School Papers: What to Keep, What to Toss

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School papers can be overwhelming. Recently, I shared how to make a memory box for your keeping papers and memorabilia, but making the box is the simple part, deciding what to put inside the memory box and what to let go of can be trickier.

School papers can be overwhelming. This simple guide will help you know what to keep and what to recycle.

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So Many Kids Papers

There are so many papers that come home from school, so many drawings by little ones, so many things that are tempting to keep. For kids’ papers and projects, it’s hard to know what’s important and what’s not. If you ask your kids, they’ll likely tell you it’s ALL important. Spoiler alert, it’s not.

As someone whose mother recently handed me overflowing boxes of school papers and artwork from my childhood, I can tell you it’s better to be picky when hanging onto things. They likely won’t be appreciated or enjoyed as much as you think they might.

Ask yourself, is this item worth saving for 20 years? Will my child get joy from seeing this again?

Create Criteria for Keeping Kids Papers

I’ve found it helpful to create criteria for what school papers to keep in the memory box and what to let go of. I stick to that criteria as closely as possible.

Kids' School Papers: What to Keep and What to Toss, an infographic.

School papers—just the best ones — sorted by school year is a system every parent needs

If you’ve made a memory box for your children, you’ve already got one limit—you’re restricted by the size of the bin you’ve selected. Don’t grab another bin if you run out of room. 18” of papers is PLENTY to save for your child (If you’re looking for a box suggestion, I like these).

What School Papers to Keep and What to Toss

My children are 10, 8, and 5. The kinds of papers they bring home have changed over the years, and I’ve had to shift my criteria with it. Here are the guidelines I use:

Preschool Years

Kids’ Papers I save:
  • Handprint/footprint artwork
  • Paintings/drawings that show some skill
  • Handwriting/sentences that share this station in life
  • Quality photographs from the teacher
  • Evaluation forms/reports from teachers
Kids’ Papers I don’t save:
This is cute, but not a school paper worth keeping forever.
  • Coloring pages
  • Cut/glue worksheets
  • Bulky items
  • Anything with glitter
  • Notes from friends

Elementary Years

Kids’ Papers I save:
  • Quality writing assignments
  • Artwork that shows creativity/skill
  • 10ish % of tests, 1-2 per subject per school year
  • Certificates or Awards
  • Report Cards
  • Complimentary notes from the teacher/administrators
Kids’ Papers I don’t save:
  • Worksheets
  • 90% of tests
  • Notes from the school nurse
  • School correspondence
  • Old workbooks

Side note: Save IEP’s and 504s, but not in a memory box. If your child has special learning needs, you’ll want a separate folder to keep track of all progress and meetings.

Act on School Papers Immediately

Once you have your criteria or guidelines set, enact them right away. If something comes out of a folder and isn’t keep-worthy, recycle it ASAP. Don’t let it sit on your counter in a pile for a week and a half. When you have a few extra minutes, go back through the items you’ve already saved and edit them using your new set of rules.

The Goal of the Memory Box

School Papers can be corralled into a memory box, but you need to be selective about what goes into it. I'm a sucker for handprints.

My goal for the memory boxes is to capture who my children are for that snippet in time. If I save too much, none of it will be meaningful because there will just be too much. Saving just a few quality items will make it easier to look back and have specific memories of that time in our lives.

While I don’t quite know what my criteria will be when my children in are in high school, I expect keeping the same mindset, saving things that illustrate who they are at that point in their lives. I’m also assuming a lot of it will be digital by then, maybe I’ll toss a memory stick in a folder instead of papers.  

It’s tricky to know what to save and what to let go of, but saving too much or hanging onto things “just in case” is the path that leads to clutter and chaos. Stay strong, parents, and let things go.

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