How to Organize Kids’ School Papers
Organize kids’ school papers and memorabilia by creating a simple system that eliminates clutter while still preserving your special memories!
Kids’ paperwork can be one of the trickiest areas to organize, simply because there is just so much of it!
I only have two kids (who are in 4th and 1st grades currently), and I feel like they bring home at least a tree’s worth of paper each day. (Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a lot!)
It has taken me a few tries, but I’ve finally come up with a system that I LOVE and that is working well for us. Before I dive into our exact system though, I want to share my #1 rule for organizing kids’ school papers:
Have a plan.
That’s it. It can be my plan or it can be another blogger’s plan or it can be a plan that you came up with on your own, but it’s important to have some sort of system in place for dealing with school paperwork.
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Why It’s So Important to Have a Plan for Organizing School Paperwork
At the most basic level, having a plan is important so that I don’t accumulate piles and piles of papers that I don’t know what to do with.
I hate feeling overwhelmed by clutter, particularly clutter that seems important to keep but doesn’t really have a great place to “live.” This happens all too easily with kids’ papers.
Having a plan is also important to set expectations for everyone involved. Otherwise the kids expect to keep every piece of paper with a tiny scribble on it, I don’t want to have to deal with fits all the time, and there’s this constant tension of feeling like I have to keep everything but also hating that my space feels so cluttered.
(Can you tell we spent a brief period of time without a plan? ?That is why I feel so passionate about having a paperwork plan in place!)
How to Organize Kids’ School Papers – Our Plan
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Okay, I will now get off my soapbox about needing to have a paperwork plan and share the actual paperwork plan that is working for us!
Step 1- Clear out backpacks/folders each day.
Our kids have just gotten into the habit of bringing their bags right to the kitchen island, where we immediately remove all paperwork from their folders and look through it.
Most of the items they bring home end up in the trash/recycling. (Or obviously completed and returned if it’s homework.) Anything that the boys or Donnie and I deem “special” gets to move on to step two…
Step 2- Have a display area for special pieces.
When the boys create a piece of artwork that they’re especially proud of or they do really well on a test, we have a display area in their playroom where we hang those items.
The playroom is right at the top of the steps, and the display is on the wall that you see most clearly from the hallway, so anytime anyone is coming upstairs, we can see the display of everything they created.
We created the display using IKEA DIGNITET wire, which is technically for hanging curtains, but these little clips that you can buy with it are perfect for hanging artwork and school papers!
The other great thing about this type of display is that it makes it really easy to cycle through the papers. New papers cover up old papers, so the old stuff is not at top-of-mind anymore. It’s easy for me to go in every once in a while and clear out some of the old pieces, and the boys never miss them.
Sometimes, though, there are some really, really, REALLY special pieces that we want to keep forever, and those pieces move on to step three in our plan…
Step 3 – Have a plan for extra special “keepers.”
Once very special pieces are done being displayed, I needed a way to keep them as a memento of the boys’ year at school. I used to do this in a more traditional way, but I recently updated my system to something that might cause you to think I’m a little bit crazy. 😉 I will share both strategies with you.
The Way We Used to Store “Keepers” – Organizing School Paperwork in a File Box
I used to use a traditional file box system to store about 20-30 pieces for each of my boys from each school year.
I started off with one shared box that housed a hanging folder for each boy for each year. As they got older and we accumulated more “keepers,” I moved to a separate file box for each of them.
Even with one file box a piece though, we were getting to the point where the boxes were beginning to feel overstuffed.
More and more, I would find myself or the boys just throwing their pieces on top of the file boxes rather than taking the time to put them in their proper folder because the boxes were getting full and more difficult to maneuver.
Also, many of the pieces that were “keepers,” had some sort of 3D element, which meant that when stored in a hanging folder, they would get smushed and torn or flattened and weren’t looking great anyway.
I got to the point where I had a choice to make: I would either need to buy a bigger file box (like this one I use for their LEGO instruction manuals) for each of the boys (which totally would have worked, at least for a few more years) or I needed to come up with a different system.
