Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

April 17, 2009

Organizing All That Stuff That Kids Bring Home From School


I think I mentioned recently that I have a bunch of different projects happening around here. If you were to visit my house you would encounter piles in each room with a project underway. These are projects that are getting attention here and there when I happen to be in that particular room.

Sometimes things are just shuffled but I have been trying really hard to actually make a dent in each project with the precious minutes when I find them. That dent may be just a tiny one, but it is step forward.

If you were to look on the floor in Anna's room, between the albums and the crib (shown above) you would find this:


It's been there for a couple weeks now.

This is the beginning of a project to organize Simon's artwork and papers and evaluations and teacher notes and all that good stuff from preschool through first grade that has made it's way home in his backpack.

The overflowing basket is kindergarten and first grade. The 8.5×11 binder also holds information from kindergarten. The other two piles are from the two different preschools he attended. Last week I went through much larger piles from these years and have already whittled it down to what I want to keep.

How did I decide what to keep?

I am pretty ruthless when it comes to this kind of stuff. Most of the papers from the early preschool years were random coloring sheets with the lovely random marks of a three year old who put very little pressure on his crayons & pens. I kept a few of those and recycled the rest. I did not need to keep them all. I definitely kept notes from the teachers, photos of the class, evaluations, schedules of what they were working on at a certain point in time, etc. I envision going through each pile again to make it even smaller before moving on to working with some of the papers.

What I want to keep are the pages that help round out and complement the stories that live in his albums right now. I love this kind of content/documentation for his albums. When I
look back on things that my Mom kept from when I was growing up I love
to see the papers with my handwriting or notes from teachers.  These are real life gems.

Here's my plan for the stuff I do keep:

(1.) Some of the papers and artwork will go directly into his albums from those years. I am planning to simply slip many of them into 8.5×11 page protectors. This should be fairly simple since I have all the layouts/albums in order already (you can read about that monster project here).

one point in time I considered having separate albums just for documenting his
school years. After looking at all those albums on the shelf I decided
I just want to add them to the appropriate years and have them be a
collective reflection of stories and real-life papers (just like what I
am trying to do with Anna's baby album); essentially a more traditional kind of scrapbook.



(2.) Some of the papers and artwork will be used to create layouts. Just the process of going through the piles generated a bunch of different ideas for layouts; there are so many stories still left to be told. The layouts above from Life Artist and Creating Keepsakes 2008 both include papers from school. They are such a great jumping off point.

(3.) If there are leftover papers I may get a couple boxes for more long term storage. I would LOVE to only keep what can be stored in the albums I have already created. My goal is to create a home for all this stuff that is easily accessible, organized, and made relevant within his albums. 

What I do now: 

These days when Simon comes home I take a look in his backpack (if he has not already pulled out the papers to share with me) and am going through the papers on a daily basis. Some get recycled immediately, some are put up on the fridge to be enjoyed and celebrated, and some go into the basket you see above (which lives in Anna's closet).

In the future I would like to get in a routine where I take what comes home and either put it right into a page protector in an album or place it in a to-do pile in my office where I keep content I want to add onto an upcoming layout. 

Look for another post in the coming months as I share my experience, process, and layouts.

Edited : so many great ideas in the comments today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and systems!


Have a wonderful weekend! 


  • 51.
    Nicole said…

    I am always looking for new ways to improve on my system as well. I do a lot of purging each month. And believe it or not there are pieces I look at and go wow I still can not get rid of those. And at the end of the year I Throughly go through and frame what needs to be framed (holiday pieces or special artwork) and I place the rest in one of those 12 x 12 envelopes, label it and move on. One thing I do right away is I always put the pieces that have any type of food on them on the fridge and then after awile chuck them , because I do not want to be attracting any bugs!

  • 52.
    Robin said…
    Took a bit of searching but this is a cool way to display your kids collected artwork over the years. Scan the images and upload them and this service creates a poster for you. I have saved this on my desktop for about a year. My plan is to make one when both of my kids are in 5th grade or a bit sooner of their elementary school art.

