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.
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!
If you're looking for more ways to stay organized with kids, these posts can help:
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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.
The images below are from a previous version of this post.