Our New System – Organizing Kids’ School Papers with Chatbooks
This method of saving kids’ school paperwork is definitely on the less traditional side because it involves discarding the original piece of artwork.
But before you say, “This lady is crazy!” and move on to another much more sane blogger, let me explain our new system and why I love it so much!
When I made the decision to change the way we store our kids’ papers, I blocked off a day on my calendar to transfer everything over to our new system. With paperwork for two kids who are in 1st and 4th grade, it took me about 5-6 hours in total to make the switch.
I grabbed the boys’ overflowing file boxes and a piece of white foam board that I already owned from taking blog pictures. I put down the foam board on the floor near a window that gets good light, and one by one, I began snapping pictures of their creations with my iPhone.
A few tips for taking photos of kids’ paperwork:
- I made sure that I had really good light and tried to just take one photo of each piece of paper that wouldn’t need any editing. (If I had had to edit each image, this process would have taken WAY longer.)
- Before I began taking photos of the keepsake pieces from a particular grade, I would take a picture of a piece of paper that said the child’s name and grade (just handwritten) so I could easily tell in my phone which pictures belonged to which boy from which grade. Then I could just snap away and not have to worry about sorting into folders as I went along.
- I tried to leave as little border around each image as possible so that the image of their artwork would be as big as I could get it.
After I had taken all of the photos, I used the Chatbooks app to upload the images from my phone to Chatbooks.
If you’re not familiar with Chatbooks, it is a service where you can upload photos or even have them pull photos from your Instagram or Facebook accounts, and they will turn them into a cute 6″ x 6″ memory book for you.
(This post is not sponsored by Chatbooks. I just thought this would be a simple and practical way to deal with my paperwork problem!)
After I had uploaded my photos via the app, I hopped onto my computer to rearrange them and add a few captions. I could have done this in the app, but I thought it was quicker on my computer.
I didn’t caption most of the pieces, but if there was a funny story that went along with one of them or if there were words that I was worried would be hard to read, I took the time to add a caption.
Once I had my albums situated the way I wanted them, I placed my order, and they arrived at my house about a week later.
I ended up creating two books for each boy. For Caleb I had a “Preschool” book and a “Kindergarten and First Half of First Grade” book. Connor’s books were slightly thicker– one covered preschool and kindergarten and the other covered 1st – 3rd grades.
I kept all of their original paperwork until I received the Chatbooks just in case the images were blurry or hard to see for some reason, but I was really happy with the quality of the pictures in the books, and I could clearly see every detail. Once I had confirmed that the quality of the pictures in the Chatbooks was good, I discarded the original paperwork.
We keep all of their books in the entertainment unit in our living room, so they are easily accessible.
The boys flip through the books WAY more often than they would look through their file boxes full of papers, mostly because they are so much simpler to hold and look at. They also take up so much less space and are an easy way for the boys to show guests their work when people are visiting.
Going Forward – Using Instagram to Maintain a Simple Workflow
Now that I’ve dealt with the backlog of the boys’ papers, keeping up our Chatbooks system going forward will be really easy.
There are many ways we could go about it, but I already have a private Instagram account for each of my boys where I share photos of them with friends and family, so I have just been snapping photos of their special artwork pieces and uploading them to their respective Instagram accounts.
Then at the end of the school year, I will make a Chatbook that is a combination of photos of them and photos of their special papers from the year– like a super easy instant scrapbook!
Eventually when the boys move away (sob!!), I will be able to add their books to their bin of sentimental items and they can take them with them to their own homes.
And speaking of that bin…
Exceptions to Our Paperwork Rule
Very occasionally the boys will bring home a piece of artwork where the actual size and scale is important, such as a piece that includes their handprint. I think I have a grand total of 2-3 such pieces per child.
For these pieces, rather than (or sometimes in addition to) photographing them for Chatbooks, I add them to the boys’ bins of sentimental items. (Each member of our family has a single bin where we keep important mementos. You can read more about those bins in this post.)
