. Or better yet, recycle the rest. ;) Thank you for sharing that wonderful Kole story. Teachers…including his very first one, you, are so instrumental in kids’ young lives. I’m so happy for Kole and you that all that hard work paid off. What a cutie patootie! Yep, that graduation cap is a keeper for sure! :)

  2. Thanks so much for posting what you keep/toss! I always feel guilty tossing their work, but I simply do not have the space to store everything they bring home. Like you, I keep the precious to my heart (or their heart) items and toss the rest. Some of the awkward shaped projects (the painted red pantyhose and wire sculpture?! – what was that art teacher thinking?!?😳) we snap a photo then toss. At least now I know there is another Mom out there saving trees by recycling all that paper from the bottomless backpacks! 😊👏🏻❤👍🏻

    1. Oh that is too funny! I used to feel guilty when I just had El bringing things home but with three kids and all of their work.. it’s just TOO much! Recycle away! ;) Thank you! xo

  3. This was a great topic!! I always struggle with what to keep and what to toss. Lauren FILLS notebook after notebook with art and stories. I should buy stock in Mead. This gave me some great ideas of where to start. Thanks! xxoo

    1. Thank you Pam! Oh my word.. it’s crazy isn’t it!? We should all own stock in Mead.. ha! That made me laugh. :) So happy this post was helpful! xo

    1. Hi claire! I’ve used bins and file folders and lots of different things in the past. I’ll show you what I’m doing now in an upcoming post. :)

  4. This was a great post! I always had huge guilt in throwing away my kids school work, hence, three giant bins in the basement. Somehow you have given me the OK to go through it and pitch the majority of it keeping only what is truly important. My children are grown adults now so those bins have been sitting there taking up precious space for a while now. I’d like nothing more than to free up space and not leave them with a mess when I’m old. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    1. Amy I’m so happy this post was helpful! YES! Free up that space! Just pull out and save a handful of really special items and recycle the rest. You will feel a huge weight lifted and your kids will enjoy what you saved more too! You might even want to let them come over and pick out a few things they really want to keep. I don’t do that too much with my kids but I’m hoping when they are adults they won’t want to keep EVERYTHING like they do now. Ha! ;) xo

  5. I am working on the same thing these next few weeks. I keep a few things and I photograph others. Gotta’ do it when the kids aren’t home and sneak it to the trash- lol! Thanks for the motivation!

    1. Thank you Tara! Oh my word.. yes. You HAVE to do it when the kids aren’t around. They want to save EVERYTHING. But I love how they never think twice about things that magically disappear. ;) xo

  6. Thanks for posting those guidelines and tips, Erin! Very helpful! I have a file tote bin for each of my boys (4) that has a hanging file folder for each school year. Makes is easy to see if one year needs to be purged a bit to make room for all 13 or 14 years of memories in the one tote–I have the same goal that when they leave the house, they will only have one tote of school memories. I can’t believe that I will have my second son graduating from High School this June! Time definitely flies when they are in school but I am so glad I took a bit of time to organize their most special school memories into those totes and I know your cute kids will appreciate your efforts, Erin! Another tip I learned from Becky Higgins is to attach a sticky note to each year’s folder and list the grade your child was in, year (e.g. 2016-17), teacher and their age so that when you are sorting, you can tell by just the date on the paper or grade or age or teacher’s handwriting, which folder it can go into. As always, thanks for all of the wonderful visuals in your posts–they are so very helpful! <3 Tina

    1. That sounds a lot like the system I’m moving to Tina! One tote of school memories is perfect! Time really does fly, doesn’t it!? Congrats on your 2nd son graduating! I’m sure it is so bitter sweet! Thanks for your fun comment. :) xo

  7. More posts like this Erin! Can’t wait to see your new system. Did you see Becky Higgins is doing a series on kid’s stuff right now? You are actually the person who introduced me to BH Project Life, so I think of that when I see these posts.
    Anyhow, she has given me a lot of helpful tips over the past couple weeks. I have always had a good paper system in place but still feel like I am keeping too much and putting too much into the kid’s books. I am realizing now that I need to cut down considerably. My mom kept very little to nothing of my school work. To be honest, I don’t know that I would ever care to look back at it…but my husband loves to have his.

    1. So happy you liked this post Lynnsey! I need to check out Becky’s blog! I haven’t read it in so long. She always has good tips! She just saves a lot more than I want to.. ha! :) Like you said, how often do we look through things like that our moms saved for us? I think it’s so easy to keep a lot because we love everything our kids bring home! But really in the end I think they will be better off with less! And so will we. :) xo

  8. Great post! I used to use old projects and drawings that we didn’t want to keep as wrapping paper. They got a second “life” and had a creative purpose. Another thing I have done is to have my now teenagers go through the items that I kept. They were able to weed out a few more things but more enjoyed laughing and going through old memories.

