Those sweet baby outfits, the countless art projects and all of those birthday cards with well wishes. Parents have a unique difficulty in deciding what to keep and what to recycle. After all, when kids are babies, they don’t have much input. Preschool and elementary aged kids want you to keep and display everything and tweens are too absorbed in other things to care.
The responsibility falls to mom and dad, and it’s not an easy decision.
"Sadly I am one of those parents who throws stuff away, probably too much," say Terah Bozarth, mom to Alex, nearly 3, and Anna, 1. "I just don’t know what to do with it."
Finding a happy medium that works for your family might be easier than you think.
1. Ask why. The first step to cutting back on how many sentimental items to keep is to ask yourself why you want to keep them.
"It’s hard for parents to organize these items because to them it’s not just stuff. There’s an emotional connection," says Maureen Gainer Reilly, mom of two and owner of Gainer Organizing in Chicago.
Do you want to keep everything to give to your kids some day? Are you keeping them because you think your kids are growing up too quickly? Think about the real purpose for saving and you will find it easier to choose.
2. Bin. Gainer Reilly, who has appeared on HGTV’s Mission Organization, suggests choosing a large bin to store your kid’s stuff. Yes, only one bin for each child.
"The bin is a helpful tool," she says. "Put anything you find special in the box. Then go back and edit as the box fills up. What seemed special one moment last year may not seem as special with time."
3. Baby clothes quilt. If you can’t bear to let go of those adorable baby clothes and you don’t have anyone to pass them to, then choose a few to be made into a quilt. You can either buy a pattern and make it yourself or find someone who will. The quilt can be a living memory of those cute clothes while still performing a needed function.
4. Art galleries. For those great art projects that you aren’t ready to pitch but aren’t sure you want to save forever, open your own art gallery. Display them on the walls in frames, hang up a clothesline or tape them in the stairwell. Let your kids choose which projects to post.
5. Photograph/scrapbook. No room to store every art project or perfect test? Take photographs of them and create a photo album. Whether you are a scrapbooking goddess or a technophobe, albums can range from homemade to virtual to printed photo books. If the books aren’t being looked at frequently, toss them in your child’s bin for future perusal.
6. Large art folders. What to do with those huge school projects that your kids can’t bear to part with? Buy a large art folder or portfolio at your local craft store. Not only can you store many projects in there, but it folds up flat for easy storage under a bed or dresser.
7. Binder. If you’re not ready to edit yet, use a binder to hold all paperwork and artwork.
"When Alex was in day care, he would bring home at least seven to eight art projects a week. The teachers put some of it in a nice binder each year for us," says Bozarth.
This project is easy to do at home and will allow your kids to thumb through their creations without creating extra mess.
8. Let older kids help choose. Young children want to keep every piece of art they produce, but as they get older they become more choosy about what they want to keep. Ask them to add to their bin when they complete something special to them. It will help solidify their memories and give them ownership.
9. Think about what you like to look at now. Imagine how you would feel if your parents stopped by your house with 10 bins of your childhood artwork. Chances are you would be frustrated. Do you really want everything from your childhood? Probably not. Imagine your kids feeling the same way some day when they have their own family’s stuff to organize.
10. Less stuff, more memories. It might seem ridiculous to say that saving less means having more memories, but the focus should be on creating memories with your kids rather than saving objects. Instead of teaching them that their best memories are tied to stuff, show them that relationships and times spent together are more important.
"Our children are our absolute most important treasures," says Gainer Reilly. "Spend more time with them making memories instead of worrying about keeping every paper."
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook. Visit her on the Web at www.michellesussman.com.