  • 53.
    Tiffany said…

    I have now made it a point to throw away things and keep those special items from my daughters backpack daily. The items I keep are placed on a shelf in my scraproom. This shelf is only for her stuff. I also have a plastic envelope (from the school days kit) where I store her awards. You have really helped me simplify my process for scrapping these milestones. I don’t feel bad by throwing things away anymore and I enjoy this process. I am now about to begin my 2 week old’s album and I am paying so much attention to the things he does that show his developing personality. Thanks so much for sharing your process. You are such an inspiration :-)

  • 54.
    Clara said…

    Hi Ali,
    As a kindergarten teacher I make something similar to Kristin G’s books except for the cover- I just use kids’ work or I make something on the computer- and the scrapbook paper. I have to include more of their writing pieces though.
    I do have my own kids’ stashes in boxes and must go through them shortly ;o)

  • 55.
    heather said…

    My 3 yo is in preschool this year and in Pre-K next so I know lots of artwrok is coming throught the house.
    I have been taking pics of each piece and saving it on my computer, not only does it give me the date he did it, but I can now later do a layout of each month with all his artwork.
    Here is a smaple of what I am doing- my blog.

  • 56.
    paula said…

    Like the others, this is so timely for me as I think about ‘spring cleaning’ in many aspects of my life. I have started scanning artowrk from my son (who’s in day care, mind you), and photographing the oversized art that won’t fit on my scanner. Then I’m adding it to a digital book online – I can add to it each week or month – whenever I find the time. I’m keeping it very simple – one image per page, with the month/year in the corner. My plan is to complete a book per year for him, and hold onto them until he has children. (Aspirational, yes). I love the idea of the photo of the child holding artwork and including a signature – love it! We also frame seasonal artwork (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.) and stash it away with our decor – then switch out the artwork on the walls with the season. Great ideas from everyone – very inspiring!

  • 57.
    Mary Kate said…

    One thing I noticed over the course of watching three children move through elementary school, is that there is a large drop off in the paper that comes home as the years progress. I was quite surprised at the drop between kindergarten and first grade when my now sixth grader was that age. Another change over the years is the projects become bigger and bulkier—pottery, science fair boards, and the like.
    I have enjoyed the constant flow of papers with my fourth child in this last year of preschool, knowing that it will soon be a trickle.
    One tip a professional organizer gave me a few years ago was to save the original art they make more than the cute crafts that were the brain child of a teacher. The former is more of a reflection of your child at a particular point of development, the latter a reflection of the teacher. Lastly, he suggested only saving the things you have dated and written a name on. Those without that information will have little meaning later on. Like so many parts of their childhoods you quickly forget who did what, when, unless you record it—which, is why we scrapbook!

  • 58.
    Becki said…

    I purchased an under-the-bed storage container (you know the ones, long and shallow?) for each child and I put their “best” artwork in it each year. We keep the containers on a shelf in the basement and the kids can go through their own whenever they want to walk down memory lane. Becki

  • 59.
    Beth said…

    a friend of my mom’s has grown children, but she too puts the holiday things out each year at the appropriate time….she also has no “art” persay in her kitchen and dining area….just nicely framed and matted school projects from each of her kids and it looks awesome!

  • 60.
    alexandra said…

    I hadn’t even thought of cropping them (I’m such a novice!!) – I’ll keep that in mind when I go through everything – maybe this weekend!
    Thanks so much!

  • 61.
    Tina said…

    Here I am, my oldest son set to graduate next month and 13 years of papers in manilla folders by grade to put together in a month for his “Through the Years” book. So be glad that you are undertaking this task early on! I have four children and I have just been putting papers, awards and report cards all in a manilla file folder by grade with the intention of going through it later. Well, later is here for the oldest, but I wish I would have done it sooner! Thanks for the inspiration and hopefully I can learn from this with the other three!

  • 62.
    Kary in Colorado said…

    Umm, Ali–as the mother of 4, the oldest 25yo, I would say, please reconsider. Your kids really will not want 25 stuffed albums to take with them to their tiny first apartments and homes. Trust me on this. Keep those for you, make a simple couple of albums for them to take with them into their grown-up lives and figure that if they want the rest of all that stuff, they can visit you and see it, scan it (who knows what wonders will be available to copy things by then!), and of course inherit them at some point in the far distant future. With the hindsight of a quarter century of mothering, I will tell you that you do not need to save more than a VERY FEW things. Like no more than 10 objects per year–do the math! 18 years x 10 precious things=180 things!!! Be VERY ruthless!!!