    1. Thanks Kristin! Those are great ideas! Love them. I’m sure teenagers are a lot better at letting go of things they don’t need/want! At least I’m hoping that’s the case.. :) xo

  9. I too only keep the special things , I have a 3 tiered bin in my office one draw for each kiddo. If there is something that looks nice I just pop it in there. At the end of the school year. We go through it and select a few must keeps.. they are then transfered to their tote it’s a remembrance tote that I will hand over when they move into their own place! !

  10. I loved this post (as I do all of your posts!) I just hope I can find the strength to part with some of my kid’s paperwork. I desperately need to! So far I have literally saved Everything they have ever drawn or done in school and it has completely taken over my office! :( I’m such a sucker for things my kids make!

  11. You are way better than I am! With 4 kids (3 are in school), I just don’t have the space for keeping stuff. At the end of the month, I take pictures of some things that are special and then toss everything. At the elementary school my kids go to (and the older 2 went to), they send home a binder at the end of the year with sample writing projects, and some other keepsake type things. The binders I have kept, but that’s it. I am not a sentimental person at all. My husband on the other hand, he wants to keep EVERYTHING!

  12. I love that pic of Kole’s preschool graduation! I got teary just looking at it because I can totally see in your eyes and face how happy you were!
    This post made me laugh because just this morning Jens had a meltdown because he had brought home a completed math packet and asked me where the other one was, and I told him it had been recycled. This is totally not new, I always immediatly recycle the assignments and things like that, so it was crazy he all of a sudden wanted it! He cried and wanted me to call the recycle guys to get it back! Sorry buddy! The struggle is SO real! Thankfully Madi has come to terms with the fact that we can’t save everything, phew!

    1. It’s so hard when they are little isn’t it!? I sometimes set things aside for a week before I recycle for that very reason! Just in case someone all the sudden HAS TO HAVE an assignment.. ha! They always get over it and forget and move on. Kids are resilient aren’t they? ;) Thanks cutie! So fun hearing from you today! xo

  13. This is SO helpful! I appreciate the concrete examples so much. I have a bazillion drawings my daughter has done (so far this year!) and I love them all but there is no way I can keep them! (Nor would she want them all, like you mentioned.) I feel like I have some good ideas for purging now.

    Can’t wait to see how you organize and store it all! Thanks Erin!

    1. Yea! I’m so happy this was helpful Katie! It’s crazy how quickly their art work piles up isn’t it!? MOUNTAINS! They bring so much home. I’ve become such a ruthless purger because it just overwhelms me when I have paper clutter! Thanks for your sweet comment cutie! xo

  14. Love your blog! Thanks for the reminder that I need to get back to that project. It can sometimes be overwhelming, since my kiddos are 15 and 11. I’ve really tried to pair down the school work over the years (no one needs 15 of your preschooler’s best finger paintings!), and my boys are getting so much better at purging the paper as well. Where I really struggle is with all of the birthday, every-holiday cards that the boys receive. They are blessed with grandparents near and far that love to send cards, and it’s hard for me to part with those. And I still have ALL of the baby cards from when they were born! I think I’m going to try to save a few, and especially the ones that have some nice handwritten words about the child. Thanks for all of your great tips!

    1. Thank you so much Shannon! I know! SO many cards from loved ones! They are hard to part with for sure. I would definitely go through them and save a small handful that are special to you and your kids. I’m so happy you liked these tips! :) xo

  15. Great post, Erin!!! And I love that our little boys are so similar (give me all the heart emojis!!!). Love you, friend!! Xoxo

    1. Thank you so much Bree! I know! We seriously need to get the two of them together! Wish we could meet at the park tomorrow. :) xo

  16. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU Erin!!! Our kitchen “desk” has become the household catch-all. Most of the piles and piles of paper is my littles schoolwork! I have been debating, questioning and wondering what everyone does with all of this STUFF! This is so very helpful. I’m trying to manage better and this is so very helpful! :-)

    1. I’m so happy this was helpful Adrienne! It really is hard to know what to keep and what to toss sometimes! If I’m unsure I usually toss it! And the more I toss the easier it gets! They come home with SO much. I try to just keep a small handful of things from each year! Thanks for your sweet comment! xo

  17. This was a delightful post, Erin, because I went through those same things many moons ago….like in the Dark Ages! My answer was to make giant folders for each child out of two pieces of art board stapled together and kept them stashed under their beds. I did date every piece, which would eventually come in very handy. I cannot even tell you how many times those things got packed up and moved with us! I finally did some purging two moves ago (our daughter & son were each married….I know, crazy, huh?) and made everything fit into one of those under-the-bed bins. Then one year, after our kiddos had some kiddlets, I got the brilliant idea to create a memories album for each as Christmas gifts. I pulled out that big bin of papers and art and purged most of it, but decided to take pictures of some things & scanned some others and put those into their albums. That is when I patted myself on the back for having dated everything! The albums started with a letter from me, sharing how I felt when I realized I was pregnant and so excited, and then about the day they were born. Each album went through graduation and their early years of first being married. I worked really hard on those albums, but I was greatly rewarded on that Christmas Eve when they opened those gifts and were surrounded by their little children….you could have heard a pin drop. I know your children will truly appreciate the things that you kept for them.
    Happy “Spring” to you, Erin!

