Saving Little Johnny’s Artwork Forever {Organizing Memory Boxes}

Memory Boxes - Organize a reasonable amount of your children's sentimental things

Remember when you were growing up and your parents would sit you down to show you their schoolwork from when they were kids and you’d laugh and cry together and have the best time ever? Yeah, maybe not.

Oh, and I think saving a big bin each year for each child of all their school and artwork is a great idea. Let’s see … 4 kids times 18 years at home is only 72 bins. I think those would look really, super-great against the wall in my dining room for the rest of my life. Well, really they’d probably take up the entire dining room eventually. Maybe not.

“But don’t worry,” you say, “I have the cutest way of storing it all, so it really is no bother to keep it.” Sometimes thinking of a ton of clever ways of storing stuff is so much easier than facing the difficult decisions of what to save and what to keep.

You want to hold onto the memories, the precious, precious memories that are amazing. The thing is, there are so many memories we are making today and will make in the future. We don’t want to fill our lives so full of the past that there isn’t any room for our future.

Make room in your life for abundance. Make room in your life to live in the present.

And then there are the attics, basements, garages, and even storage units. You have a place to put it, so it is fine. Out of sight, out of mind. Right?! Not really. This is just another way of postponing difficult decisions. And the decisions don’t go away when we push them to the side. But how do we do it a better way?!

I can be a little sentimental myself and need the same reminders as you about clearing the clutter from my life. It isn’t as easy for me to recycle the kids creative pieces as you’d think. Let me share how I satisfy the part of me that detests clutter and the part of me that wants to hang onto a few precious memories of this time that will never come again.

A System That Works!

The routine of dealing with kids artwork:

As you read in Taming the Paper Trail of Clutter, I deal with incoming kids artwork every week during my Home Management Session. When it never builds up, it is never a huge problem. During this weekly time, I deal with things like artwork or award certificates that I tossed in my inbox to avoid piles forming around the house.

This is the routine to aim for —

  1. Artwork is created at home or brought home from school.
  2. Right away I enjoy the artwork and discuss it with my child.
  3. Next I ask my child if it is one of their favorites and would they like to clip it on the art-boards in their room?
  4. If they say no, then we recycle it together. Obviously it wasn’t one of their favorites. Yes, my children protested at first to this, but after several calm discussions they get it. Calm discussions include me saying things like: “Art is sometimes just about the experience of creating, if we kept everything our house would just be filled with it and there would be no room to have fun creating new art.” and “We keep just our favorites.” Overtime your children will learn important skills of letting go. It is a muscle that must be exercised to be strengthened.
  5. If they say yes to hanging it up, then we hang it up in their room right away. Occasionally I will put something at my desk if they tell me they made it for me. If something else must be taken down to fit the new thing (one in, one out), then I will either put what came down into their memory box or recycle it. This is when I help make the decisions. I consider how easy it will be to store the thing I’m keeping and think about how much of this type of thing I’ve already kept. I might take a second to compare it to another thing we’ve kept to make sure I’m preserving what makes sense.
  6. If it goes in their memory box, I mark each paper with a permanent marker in an inconspicuous place (corner or back) with the date it was created. This will help file the papers if the papers ever get mixed up.

Memory Boxes:

A long time ago, I bought five boxes so each person in our family would have one. When our family increased to six last year, I combined mine and my husband’s, so Cougar could have his own. Glad that worked out! The parents box has stuff the children specifically made for us. 

Inside the box, there is a file for every year my children will be at home through their high school graduation.

{I get a lot of requests about where to find these. The boxes I use are discontinued, but I found some similar ones that can be ordered.}

Memory Boxes - 18 file folders for all the years before they leave home

Instead of calendar years, I divide by school years. Their first year file might be a few months over or under a year to get to the “August thru July” system. Regulating by school year just makes such practical sense!