  • 63.
    anna said…

    wow, that sounds like a great plan. i too am super inspired by ali’s systme. i’m making a mental note to myself to make sure i have a nice filing cabinet by the tiem Emma is in school! (2 years)
    my mom also kept our stuff in boxes, but waay too much stuff, so we felt overwhelmed to look through it.
    i’m inspired knowing that there are plans out there to be had!

  • 64.
    anna said…


  • 65.
    Ali Edwards said…

    I actually completely agree Kary. Ruthless is a good thing! The albums that we already have which hold scrapbook layouts right now (all those in the photo) can stay here or go with either of the kids. I will definitely not be pushing anything on them ;) .

  • 66.
    Ali Edwards said…

    I love that – living with things that have meaning out in the open :) .

  • 67.
    Ali Edwards said…

    That is really cool Robin – thanks for the link.

  • 68.
    tchrtiff said…

    I often take a photo of my daughter holding her artwork (simple drawings, etc), holiday wear (huge valentine they wore in kinder, etc.) and projects (leprechaun trap, etc.). The photo shows off her work and her age. Sometimes I keep said pieces of work and some are tossed but we always have the photo.
    I, too, weed through items and then weed again usually a few years later. For example, when my daughter was in preschool I weeded through all the work and stored it in hanging files in a plastic tub. When it came time to weed through and file her kinder papers I looked back at the preschool papers and found a few to toss. Something I though was a “keeper” at first later doesn’t hold the same feelings a few years later. I’m sure this will be an on-going process as we can’t keep everything.
    Another trick I’ve learned is to teach my daughter from the beginning that we can’t keep everything. She’d keep every single piece of paper that came home from school if I’d let her. I’ve let her in on the weeding process and tell her why I want or don’t want to keep something. She still wants to keep too much but as she’s getting older she’s starting to “get it”.

  • 69.

    We don’t have kids so my nephew, my brother’s son, is our pride and joy! My Mom and I are both papercrafters and sentimental. I am especially sentimental (to the point where I tend to be a packrat…). Anyway, my sister in law knows how much we treasure Jonathan (he is the only grandchild and only nephew) so what she does is divide is school papers amongst the three of us! She knew there was no way she could keep it all and none of us wanted any of it to go. One Christmas she filled two huge scrapbooks with artwork he did in pre-school!!! Instead of tossing everything you may consider making an album for your Mom of some of Simon’s artwork. It is so apparent what an amazing bond they have! :-)

  • 70.
    mary said…

    I have been using my printer/fax/scanner/copier thing to make color copies of their art….at 50% size! I even used a leprachan (okay< i cant spell) colored CUTE picture they made as a scrapbook embellishment! I copied it at 25% of its size, matted it and used in on a page. Kind of fun and less to keep.

  • 71.
    Ali Edwards said…

    I like the idea of making something for my Mom. I know she would like that :) . She is a “keeper” in all forms of the word.

  • 72.
    con-tain-it said…

    As a mother of grown boys…29, 25, 22…I understand your dilema with a new baby girl and looking at your older son and wondering “what happened to him…how did he grow up so fast?” and “why can’t I remember him at this age now?”. These emotions make us want to save “everything” which is impossible. Be thankful that you are in the digital age and you can scan their artwork…I didn’t have that when my boys were young and we moved alot so I was forced to purge alot. What I ended up with was accordian books from the office product store…the kind used for taxes I guess…anyhow they have 12 monthly tabs…I used one tab per school year and whatever could be kept in those files I saved…they are decorative…black toile…got them at Pier One I think…anyhow they tie up and now the boys can pull out a year at a time when they want to reminisce. I also have albums done for them with more memorabilia…but you just cannot save it all. Hope this helps…have a great weekend. Fondly, Roberta

  • 73.
    Maggie said…

    Someone may have already said this, and I don’t have time to read…but, Becky Higgins School Years folders ROCK…as they get older and are doing writing assignments and getting awards and certificates, they can all go flat in one of those three ring things with the grade tabbed and a snap closure at the top. I can’t believe how much I can fit in them. My only thing is…I’d almost rather store them separately from the layouts because they are bulky. Still thinking on this…but I love that each of my three has a folder for every year…I can just put them there as they come in and scrap as I feel led. I can whittle until it fits into that one enclosure. SO much comes in with three that I just can’t scap the projects…I try to do about six 12X12 layouts for each grade with all big projects and events from that year, and they slip everything else in those, and I’m DONE. It’s very gratifying! (Now, I just need to get back to it!)

