No, You Don't Have to Keep Your Kid's Artwork

Public Domain. MaxPixel

The benefit comes from its creation, not its preservation.

If you have children, then you have art. Kids have a natural propensity for drawing and coloring, and the result is an endless flow of paper from school and daycare into the house. After parents finish the obligatory oohing and ahhing, they are faced with the same decision every time: to keep or to discard. Keeping feels OK up to a certain point, but as the years go by and the number of children multiplies, it's no longer a logical option. As for discarding, well, that just makes one feel like a terrible, unappreciative parent.

As someone who faces this dilemma daily, I was relieved to read Mary Townsend's piece for The Atlantic, titled, "Throw Your Children's Art Away." In it Townsend argues that art should be beheld and appreciated, then tossed without guilt.

"If it’s the act of making the art that’s useful and good for children, then let this part of the art live, and then let its results die... Throwing it away actually does everyone a favor. It completes the artistic life cycle, allowing ephemera to be just that: actually ephemeral. Childhood is like that, too — or that’s how parents ought to think about it. Kids thrash about until a more recognizable self takes hold. Then they turn their attention toward preserving that developing self. The paperwork they produce along the way is mostly a means to that end."

Townsend was forced to reckon with the consequences of hoarding juvenile creations when her mother did a major house purge. I had a similar experience when I bought my first house. My parents dropped off boxes of my old school work, medals, photos, letters, and artwork because they saw no value in keeping it. While the initial hour of digging through the past was fun, it quickly grew annoying and burdensome and I threw out most of it. It seemed silly that my parents and I had kept this stuff for more than two decades, only to pitch it in the end.

Spare your kids that job and minimize clutter in your home by taking action now. Intercept it at the source. You're not a bad parent for doing so; you're simply aware that the art, though cute, is most likely bad and incomplete, that your kid won't even remember it, and that they're going to get much better at drawing as time goes on.

I've read various ideas for coping with children's art. One common suggestion is to take pictures of the art and upload it to a digital photo frame. If that's your thing, be my guest, but as far as I'm concerned, if I'm uninterested in plastering the walls with half-completed puppies, lumpy rainbows, and sharks that resemble male anatomy, there's a good chance I won't want to see it flash by on a screen.

This is my solution: Use the fridge as a temporary gallery. Anything can go on the fridge to be admired for a week or two. Then I toss it and the kids don't notice because they're pleased it was publicly admired for that long.

If something is really special, it goes in The Box. The box stays in the office and anyone can add to it, but the standard for admission is high. At the end of each school year, I go through the box and am always amazed at how less appealing certain pieces of art are after I've let a few months go by. The real treasures go into a file folder labeled with each kid's name and the box is once again ready for another year of art production.