These pieces are so few and far between that anything we want to keep will easily fit into their bin.
So that’s how we organize kids’ school papers! It has definitely taken some trial and error to figure out the system that works best for us, but the strategy we’re using now minimizes clutter and maximizes ease of use, and that is a definite win-win in my book!
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I’d love to hear how you organize alllllllll the crazy paperwork that your kids bring home from school, so be sure to let me know in the comments below!
Have a wonderful week!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Our daughter is still little (20 months), but she’s already bringing home artwork and such. I scan it at work and plan to make a yearly album of her hand-drawn pictures and pictures from that year. That way the artwork gets displayed a bit and we only keep a few special pieces, similar to your system. I just love the idea of printing them in a photo album though! 🙂
Such a great post! I am sorely lacking in the purge area. I am still in the “keep everything” camp. We have filled an entire box and he’s not even in kindergarten. But this totally gave me the motivation to go through it and purge!! Luke’s preschool teacher last year was murdered and I’m sure it’ll bring up a lot of raw emotions going through and seeing her handwriting. Thankfully I set up a system a few years ago but if I want room for “real school” I need to get moving! https://www.createprettyblog.com/2012/09/memory-box-lukes-work.html?m=1
Thanks for being inspiring as usual!
I was the same way when my oldest went to kindergarten I kept everything and then years later went through it and realized 90% of it wasn’t worth keeping! I have a system very similar to yours, I keep the best in a folder but the rest gets pitched. I homeschool my two youngest so I keep all of their work until the end of the year so that if I need it for a review we have it, but every summer it gets a major purge!
So many great ideas! We are still trying to figure out the best system for us for school papers and we’ve been dealing with it for 5 years now! Love your command center. That may be something to add to our to do list!
I did the same thing you did, when my oldest (she is now in 1st grade) started preschool I saved everything. Actually if I am honest I had random piles of scribbles from my 1 year old. She made a line, I have to keep it! I got real once I had three kids and legit things coming home. Stories, poems, really good art. I realized those would be more cherished then a pile of scribbles. I kept a few scribbles. I have moved onto large but flat storage bins. Each labeled with my kid’s name. I put a large piece of construction paper in between the years with a label on the year and age of child during that year. I try and be selective. I also add any sweet notes from friends, their school pictures, class picture, or other keepsakes from the year that fit. I am sure I will have to move it to two bins per child before they graduate. Would it be weird to have my adult age, college kids art stuff stored away? It is all so special, I am sure I will feel the same way about them no matter the age.
We have a similar system in our household for storing all the artwork & papers that come home from school. (I have a 5 & 7 year old.)
We use wall pockets to hold all the work from the current week, and then at the end of the week, I go through the wall pockets and only put the “keepers” into a large Rubbermaid file bin. (So, about 90% of the stuff is going into the trash.) Here is my post if you want to check it out:
This is great and I love the table. Great idea.
Great tips. I am very organized person and I hate a mess. Everything in my house is organized. From papers to clothes. I do the same with papers what you do, some I leave in the folder and other papers go to trash.
You know, I don’t have kids yet but I saw this neat trick where parents photographed or scanned the artwork and put it on a digital photo frame… so paperless displaying! Of course they kept the originals of some special pieces. Lovely post, thank you Abby.
love all these ideas. Except please don’t just save their best work. In years to come, trust me, you will love to see the funny little errors and mistakes or what they thought was awesome work but the teacher didn’t agree LOL. it says more about their personality than the paper they got an A on.
I love this post and I love the printables. I agree, we can cut down as much as we want at home with paper but our kids go to school and all they do is bring home paper. I have boxes for every year my son was in school but they aren’t very organized and they are filled with things that are too big to file away. This is a project I have been planning on since kindergarten and hes in the 3rd grade. Thanks for Sharing this!