  • 74.
    Alison Exelby said…

    Im shocking at throwing away things. My oldest son took so long to draw anything that didnt look like a 2year old has scribbled it so i kept things and i have a big box now with all these drawings in it. I also have a bog for his school books and art work that I keep, now that both my boy are at school im thinking im going to have to cut back somewhere otherwise the hosue will be filled with artwork by the time they finish at school. I do have a different album for each of them for their preschool.kindergarten and school pages that i do. They love to look through and see what they have done at school. Each year i make a page with a pocket and certificates and that sort of keep sake goes into the pocket for that year. I love the layout where you have used some of Simons visuals on it, i have a huge box of visuals from Stevens earlier years to and might pull some out to add to a page. Im also doing an album for my autism support group so mihgt add some visual into that as well.

  • 75.
    Jen said…

    What an enormous project – I am going to read all of these comments when I have some more time to be inspired! My oldest is in his first year of preschool this year and every time he goes, he comes home with another pile of artwork! Here’s my solution…
    About once or twice a month, I take a picture of him holding each and every paper he has brought home with him – art projects, letter writing practice, etc. – and then he picks a couple of things he wants to keep and I pick a couple of things I want to keep and we toss the rest. I plan to put the pictures ina 6×6 album to allow room for any endearing stories or further explaination (ie. this is a self-portrait, monster, name, etc.) and keep a box for the saved pieces since they are mostly on the larger side. I love that this captures pictures of him and where he is scholastically in one.

  • 76.
    ginny said…

    I do this as well. Right now I am keeping the kids school work separated by grade & I plan on going through to get rid of some eventually.
    The holiday work is the only stuff I keep separate & I just store it right with the holiday items. My kids are in 2nd & 6th so always look forward to them coming out. If I forget, they get mad :)

  • 77.
    Laurie T said…

    Great ideas! My kids are out of school and I didn’t keep as many papers as you’d think. I saved a few from each grade and then put together a scrapbook with all of the different papers in it (Quick, easy, 12X12 pages) and had it out at their Graduation Open House. The larger papers I store in empty (clean) Pizza boxes. They’re free (all you have to do is ask for them) and they hold all different size papers. They can be stored anywhere because they’re not that big.

  • 78.
    ~M~ said…

    Pretty sure Ali already took the LOM class — see the 1st picture? That’s her LOM.
    Ali — I was just wondering why you decided against a School of Life type file box? (I get that you want the school related LOs to be integrated into your family albums; I mean the storage system from Stacy’s class.)
    I am interested in why people choose what they do. Becky Higgins has posted she scans most artwork, and then resizes it and prints it out as needed to fit her sketch/design. She doesn’t seem to want a lot of paper clutter in her house.
    I recently wrote a big post on my blog about memorabilia. I was advised to scan and toss items, but I replied that to me, a digital copy is never the same the “the real thing.” I am experiencing that with scanning and reprinting old family photos. They are the same images, the but the old photos have a much bigger emotional pull on me… knowing that I held and looked at these photos as a little girl, or that loved ones who have since died handled the photos. I am very inspired to scrapbook these stories when I hold the originals in my hands. When I hold a copy, I am not.
    So I am just curious. :-) I don’t have kids but I have a lot of my own memorabilia to deal with. I am planning to adapt Stacy’s School of Life album concept to some concepts in my own life. I was thinking I could adapt it and make an album of all the weddings I’ve been in (nine) — one LO of photos of the wedding, one LO of shower/bachelorette party photos, and a pocket for the invitations and other paper items. Or all the places I’ve traveled, to show off photos on one LO, postcards I’ve collected on a LO and a pocket for all the rest of my travel memorabilia.

  • 79.
    Marnie said…

    What an encouragement this post was to me. It is good to know that I am not alone in the work in progress of organizing my home and all of the “stuff”.
    I am going to continue chipping awaying at my projects -you are so right even a little dent is a step in the right direction!

  • 80.
    M said…

    You might find Stacy Julian’s School of Life method helpful! I am taking her LOM class now and she talks about it a lot. I think it’s in some of her books too.

  • 81.
    M said…

    wow, this is fantastic! what a treasure!

  • 82.
    M said…

    Or you could just tackle the smaller items and sort and purge those for now. Let the bigger items sit for a few years. Then you will have a better idea what you still want to keep.