Memory Boxes - I group it by school year instead of calendar year

At the end of every year (in July/beginning of August), we go through the file and select our top 10-15 favorites for that year to keep in the file, depending on the size of what is being kept.

Simple enough, right?

Respect What Matters

Honestly, keeping less is more respectful and honors the treasures/memories more than keeping them all. When we keep everything, what is really important gets lost in the sea of unimportant. Too much becomes problematic to store in a way that the papers are actually accessible. They end up filling a box or a large drawer or container that becomes a source of stress to even think about, and then ends up dry-rotting in the attic when we finally get it “out of the way”.

We keep our memory boxes out in the open in our office to be seen and enjoyed.

Memory Boxes - Stored neatly on an office shelf

My kids love looking through their boxes (they are only allowed to remove one file folder at a time so things don’t explode into chaos). They ask me to tell them the stories of the stuff inside and I am happy to do it. And maybe that is one reason they don’t argue about recycling artwork of the past, because they are actually starting to tell the difference between the keepers and the non-keepers. That is exciting.

How much of your kids’ artwork do you keep? Tell me about it in the comments!


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65 thoughts on “Saving Little Johnny’s Artwork Forever {Organizing Memory Boxes}

  1. Can you share a link for what kinds of boxes those are you are using? I keep way too much! As we start school this year, I’m going to try to go to this system.

    1. You know, I’ve looked for the boxes several times since I got them years ago and I’ve never found them. The good news is I’ve seen cute ones recently. Check the office supply sections of stores for them.

  2. LOVE this. Thank you.
    I have something “similar” (Rubbermaid container with each year in folders, stacked on top of each other) – but This is much more organized & easier to look at past items !

  3. I love this idea! My son is about to be 2 and is starting to create. I was always guilty of keeping too much of my own things, so I need to be smarter about his. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. How do you store the large art work? Just fold it up to fit in the file? Thank you for this post, I have been anxiously awaiting this one :)

    1. Yes, I fold it. If it is too precious to fold, then I keep it hung up. If I don’t want it to stay hung up or fold it, then it is recycled. I’m a little more picky about the big stuff.

  5. I’ve been sorting 45yrs of STUFF (mementos) and I found that by taking a picture of a treasured possession relieves me of the stress of throwing/giving it away. (especially things that were my daughters and she passed away) Perhaps a thumb drive added to each box with pictures might help when you get too much stuff and have to purge … and depending on the size of your family it does accumulate over the years! Just a thought.

    1. I just had another thought. In my lifetime pictures have gone from film to digital and storage on your computer has gone from floppy, to CD’s to Thumb Drives….You will have to keep updating as years go on….I wonder what the next “drive” will be???…or is there already something and I’m just too old to know about it :)

        1. Physical storage media are a backup data location. They’re at least as reliable as the cloud if you take proper care of them and you won’t have to worry about them being hacked.

          I’m considering taking one more step and making memory books of my daughter’s work. That’s a step most people won’t want to take, but I thought that between my scanner, LibreOffice (kinda like OpenOffice but works better), conversion to PDF and Lulu’s book-printing service, I could put together something pretty nifty. It is no worse than keeping your yearbooks. Which I recommend you do because it is fun for your kids and grandkids to look you up later.

    2. Yes, the pictures can help in a transition state, but clutter can be digital too. But if it helps remove the actual clutter, then it is probably worth it to take the picture.

    3. I love your idea of taking a picture of items, and the flashdrive as well! I have tons of boxes for my children’s school papers collected over the last 25 years. I am now starting on grandchild #1 with #2 on the way! Mary’s system with your additions will be perfect to organize my paper collection! :)

  6. Excellent idea.I especially love your comment about keeping everything… what is really important gets lost in the sea of unimportant.

  7. I am also curious about the boxes. Does Walmart still sell them? Can you post a link? I really wanna organize my kid’s papers!

    1. I haven’t seen them for sale for a long time, but you still might be able to find something similar in the office supply section of lots of stores. Good luck!

