5 ways to save your kids' artwork (without cluttering up your home)

Of course your kid is an artistic genius. Whose isn't? Problem is, once your pint-size Picasso masters crayons and magic markers, he or she can scribble through a ream of paper in minutes. Pretty soon, you're inundated with mini masterpieces-and, of course, they're all adorable. How can you possibly throw any of them away?

Do the math. If your child brings home one piece of artwork every day for a single school year, you'll have about 200 pieces of paper on your kitchen table by the time summer vacation rolls around. Actually, 400-no child brings home just one piece of paper each day (my 6-year-old routinely has 4 or 5 drawings and worksheets crammed in her backpack). Now, multiply that by five (kindergarten through fourth grade, which is when those photocopied worksheets tend to taper off). Then multiply that by the number of kids you have. By they time they're done with elementary school, you'll be buried under an avalanche of art and paperwork unless you figure out a way to decide what to keep and what to pitch early on.

Here are some suggestions.

Start by throwing out the worksheets right away. No one needs to reminisce about cutting and pasting into place each of the three little pigs. Next, keep a couple of examples of a phase-her red-magic-marker swirl-fairy-rainbow era, his superhero/monster/alien fixation-and recycle the rest in the dead of night. (Or after bedtime. Whatever.) Then set aside all of the ones that are really memorable (his first portrait of you, maybe), the things that mark a point in time (like her hand prints, for example), and anything to which he or she (or you) is especially attached.

Even after following those steps, you'll still have plenty of art on hand. Here are five guilt-free ways to organize it all, without cluttering up your home:

  1. Take pictures of it. Have your child pose with his latest creation, and take a picture. Ta-da! You've preserved the memory of the piece, without having to find a place to store it. With prints costing just pennies, you can easily pull together an album for him to flip through-and you can email digital copies to friends and family.
  2. Make a book. The easiest way to do this is to punch holes along one side of the pictures and file them in a three-ring binder that you can store on a bookshelf. A prettier, more gift-worthy way: Scan in flat masterpieces, upload them to a photo service like Kodak Gallery, Snapfish, or Shutterfly, and make a photo book of your child's best art. You can choose different sizes and styles and, after a few years you'll have a delightful collection you can flip through after your child races off to college. Don't have time to scan it all in? ArtimusArt.com will do all the hard work for you. Fill the pre-paid box with the artwork, mail it in, and they'll turn your selections into a beautifully hard-bound book (and return the originals as well).
  3. Wallpaper a room. Preferably one your child spends a lot of time in, like her room. Have her pick her favorite pieces and then hang them all on the wall, edge-to-edge, floor to ceiling. It's a great way to make a trendy "accent wall" in a playroom, too. Added bonus: After several week of looking at the same display, she might be persuaded to take down some older pictures in favor of newer ones.
  4. Turn it into something functional. Use kid creations as mattes for framed family photos. Turn it into wrapping paper. Slip paintings and pictures between two pieces of clear 10-gauge vinyl-available by the yard at many arts-and-craft stores, fabric stores, and amazon.com-to create whimsical place mats. (Hint: Cut the vinyl about an inch larger than the art, and it'll stick to itself; peel it apart to swap out the art.) The best of the pictures your crayon fiends churn out at preschool can also be recycled to make greeting cards for their adoring fans (a.k.a. grandparents).
  5. Make a keepsake out of it. Have your artists-in-residence recycle some of their creations by using them to make other works of art like mobiles or collages. Use some for scrapbooking or other crafts. And take the ones you really, really love and have them made into jewelry. Totally Out of Hand makes brass-and-copper or sterling-silver pins, pendants, earrings, and cuff links out of art you email to them; KiDoodles by Joy crafts pins, tie-tacks, charms, necklaces, and earrings out of sterling silver or 14-karat gold.
How to you stay on top of all of the artwork your kids bring home?

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