  • 83.
    Lisa L. said…

    You can also put everything on the fridge and once full, take 1 photograph. Then scrap/store the photographs.

  • 84.
    Emily R said…

    It’s nice to know that a parent actually reads the notes that are sent home in the backpacks! LOL!
    Love your project and can’t wait to see more!

  • 85.
    BethBG said…

    I do this too. Is there anything sweeter than seeing some holiday handprints on the wall or popsicle stick ornaments on the tree? I keep all this stuff with the holiday decorations.

  • 86.
    BethBG said…

    Oooh, I like this idea! Another way to add art or schoolwork to layouts. XX’s

  • 87.
    sarah the kiwigirl said…

    Don’t know if someone has mentioned it yet, but what I do is the definite keepers go on the fridge first or in a frame/s in their bedroom that gets rotated, and others get used as giftwrap….that way they are still proud that their art is appreciated!

  • 88.
    tara said…

    Hi Ali! I haven’t had a chance to read the other comments, so sorry if this has been said…
    but my favorite “solution” when i want to keep almost everything but just can’t…. is I take a photo of our son Greyson holding the bigger projects or papers. I try to take them on the day he brings them home from preschool and date them before I forget. I add those to his artwork album sometimes with a scrap or piece of the actual art he is holding. -Tara

  • 89.
    Ali Edwards said…

    We absolutely do and appreciate them big time!

  • 90.
    Jennifer W said…

    I know we can’t keep every art project, so we’re keeping just a few for each year, but taking pictures of the rest, so we can put them on a digital frame. This way we can enjoy them all, but not have them taking up all the space.

  • 91.
    Jojo said…

    Great idea! Thanks for sharing this with us. I am in the same boat. I have a pile of art work, teacher’s note etc all over the place and have been thinking of doing the same thing.
    I am a lurker on your site. Now I’ve come out of the closet -lol. My 5 1/2 yr old boy’s just recently been diagnosed with Autism and you have been such a great source of inspiration and support for me. THANKS!

  • 92.
    Giorgina said…

    Hi Ali,
    Could you tell me how you made your circle tags for your albums, did you use a Making Memories Tag maker to do it?

  • 93.
    melanie said…

    Very inpsiring and comforting to know that you have piles too! As a teacher myself, i give you an A+ for your ruthlessness.

  • 94.
    Monika T said…

    Hi Ali,
    I have 4 children and all are in different schools-high school, middle school, elementary & home. My elementary school daughter brings home a friday folder that contains work completed during the week & info coming from school. The 1st thing I do when she gets home is check her Friday Folder and categorize the papers. Signed papers to be returned to school get signed & placed back in her school folder & into her backpack. Info papers with important dates get quickly jotted down in the family calendar & the original gets tossed. Schoolwork that I want goes in a large memorabilia box & gets cleaned out again at the end of the school year. I keep the high schooler & middle school kids work in their own memorabilia boxes specifically for them. My little 3 yr old needs a box soon too. So I will have to get one for him. Thanks for all your inspiration!!! Keep it coming.

  • 95.
    Kari D. said…

    I am so overwhelmed by this type of project. I have eight kids and six are in school. The youngest two will start preschool next year so I’ve really got to get it all together and soon!! I do have my kids stuff all piled together by school year (but all mixed together) and lots of artwork is framed. I’ve thought about doing the school of life books like Stacy J does, but that seems like a lot of books! Maybe putting things right into the regular album is a solution. I’ve never thought of that before. I’m not a chronological scrapper so sliding things into the “right” album wouldn’t work. I supposed simple dates or school years would solve that problem. Oh my…. so many ideas, so much school work. Thanks for the ideas and inspiration.

  • 96.
    jen said…

    what a great post! where did you get the wire shelf and cover that you store your albums in. that’s a great idea that would work well for me.

  • 97.
    Ali Edwards said…

    The shelf is from Costco and the cover from the Container Store.

  • 98.
    Ali Edwards said…

    When you put your pages into an album do the albums have order? Such as a year? I don’t scrapbook chronologically, but I do have my albums that way so that when a page is done it can go into that year’s book (that was a HUGE project in and of itself – getting them all into albums).

  • 99.
    Ali Edwards said…

    Thanks :) .

  • 100.
    Ali Edwards said…

    Hi Giorgina – you can read all about that here: /2008/05/q-a-albums.html

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