We’re closing in on the final few weeks of my How to Organize Paperwork series! And although we’ve now worked through most of the tedious paper types, the final few categories may be some of the hardest yet. For the rest of the month, we’re going to work through the more “emotional” types of paperwork, starting today with likely the toughest of all: kids’ school papers. Depending on how many kids you have, how emotionally attached you (or they!) are to their self-produced creations, and how/if you prefer to store said creations, this paper type will either be a breeze or a battle. Let me show you the simple yet effective systems we’re using to manage it aaaalllll, as well as some other ideas for storing kids school papers that might help you deal with this touchy paper category too!
Pssssttt – Each and every post in this How to Organize Paperwork series builds on the previous one. As such, if you are just joining the series, I strongly suggest you review Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 before diving deep into this post.
THIS WEEK WE ARE SORTING…
Today we are going to focus in hard on kids’ papers. Specifically, we will be sorting and organizing school work, art projects, photos, memories, notes, and cards, as well as homework and papers that pertain to their present school, club, sport, activities.
To be clear, we are not sorting official or important documents that belong to children such as birth certificates, report cards, medical/dental files, bank accounts etc. You certainly may include these if you haven’t already done so in earlier iterations of this series. However, such documents are likely more appropriately sorted and stored with your other Household Files or Important Documents. As I’ve already shown you, our children’s birth certificates, passports and social security records are kept in our family’s Important Documents Binder (below right), while their medical, sacrament, and school records are kept in our household file boxes (below left).
Just how each Paper Type often requires a unique storage solution, so do the various papers pertaining to children. As such, we’re going to first talk about sorting through and storing children’s “past” papers (such as old papers, cards, projects, etc), and then we’ll examine strategies for dealing with papers for the upcoming/current school year.
PAST SCHOOL PAPERS & PROJECTS
S (SORT) – P (PURGE) – A (ASSESS)
If you are not yet familiar with my S-P-A-C-E decluttering method, I recommend you first read this post.
Just like our other Paper Types, we’re going to start the exact same way: by Sorting, Purging, and Assessing our children’s paperwork.
SORT. Start by gathering everything, yes everything, that falls into this Paper Type. Again, hopefully your child’s important documents are already safely tucked away, so all you need to do is gather all of the rogue projects and piles of paper that you’ve stashed away over the year (years). Whether you are starting from scratch or just need to do this most recent year’s worth of schoolwork, grab.it.all.
Next, identify those initial “simple and intuitive” sorting categories. When sorting kids paperwork, by child and then by grade is the most obvious and logical approach. I recommend sorting down into the following categories:
- Child A
- Before school
- First Grade
- Child B
- Before school
- First Grade
TIP! It might be easier to work through one child at a time rather than doing all of your kids at once!
Again, with this initial sort, your goal is to move quickly and get your original (possibly massive) pile down into more manageable piles. Don’t linger over anything (which might be really hard this time!) and don’t make any tough decisions yet.
PURGE. Now revisit each and every grade pile and slowly consider each and every piece of paper, project, note etc. Only you can determine what warrants keeping and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, there is no quick-and-easy checklist to help you through this, but I will offer my two cents nonetheless 😉
I will first fully admit that I am not particularly sentimental over our children’s creations. Part of it is because they make SOOOO much. It just isn’t practical or necessary to keep everything. I also distinctly remember helping my Father clean out my childhood home after my Mother passed away a few years ago. My Mom kept A LOT…so much that I just couldn’t go through it all nor appreciate it…and in the end, it just all got tossed anyway.
As such, I try to carefully choose only the items that are truly special, unique, highlight a specific skill, or are a pinacle project our son did during the year. Yes, a lot of the amazing things he makes does get thrown in the trash; and no, I don’t take pictures of the discarded items first. (If something is worthy of taking a photo, then it’s worth keeping.) Everything else is tossed, and all the remains is the very best that represents his year.
I personally believe this approach allows us to walk down memory lane and appreciate his development over the years without being overwhelmed by sheer amount and redundancy. It also goes without saying that the less you keep, the easier it is to store in a functional and manageable way!