Jen Cooper- Coming to you from https://www.abowlfulloflemons.net/2015/03/one-project-at-a-time-31015.html
This is something that’s been on my to do list for a while! My oldest has just started school and my second has just started kindergarten so I want to get a system going. I purchased some large portfolio files that I put the work in now but need a system for organising. What do you do with the larger pieces of art work that don’t fit in the file?
Great question, Karen! I have a bigger “memory box” in the basement where I can fit larger items that don’t fit in the file. Hope you’re having a wonderful week!
I loved your effective system of decluttering the endless stream of paper that comes from school! I think every parent goes through the “gotta save everything” phase, but then reality sets in and we become a little more selective. This year, my kids and I started a new tradition at the end of this school year that I wanted to share. I have a paper shredder and vowed to use it regularly, but as the paperwork piled up it became more and more overwhelming to sit down and shred all of the PTO reminders and “morning brain busters” and such, so the kids and I gathered it all up on the last day of school and had a “Bring on the Summer BBQ.” We each had a pile of paper and we sat around our little BBQ and roasted marshmallows and fed the fire. The kids enjoyed it so much that they can’t wait to do it again this year 🙂
LOL! I LOVE that!! Thanks so much for sharing your awesome idea, Chrissy! 🙂
I need to purge. I’m thinking about only allowing myself to keep 10 items each year from each kid. That should cut back on the papers a lot. Right now I am jam packed with paper and it’s driving me insane.
Where did you get the file box?
I believe I got it at Target!
I love this – my question is: how do I do this without hurting my daughter’s feelings? She is actually one that notices when things aren’t around or able to be found (cause they’re in the trash – my doing). She says “you don’t love my picture, note to you, hearts, etc.” I don’t want to discourage her in any way or make her think that her sweet love notes (I love you mommy…) aren’t important to me. I am fine getting rid of them, but how do I do this when she notices they’re gone? I have talked to her about working together and deciding two items that she brings home every day to go to a “keep” pile and the rest go in the trash. She was ok with that – but it didn’t last long. Again, I’m FINE and want to just immediately trash papers that are “repeats” and random “drawings” (like a line and scribbles on a torn sheet of paper). She is not and I don’t want her to think they’re not important to me—She comes home so very proud and excited to show me and give them to me, and truly some of them are so sweet and significant – but then there are repeats and I don’t find them necessary to keep. These are taking over my kitchen counters and even the island!!
It is such a hard thing– I totally hear you! A few things you could try… Our clothesline-like display for our kids’ paperwork has been helpful because I will cover up old projects with new projects sometimes and then remove the old projects altogether. This lets the old projects stick around for a while behind the other ones and makes it less obvious when I throw them away because there are still a few layers of projects on the line that were in front of them, and by that time my kids have most likely forgotten about the old ones.
Another option might be to start an Instagram account just for her projects. You can take a picture of them, put them on IG, and if you think it would help her, you could even use a service like Chatbooks to print them out once you’ve accrued 40-60 pictures or so. This would keep them as a memento but help them to be more organized and take up less space, either in the little books or just digitally, which takes up no space at all.
As my boys get older, this has gotten easier too, so although it may feel like you are going to be keeping every paper forever and ever, she will get to the point where it won’t mean quite as much to her. I hope this helps!
This is an awesome idea!!! I love how you do things around your home girl!
Thank you, sweet girl! Have a great week! <3
Wonderful post! I have implemented so many of your ideas!
Starting on this idea next for my kids!!
So glad it was helpful for you, Gail! Have a great week! <3
Love love love this idea! I just have one in preschool but was already running into this conundrum! Thank you for this simple idea, I can definitely implement it, and will probably use a private IG account like you suggest just to keep it all organized!
Such a game-changer! 🙂
This is totally brilliant. I’m way behind with a 10th grader, a 7th grader, and a 4th grader but this would make it so much easier.
It really has simplified things SO much!
