When my daughter was 18 months old, her nanny took her to an art class. That evening, my husband and I came home from work and were gifted with her first hand-crafted piece of “art.” It was a clay sculpture that looked like a plate with a burrito someone had eaten, then thrown up. I wanted to put it in a box deep in the dark of the closet, but my husband, not usually the sentimentalist, wanted to keep it on display. The “regurgitated burrito” piece ended up on his nightstand for way, way too long—we desperately needed some tips for preserving your kid’s artwork in a practical way.
Now, my kids are in preschool and first grade, and the art projects, drawings, and short stories roll into our house in fearsome quantities. The quality has increased as well, and I do love a lot of it, but without much space to store it, the papers and crafts on display crowd our refrigerator and pile up on our countertops.
I believe it was one of my mom-idols, Kristen Bell, who asked the serious question, “What are you supposed to do with all the beautiful garbage that your kids give you?” She articulated this parenting problem perfectly. And while I haven’t figured out the perfect solution, here are 10 kid artwork preservation ideas I’ve either tried, read about, or watched friends successfully execute.
10 Tips for Preserving Your Kid’s Artwork
1. Create a digital art archive
As items come home from school, snap a picture of each piece on its way to the recycling bin. You can create an album on your phone or your photo storage app for each year to help keep the artwork organized by age and by child. And if there’s anything you love, you can always turn it into wall art or another tangible piece with companies like Art to Remember.
2. Photobook it
This could be a phase #2 to your artwork albums saved to your phone. Use your albums to make a photo book at the end of each school year. If you’re not as disciplined to photograph it right away (like me), companies like Artkive make it possible to mail your pile of kid artwork away to a company to photograph and create a keepsake book of kids’ artwork for you. I’ve wanted to try this option, but it comes with the heftiest price tag and you still need to find a storage space for the pile in the meantime, so for now, I still have my piles in a box in the closet and a half-created album on my phone. But as the pile grows, I’m beginning to think perhaps the price is worth it.
3. Box it up
My initial artwork storage solution began as a three-ring binder where I’d three-hole-punch my daughter’s preschool artwork. Her artwork quickly outgrew the binder. Boxes and file folders were my own mother’s storage solution and are what I’ve adopted. Now, you can find so many cute and practical storage options for artwork. Consider adding file folders to separate the artwork by age or grade-level.
4. Be ruthless with recycling
I’m a sucker for any artwork with little hand or footprints, “What I want to be when I grow up” answers, or short stories, and they’re hard for me to throw away. So, how do you determine what you or your kids are going to want in the future?
Recently, while visiting my parent’s house over the holidays, my mom dragged out our art files so my brothers and I could do our own purging. The treasures we saved were Mother’s Day cards with adorable kid-written descriptions like, “I love my mom because she is a regular size” and future predictions, like my 8-year-old wishes for “a sister, a ten-speed, and a million dollars.” Some of the actual artwork I remembered creating in elementary school was fun to look at one more time in adulthood, but then I unsentimentally recycled most of it.
So when the piles get too high, ask your child which one piece in the pile is their favorite or which one they’d like to keep (more on the value of this below). If they can’t choose, do it yourself—but maybe after they’re asleep.
5. Elevate a few key pieces to ‘museum’ status
Decide which creations would make for appealing decor on your home’s walls, including the in the artist’s bedroom, of course. While drawings, paintings, collages and the like may or may not look like much on paper, it’s amazing how a frame brings things to life. Think about any of the times you’ve visited a museum or seen artwork online and thought to yourself, “That’s considered art?!” Surely your child has noteworthy pieces worth showing off, and the hope behind this tip is that by prominently highlighting the ‘winners,’ it helps justify recycling or tossing a portion of unchosen ones out. You can also keep your preferred number of gallery backups to swap in after certain artwork has had its place in the sun on your walls. Have art to display that isn’t frameable? Depending on the size, try a display dome like the one linked below.
6. Send artwork as gifts to family and friends
A little way to spread some joy and love, you can share some of your child’s artwork with the special people in their life. Obviously you’ll have to get your kiddo’s permission to do so, but hopefully they’ll be open to showing off their creativity with the people they have grown to care about. They can even include personalized greetings and little notes that capture what the artwork is about—or, you can help them with this part if they can’t write yet! Naturally, you’ll have to decide what will be received as a thoughtful gesture, as opposed to art-dumping on your relatives and friends. But, if they’re close enough to share your child’s art with, chances are they’ll appreciate the spontaneous greetings.
7. Create piecemeal collages
Snip out especially expressive pieces of each artwork, and combine it all together in one large collage on poster board. If you’re feeling extra artistic, you can layer it with stickers, glue on shapes, glitter, etc. While it may be bittersweet to have to cut apart what has been created–and might be too upsetting depending on your child–if you have the green-light to do so, at least you can preserve special elements of the art. The unique resulting collage can put a whole new eye-catching perspective on the impressive collection of artwork your child has generated. You can also try building collages digitally in a photo editor if you think you’re going to wind up with too many poster boards!
8. Use it as wrapping paper
This tip pretty much speaks for itself. You may have to get clever with combining pieces to make the art workable around gifts, but surely there will be paintings, drawings, or other paper-based creations that lend themselves to wrapping. Look out Hallmark, you’ve got an adorable, eco-friendly competition!
9. Create memory books by time frame in your child’s life
If you’re trying to avoid having binders upon binders of artwork that inevitably migrate to storage bins, you can (try!) being intentional about selecting a few significant pieces from each year, or seasonal times of the year. Then, if it’s art that is able to be placed in sheet protectors, you can organize them by age or stage in a minimal number of binders. Since it can be bittersweet to part with the rest of the bulk, you might want to explore attaching sticky note reflections to the sheet protectors. What’s memorable about your child at that specific age? What did they have to say about the art? About themselves? What you lose in disposability, you make up for in sentimentality! If a volume of the artwork doesn’t fit in sheet protectors, you might try applying the same approach to a select number of boxes.
10. Teach your child about discernment and non-attachment
If your child is old enough, gather up the abundance of artwork you’ve accumulated and let them be the judge of what’s worth preserving. It’s a nice opportunity to reflect with them on the values of decision-making and what it means to have a thoughtful eye for something. It also lends itself to connecting over the inevitability of having to part with things as we learn, grow, and accommodate new belongings, creations, or people in our lives. It might surprise you to learn what artwork they prefer to keep and why, especially if you’ve been used to choosing without their input. Overall, you’ll be presenting them with dedicated attention, offering sweet testament to their artistry and how creative you think they are!