ASSESS. The next step is to take each grade pile of keepers and refine it further, if you so desire. As I’ve mentioned before, as you group like items together, logical sub-categories will probably emerge. While I do recommend creating sub-categories that will help you quickly locate items, I also caution you against creating so many sub-categories that your system becomes cumbersome and complicated.
As I created a system for our son’s school paperwork last year, three logical sub-categories stood out. They are working SO brilliantly for us that I encourage you to try them too! For each grade, all the papers are sorted into the following three categories:
In the Pictures sub-category, I place any (good) pictures from throughout the school year. This includes his school picture, sports/team photos, as well as pictures from his classroom and other activities. I don’t scrapbook (physically or digitally) so this is my approach to quickly and easily ensuring his photos are stored and organized.
For the Schoolwork sub-category, as I mentioned above, I only keep those projects that are really good, he worked really hard on, is super proud of, or demonstrate a particular skill. Our teacher (who Henry had for both K and 1st Grade) is really great at assembling projects into books/collections, making it easy to keep just a few (rather than every other worksheet).
Finally, the Memories sub-category is filled with random notes, papers, and awards that I think he would enjoy re-reading as he gets older. These are mostly hand-written letters from classmates and teachers, drawings and birthday cards from special friends, an extra copy of his birthday party invite that year, and end-of-the-year awards, etc.
After your Sorting, Purging and Assessing efforts are through, an entire year’s worth of papers should be narrowed down to a manageable stack of the very best!
With your child’s papers sorted down by grade and then sub-categorized as you wish, you need to figure out the right system for you to Contain it all. This may be your family filing cabinet, a dedicated file drawer for each child, or an accordion folder. We chose to use a sizable plastic file box. This solution not only serves as a dedicated place for ALL of Henry’s childhood papers, but it is compact and sturdy enough to be stored in his room and moved frequently.
Once I identified that hanging folders in a plastic file box was the right solution for us, I stocked up on more colorful file folders and got to work. I created three hanging file folders for my three sub-categories in each grade and labeled them all with colored cardstock and my trusty labelmaker.
While I was at it, I went ahead and got it ready for the next 7 years of school papers (#bestdecisionever!) I used four different colors of hanging folders to make it bright and fun…
I also stocked extra folders in the back so it can be expanded/adjusted as necessary; and finally, I added a cute label (made from vinyl with my Cricut Explore) so we will always know who’s box of papers this is!
Putting this System to Work in Real Life
It’s one thing to show you a cute, pretty box full of labeled file folders, but I also want to show you how this system works for us, year in and year out, in real life. In full disclosure, I put this box together LAST summer and only inserted Henry’s Pre-K and Kindergartden papers. Just a few weeks ago, I went through Henry’s 1st Grade papers and in less than an hour, I had everything sorted and put away. Here’s how.
First, we have a single spot to collect all of Henry’s papers that come home from school and other activities. It’s here…in our foyer. This basket is large, so it holds a lot, allowing us a looong time before we have to sort it all out. Typically, I do a quick sort at Christmas to bring the basket’s level down, and then I keep piling on top for the remainder of the year. Once everything comes home at the end of the school year, I grab the basket and get to work!
I dump everything out and sort papers into my three sub-categories of Photos, Schoolwork, and Memories. I toss obvious trash (like completed homework and spelling tests) and keep anything that warrants a second consideration.
I continue to sort and purge some more, exactly as I outlined above…
Until I have a sizable stack that represents only the very best of that year!
TIP! Doing an entire year of papers and projects all at once might seem overwhelming, but I actually find this approach allows me to better make decisions about what’s truly worth keeping. By seeing everything at once, you not only appreciate the sheer amount of options, but you are better able to identify the very, very best and guilt-free get rid of the rest!
I then grab Henry’s pre-assembled file box and put everything away!
Now having used this for two years in a row, I can honestly say I feel like I have a solid grip on Henry’s archive of school papers. Even if you don’t have the time/energy to put together a similar filing system right now, at the very least dedicate a box or basket as your child’s school paper “Inbox.” Start collecting everything in one spot now, so you can deal with it all a little easier next summer!