Hi Abby- I loved this post as I have so many others. I must register some frustration, however, not because of any of your content, but because I have had great trouble gettting your blogs to load on my laptop without waiting for a very long time. (5 mins. average) I use Chrome, and I don’t have problems with the many other blogs I read except for 3. (yours and two others) I never had this problem before; it started in the last few months or so. I know you and your husband are good technically, so is there some setting I need to change? I’ll try to stick with you, but it really diminishes the joy I have reading when it takes so long to scroll your post. Could it be the advertising has changed? I’m just looking for a way to stay connected, but at this pace I will be giving up without some relief. Please let me know if I can make changes so that I can stay with you and your blog! Thank you.
Hi, Phyllis! Thank you so much for letting us know! I am so sorry about that! I just made some changes with the settings on our end, so let me know if that helps at all. If not, let me know that too! It’s hard to know whether the issue is on your end or ours, but we are always working to make our site quicker and easier to access, so if it’s still giving you problems, we will keep working at it! Hope you’re having a great day!
Great solution, Abby!
When I’ve talked to mom groups about this, I did the same thing as you…mentioned the file box method but suggested going digital as an option too. But I didn’t know about Chatbooks and I love the idea of private Insta accounts.
I’m going to bookmark this post to share with my readers.
Aw, thanks so much, Sharon! Have a great week! <3
Such a great idea! I’ve never heard of Chatbooks, but I’m giving it a try now. ☺️. Thanks for sharing, Abby;
It’s been such a game-changer for us! Hope you love it! 🙂
So my kids are now 17 and 21 and I’m going to go dig up the plastic boxes FULL of these papers and do this!! They love to pull out their little binders they would put together at school and get at the end of the year. They laugh about their art skills and photos of themselves! This may be a fun project for my girls and I to do together! I have already done a book for every school year using Photo Affections and I love those books! I’ll have to try Chatbooks
Love the idea of doing it with your kiddos… what a fun walk down memory lane it would be for you all. Enjoy!! <3
Love the idea of the chatbooks!! The one thing I wonder about momentos going with the kids when they leave the house though is I fear they get lost in the shuffle of getting married and having kids of their own and making a space for all their kids items. I wonder if they would appreciate it more coming back home to mom and dads and looking through momentos that way. For example my mom gave me all my Christmas ornaments and yet I never seem to put many of those on our tree as I have 5 of my own kids ornaments to put on there. I think I will keep my kids ornaments (unless they ask for them) and still put them on the tree even after they leave and then when they come home for the holidays they can see them and remember them. ?
Definitely something to consider when they get older!
I’m a hoarder of projects the kids made. I have a 5th grader and senior this year. To think of throwing out their stuff is an awful thought. But guess what? It makes me very sad to look at my older son’s projects because they are faded and worn. I wish I had the book idea to take pictures when they were vibrant. I’ll still save some special pieces but I wont’t have to save everything now with the picture book method. Thanks so much! ?
Yay! So glad this method will be helpful for you! It’s been a game changer for us for sure. Have a great school year! 🙂
I thought about taking pictures of school work, but actually doing something with those pictures is BRILLIANT! I’ve heard of Chatbooks but it never occurred to me to use them for this!! AWESOME!
Also, my husband informed me that we can find Lego instructions online so I throw those pamphlets out.
I also really like the system/plan. Thank you!
Yay! So glad it was helpful for you. Love to hear that. Have a wonderful week! <3
This is brilliant! Thank you for sharing your organizational wisdom and what’s working fir you! I’ve been battling paper clutter fir years and this is absolutely the best thing yet! Lol permission granted to throw it all!! I felt relief just reading your post and I’m so inspired now! No longer will I have to stress about those boxes of STUFF that nobody cares about anyways! And truly, the chat books are genius! What a wonderful way to capture the kids creations worth out stuffs them away by making them a prize to look at in the book shelf! Lovely! Thank you ?? ?
Ah! Yay… that makes me so happy! So glad it was helpful for you. The chat books are a GAME CHANGER for sure! 🙂 Hope you’re having a great weekend, Heidi!
This is exactly the direction and detail I was looking for to help corral my 3rd and 4th grade boys paperwork! Thank you!