    1. Oh Carol! This made me tear up!! I’m not kidding! What a special gift for your kids and grandkids! I can’t even imagine. That is the type of gift you just can’t put a price on. That is amazing that you dated everything! SO SMART! I’m totally going to start doing that right now! You are my hero Carol! I love that and I know those albums are beyond priceless to your family. You’ve motivated me to start working on my kids’ albums again! I need to prioritize them and find the time. Easier said than done! But so important. Thank you so much for sharing this with me Carol! Love you! xo

  18. It’s such a struggle! I mostly toss things as well, because like you said about your own school box, how often are they really going to look through these papers when they’re grown?! Plus, it feels so good to not have an insane amount of excess papers in the house lol
    And just as a side note: I LOVE La Jolla and a small piece of my heart will always be there. It was the first place my husband took me when we started dating while he was in the navy, and then he proposed to me there, right by the water, at sunset. Such a beautiful area and such an amazing city. My mother in law actually introduced me to your blog years ago because of the San Diego connection, and I always think so fondly of our time there when I read your blog. :) So thank you! xo

    1. Joan! I loved hearing about you engagement! La Jolla would be a beautiful place to get engaged! So special. I will think of that now when we are there! I love San Diego too.. it really is an amazing city. Thank your sweet mother in law for me! So happy you found my blog. :) xo

  19. You actually keep way more than I would have expected. Makes me wonder if I should try to hold onto a few more things. I find myself becoming less sentimental now that all three kids are creating art and papers! I know my mom kept some of these things, but like you, I haven’t looked at any of it in years and don’t know if I would want much of it now. It’s a challenge to keep just a few meaningful things, store them for years, and let the rest go.

    1. It really is a challenge Amanda! I have become less sentimental over the years too because there is just SO much coming home all the time. But I do want a few things from each school year for them to remind them of their happy childhood. :) xo

  20. I’m just re-reading this post and I am sooooo grateful for it! Our home office is such a dumping ground and I avoid it like the plague……! Here we just finished the Christmas holiday and I still have stacks of artwork to go through from school last year that I just never got around to! This article is so well written with good examples to illustrate what to keep and toss! I think I have the courage to tackle it head on now!!
    What I ask of you is what you’ve decided to do with the artwork you’ve kept? Did you find a tote or system to keep/store what you have? Please share! I need to know what to do with what I’ve got left over! Please post your recommendations or products you’ve found helpful! I’m ready to get the job done!
    P.s. another request….how do you take care of family photos? Maybe you’ve written an article on it already?? My cell phone is full and I still haven’t finished the kids baby books and they’re 10 and 7 years old! I kind of miss the days when you were forced to develop a roll of film and deal with it! I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the digital stuff!!😳

    1. I’m so happy this post was helpful Brenda! Thank you! I know.. kids’ school/art work can pile up and get out of control SO quickly! I’ll definitely be sharing what I do with my kids’ artwork sometime this year. As far as family photos.. that is something I’m trying to figure out this year too! I have scrapbooks from when my kids were younger and a lot of my blog posts are put into books from when my blog was more of a family journal.. but the past few years I’ve done nothing! I need a good system too and totally agree with you that having so much of it digital now is overwhelming. I’ll definitely post on this topic if I ever figure out a solution! If you want to see the system I had in place when my kids were younger you can check out those posts on the link below. :)

  21. Thank you SO much for this post!! I am, seriously, in the midst of this RIGHT NOW as I type this, I have a total of 4 large binders, 3 large stacks, and one full file box FULL of my kids’ artwork/worksheets/crafts/etc. I have 3 kids, 5 and under, the oldest are twins and will be starting kindergarten in the Fall – my goal is to tackle this HUGE paper clutter mess ahead of time and create a system going further, so it doesn’t get to this point again…after reading your post a couple times I went back through everything and my piles are DRASTICALLY trimmed down. THANK YOU – WHY WAS I SAVING EVERYTHING!? Your comment really resonated to me about how your mom gave you a box of your schoolwork, and not 10 of them – I imagined my girls grown up and then went back to my paper/art piles, and thought to myself, ‘will she appreciate this in 15 years? ‘ So helpful – again – thank you!!

    1. YES!! I’m so happy this was helpful Amanda! It’s so easy to want to save everything but we have to think about how much of that our kids are really going to want when they get older! I always think about how often I look back through my childhood stuff.. not very often! I’m glad I have a few special things, but really our kids don’t need a box of stuff from each school year.. it’s just too much! I’m working on my kids’ school bins this summer too and keep tossing! :) Thanks for your sweet comment! So happy you liked this post! xo

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