Current School-Year Paperwork
Now that we’ve discussed how to deal with your child’s “past” paperwork, let’s briefly talk about managing your child’s “current” school year paperwork (you know…that stuff that’s about to start coming home very soon!) While completed homework, projects, and papers will certainly trickle home all year long, so will important/timely papers such as permission slips, account passwords, project descriptions, homework packets, etc. Those completed assignments and projects can go right into your child’s “Inbox” basket (as I described above), but if you start putting more time-sensitive and important papers in that same basket, they are likely to be lost or forgotten. As such, we use two different systems to keep up with these more important, timely papers!
At the beginning of last year, I was guilty of tossing Henry’s (to-be-completed) homework packets, project assignments, reading lists and more into his “Inbox” basket. As a result, we were constantly losing track of things. Toward the end of the year, I finally assembled him his own basic, un-labeled binder just so we could keep everything in one spot. It truly saved us through the end of the year, so as I was assembling my new Printable Binder Covers and Tabs post, I figured I’d spruce up Henry’s homework binder for the coming year. Our categories are currently the ones from last year, but I can easily update them and re-print them once we see how this next year plays out! Now when homework comes home or we sit down to do it, Henry knows to go grab the bright green binder off the shelf, and everything we need will be inside!
Activities & Information Binder
The other binder that saves our sanity throughout the school year is our “Back-to-School Binder.” I first introduced this concept a few years ago, and I have used/updated it ever since. Although our school is mostly paperless, every now and then papers come home that we need to either keep, track or follow-up on. Examples include permission slips, the class calendar, the school handbook, login information to online portals, PTA info, etc. The one shown below is my newest version for the upcoming school year and includes tabs for 2nd Grade (anything the teacher sends home that we need to keep), as well as his other activities (Scouts, Martial Arts, etc). While this binder never gets overly full (because papers are usually transient), having a dedicated place to put these kinds of paperwork has saved us over and over!
KIDS’ PAPERWORK STORAGE PRODUCTS I LOVE
These are the products I used (and love!) to assemble the various systems seen in this post!
Here are some other solutions that might work for your family!
Other Storage Strategies for Kids’ Papers and Art to Check Out. Every household has unique needs and requirements for their paper storage. As such, I’ve rounded up some of the best article and tips I could find from my friends and fellow bloggers. If you need more ideas for organizing your child’s papers, check out these posts below (Pppssst – I especially tried to find some good ideas surrounding photographing and storing large collections of kids art!)
- File boxes similar to mine but with great ideas for adapting to older kids and including things like cards, report cards, etc by Tori at A Bowl Full of Lemons
- Great tips on establishing a schoolwork paper flow + adorable filing printables by Jen at I Heart Organizing
- Swoon-worthy file boxes + memory books by my good friend Karen featured at I Heart Organizing
- Love love love this idea of compiling artwork into wall-worthy collages by Rebecca at Simple As That
- Awesome tips for photographing your child’s artwork by Meg at Snap Happy Mom
- Using binders instead of boxes for special papers by Laura at LauraRadniecki.com
- Great tips on creating photo books with artwork by Carissa at Creative Green Living
- In-depth looks at the Keepy artwork saving app: here and here
Homework. I know many of you are ready to dive in right now, so I will give you a “Homework Assignment” of sorts each week. Take the next 6 days to accomplish everything I have outlined here. Then tune in next Friday for the next step on your paper decluttering journey!
- Review and/or learn the S-P-A-C-E process outlined in this post. The more intuitive this process is, the quicker your sorting will go.
- Identify if you need to tackle this Paper Type. (Even if you already organized these papers, consider revisiting them to employ some of the tips outlined in this post! If you don’t have any school-age kids, you get a week off!)
- Use the S-P-A-C-E method to Sort, Purge, Assess ALL the kid-related papers in your home.
- Once your papers are fully sorted, use the Contain and Embellish strategies outlined in this post to assemble a Schoolwork File Box or employ an alternative solution that meets your needs.
HOW TO ORGANIZE PAPERWORK BLOG SERIES
I realize tackling this paper category may be a doozy for some of you. I hope this post gives you the motivation to organize these special papers, as well as ideas for making sense of it all! No matter the state of your kids’ papers or your sensitivity surrounding the category, I encourage you to take the time necessary to identify a system that will not only celebrate your child’s hard work but also store it in a way that can be easily accessed and appreciated! Good luck!