  8. This is great!! My son is 3 and my daughter is 1 so I need to get a move on doing this right!! Thanks for another great article!!

  9. When we keep everything, what is really important gets lost in the sea of unimportant. – Love that! I have to keep that in mind as I unpack our new house.

  10. Love this post! It really is hard to let go sometimes. I like the idea of getting your kids to recycle or throw things out. (I usually try to toss it when they aren’t looking to avoid a meltdown but they really should learn it’s okay to not keep everything) One thing I have found that is awesome is an app called Artkive. (I’m not connected to it in any way) I snap a picture of of their art, it stores it and eventually I can make a printed book of all their art. You can sort it by age, grade, child…lots of options. Just a thought.

    1. Shutterfly is a great site for making photo books of artwork, as well! (I have no affliation with them.) For my oldest daughter’s high school graduation gift, I created a scrapbook of her entire life (birth through Grade 12); however, for my youngest daughter’s graduation this year, I plan to use this site to create her life’s “scrapbook” (photobook) using her pics in school, artwork, report cards, etc. Utilizing these sites is a great way to show off your little one’s artwork during a specific timeframe and recycle artwork at the same time! (i.e., Year K-5 or Preschool: Age 3, etc.) It would make a fabulous coffee table book for the kids to look through and share stories during family time!

  11. My boxes aren’t cute – they are just white cardboard boxes, but they aren’t on display either so it works for now. I have a specific drawer designated for artwork (and writings). I make sure I have a name and date on it somewhere as well an an explanation if needed. Then, right before school starts I take all of the artwork out and look through it. By then, enough time has past for me to know if I want to hang on to it or of it was something that was cute in the moment but not so much anymore. I put what I want to save in a large Zip-loc bag (2 gallon size I think) labeled with the year and put in the boxes. But I like the decorative box idea! I do have something similar to this idea with professional pictures in it. Since photo albums don’t exist much anymore, I found colorful plastic boxes and put hanging files in them. I keep studio pictures, sports and school pictures and any other professional pictures in each file folder.

    1. Yes, it is interesting how time can sometimes make it more obvious what matters and what doesn’t. Before each new school year I go through the past file folder and do one more clean through. That one is the easiest! I love your alternate idea, thanks for sharing.

  12. Hello! I just joined this amazing site and plan on starting Week #1 on Monday. I am in dire need of help with clutter control. I feel I just lack organization skills all together, and never sure where to start. I really feel that with your tips and inspiration I will finally be able to get my house/life organized and harmonious. I really needed to read this. I am literally lost in a sea of my daughter’s artwork/memories/keepsakes. She is 4, nearly 5 now and in her second year of PreK due to a late birthday. I tend to feel guilty throwing her “beautiful creations” or a worksheet she worked really hard on away. I do have a lot of issues with “letting go.” It’s just nice hearing “it’s ok to get rid of stuff, and you will be happier and less stressed inn the end.” Here’s to getting rid of the clutter!

  13. I have an 8 year old daughter who is extremely sentimental and will not let to of anything. I am an avid purger and we talk about this a lot. Art work is a big problem for us. I take care of it on my own. How can I get my daughter involved in this process? I know this “muscle” needs to be worked out and strengthened, but she is moved to tears over every piece of paper she scribbles on….it is all “so special” to her. I want so badly for her to have inout (and practice) with this part of life. How can I involve her without her falling apart?

    1. My honest opinion is to talk to a counselor about it. If it is that severe, then getting her help now could be so much help!!! It would be a great gift to her for the rest of her life. I’m of the belief that therapy is for everyone and have benefitted myself from a good therapist! Ask around and find someone who comes highly recommended.

    2. Maybe you can have a “giving session” with your daughter where she selects her favorites to give as a gift to others, or makes birthday/ anniversary/ special occasion cards. Make it special with decorating the envelope in which you send it and maybe a little note from her. As she gives them away, she’ll learn the value of gifting and giving her things away so she might not be as attached to them. You can have her choose her favorite 12/24/26 and make a calendar from them, giving them as gifts for Christmas.

