How to Declutter Kids’ School Papers in 7 Steps

Kids school papers in files by gradeKids’ school papers fall into the problematic “it’s special” category. People often keep kids’ papers without actually evaluating what their future purpose will be. They also may keep every single paper rather than being selective about what’s actually special. 

You can read more about what you’re supposed to do with kids’ papers – whether to keep everything, get rid of everything, or only keep what’s important.

Today’s blog post gives more specific instructions about the actual process of going through the papers to keep what’s important (“special”) and let go of the rest.

Declutter Kids’ School Papers in 5 Steps
(+ 2 Bonus Steps* for Ongoing Maintenance)

Instead of keeping everything for a future project, go through papers as they come in and have a plan for them. Here’s how to declutter kids’ papers in 5 steps with two bonus actions to keep the system going.

1. Categorize

You can do this for or with kids, depending on their age and attention span. If your child can do any of the categorizing, have them help. This is a gross sort skill that they need to develop. Separate papers into subject piles: math, writing, art, science, reading, etc.

2. Like With Like Within Categories

Next, have your kids go through each category pile and further separate into subcategories. English papers could be separated into spelling tests, handwriting practice, stories or sentences your child has written, etc. That way your child isn’t looking at a whole pile of different things. Seeing five spelling worksheets with the same grade on each helps them see that keeping every single one isn’t necessary (kind of like realizing you have five black t-shirts, so you’re willing to let go of the one with a hole).

3. Define Criteria & Decide What to Keep

It is not your job to try to make kids get rid of stuff or use your categories or selection criteria.

Who wants to keep the papers – you or your child?

If there’s something in here that’s really special to you but not to your child–like the paper from the hundredth day of school where he put down 100 of his cute little fingerprints–you can keep it for yourself without convincing him that he should care about it. Likewise, you may see no value in a particular item, but your child may be attached.

Why does that person want a particular item?

Does it represent a first time doing something, a job well done, a lot of effort? Is it a story or essay that tells something about the child? Help your kids figure out what their criteria is. You can ask them what they like about each one and what makes them want to keep one and get rid of another. What makes the paper special to them? What do they want to remember? In the future, will you or  they really want to look back at it?

What is the future job of the papers?

Is the idea that your child at 18 or 35 is going to want to look back at a 3rd grade science project to remember that time they studied singing to plants? Do you think your grandchildren will want to read that essay their parent wrote about Alexander Hamilton? Do you want to keep the paper because you’ll remember the trips to the library or teaching them how to do internet research for the first time?

How many of any kind of paper do you need to have?

Maybe you’d like one math worksheet with a good grade on it because your child worked particular hard to master a skill. You or your child can pick a representative paper without having to keep all of the math worksheets or spelling tests. Or, maybe you decide there are only certain kinds of papers you’ll save.

Respect your child’s selection process. Even if they want to keep four out of five of each type of paper this first round, respect their wishes. They’ll bring tons more paper home. As they get practice going through, categorizing and decluttering, they’ll be willing to part with more over time.

4. Display

Kids' art displayed on traysOnce they’ve gone through each category pile and picked out the special work, put all of the categories into one pile. Ask your child what s/he’d like to display. If there’s work s/he doesn’t want to put up, ask if s/he really wants to keep it. S/he may be willing to let more of the papers go.

5. Put Away

Portable file box for storing school papersStore the rest of the papers. For this, I recommend getting a portable file box with a folder for each grade: preschool through 12th grade. The papers can add up. Ultimately, you’ll have 13+ file folders, so each individual file shouldn’t be more than about a 1/2 inch thick. 

Go ahead and make the files through end of high school so you and your child can keep adding papers as you go. The file folders will match and you won’t have to keep grabbing them for 13 years or end up with a hodge podge that doesn’t look organized.

*6. Take Another Pass at It

At the end of summer, you and your child can go back through all of the papers as a way of getting ready for going back to school. Kids may be willing to get rid of even more now that a little time has passed.

*7. Create an Ongoing System

So you don’t end up with a huge volume of papers to go through in one sitting, set up a system for going through papers on a more regular basis. Have an inbox or wall pocket that kids go through when it’s full to decide what to categorize, purge, and display. Pick a particular day of the week to go through papers. Another option is to have your child process papers every time they bring papers home. They decide what to keep and what to recycle. You’ll be surprised how few papers kids end up wanting to keep.

Kids’ Art

A lot of the same strategies apply when you are cgoing through kids’ art, but there are some distinctions. 3-D and large format art doesn’t fit into a file box easily. Art can be framed and turned into all sorts of other things. And if you have a child who is a prolific artist or crafter, going through art and school papers likely should be separate jobs. I’ll post separately about going through arts, setting up transition galleries, and other things besides display or storage that you can do with kids’ art.

Contact Me

If you want moral support, guidance, or just another person to help you and your child go through school papers, give me a call at 512-591-8129 and we’ll set up some time. I can also help with kids’ rooms and playrooms. 

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