  14. My 3 yr old just started preschool this fall and I’ve been keeping almost everything because I didn’t know what to do. I love your system and I’ll start it this week! I can’t wait to read more on your website!

  15. Thanks for your great ideas and reminders. I’m wondering if these boxes are the only thing you keep from their school papers? Do you have another box for papers?

    1. If you check out how I organize my home office files, I have a separate file for their school papers that aren’t for ‘memories’, but more for reference. Does that help?

  16. Great idea for keeping the most important things. My girls are young (6 and 3) so I’m just getting a system down. I go through everything as it comes in the door. For the past few years, I have purchased an inexpensive scrapbook at AC Moore for each girl (+1 of the refill page sets). I put in the extra pages in (for about 20 total pages) and put it on the book case. As the school year progresses I just slip the little projects into the sleeves. I don’t really tape or glue or decorate the pages at all anymore (no time for that!). Sometimes a photograph will come home from school so I slide that in. For example, my daughter brought home a lot of cute Christmas projects. I selected a few for the scrapbook, slid them in along with the photo with Santa that they sent home and it’s done! I add one of their school pics to the front inside cover and also tape their class pic to the inside cover. I throw in a few birthday cards, valentine’s cards that they received. It really just makes itself and they love looking through them.

    I do think there will be a lot of scrapbooks if I keep up with this though….about 14 for each girl if I do one each year from pre-k to 12th grade! I may start combining years. I’m okay with having one larger memory bin for each person in the house though that could be kept in the attic. So we’ll have to see. For now it has worked without taking much time or space. I’m new to your site and really appreciate all of the resources/info you have!

    1. More than following my idea to the letter, it is the idea of imposing a boundary to the sentimental clutter and following through with a plan. It sounds like you have a boundary and plan that work for you! Good job!!

  17. When we keep too much stuff, it’s hard to keep it all in good condition. My mother-in-law was a hoarder, and going through her things at the end of her life took months because she would tuck important papers, even checks! in between pages of her Redbook magazines, some of which dated back to the 1930’s. Our grand realization was that she trashed her treasures and then treasured her trash. It’s a great motivator!

    1. I found a great app called Keepy. It allows you to organizes each of your childs artwork, awards, etc. We have been using it a while, we have added Grandparents and aunts and uncles and everyone can see all that they have done. I never feel bad about taking a picture and putting it on Keepy and then getting rid of the original.

  18. My sons are 26, 23, & 22. I limited myself to 1 memory (plastic) container for each. Certainly not as pretty as what you have, and also quite a bit larger. It holds so many things from birth to HS graduation. There is 1 folder for each year of schooling from pre-school to grade 12. Also in it are the family Xmas card/pictures throughout the years. They LOVE going thru the containers. It is a trip down memory lane seeing their artwork, special school reports, earned awards, school pictures, etc. I even have in them some clothing that each particularly liked (as in, I had to pry if off them to wash).

    1. That sounds wonderful. A box of memories! That is so perfect!!! Not too much that they can’t appreciate it, and not “zero” so they don’t have anything to touch or feel from their memories. Perfect. :)

  19. Such encouraging words, Mary! Thank you. This week I found myself sad about getting rid of our 16-year-old refrigerator. It leaked for months and then finally stopped cooling correctly, so we had to buy a shiny new one that is bigger and fancier. I was sad because that old fridge is where we put the formula pitcher when each of my 3 boys were babies. Isn’t that ridiculous!? If I get sentimental over an old broken fridge, you KNOW I get sentimental about kids’ artwork. Ha! :)

    There is an app/website/service called Artkive where you take pictures of (or maybe scan with your phone) your kids’ artwork, and then make it into a photo book. I have never tried it, but I want to. Here’s a link:

Leave a comment! I love to hear what you think!