I have one child in middle school and another in high school, and as we all know it has been an interesting school year indeed. My kids have managed school online, they have done school hybrid fashion and they have attended in-person school.
While a lot has changed this past year, many things have remained the same. Like the fact that kids bring home a lot of papers — from artwork to homework to awards and report cards. I know parents have the best intentions to sort through all of the school paper chaos, but even in a year navigating a pandemic, the paper piles up and fast and before you know it, families are drowning in paper!
Having managed a lot of kid's papers (both my own children and those of my clients) over the years, I will share a few Neat Little Nest systems that work well for us, in the hope that they can inspire you to get a handle on your kid's paper clutter too.
Create (and regularly use) a system to manage both daily papers and sentimental ones
I get it. You're tired when you get home from work and the thought of going into your child's backpack to clear things out is the last thing you want to do. Trust me, taking the time to tackle it every day is key to avoiding mountains of paper accumulating. With younger kids, Neat Little Nest recommends you make a decision on whether you will keep or recycle papers as soon as they come in the door.
For those items you want to keep, you need to make a decision about where they will live. If your kids bring home artwork, you might consider creating a place in your home to display those items. This could be on a bulletin board, strung from a piece of twine or on a magnet board to name a few. Some of Neat Little Nest's curated art display options can be found here.
Sometimes the papers you need to keep are temporary - they either require an action from you or an action from your child. If the action is for you, I recommend putting the paper in a place as part of you "to-do system" whether it's an physical tray/basket or in a notebook or something else that helps you stay organized and find those very papers when you need them. If the item is an action for your child, you could consider keeping a pocket for papers for each kiddo in a pocket file as shown below. Whatever system you choose, make sure you have a system in place for where papers you need to keep reside or they will likely end up potentially misplaced and subsequently forgotten.
For sentimental items, you might want to create a bin for each of your children. If you're inspired to create your own bin, Neat Little Nest sells a DIY keepsake kit that includes a custom name label and hanging file tabs. You can find the airtight filing tote box and files to complete the box here. And if you're like me, you can have your child complete an all about me printable sheet for each year they are in school that allows you to capture their thoughts, wishes and how they view themselves for each year of their childhood (or adolescence if your teen is up for it).
Keeping the end in mind with a plan for ongoing management of the inevitable paper influx are the keys to your success at taming it. There are three things that will ensure you are successful in keeping up with your kid's paper creep. The first is considering why you are keeping papers in the first place, the second is having a dedicated place to showcase or store whatever you do decide to keep and the third is the regular maintenance of keeping ahead of the paper trail.
For me personally, I keep my kids papers in the memory bin mentioned earlier because I know that I would like to create two books - one for me and one for my kids, when they graduate from high school, this explains "why" I'm keeping them. The end is clear to me, so I have been saving papers since they were little.
The upkeep to any organizational system working is mostly about being consistent. Without taking a few minutes a day to look through and make decisions on what papers you want to keep and what should go into the recycling bin, you will find the paper pile becomes more overwhelming.
If you've never been able to manage papers very well, challenge yourself for a week to review those school papers everyday and use your newly created system to stash them. You will likely find, as I did, that a majority goes into the recycling bin.
Paper clutter is so prevalent in all of our lives that even with so much done digitally by students these days, paper is still very much alive and well in our schools. Finding a way to keep it from spiraling out of control, while also permitting keepsake art and a history of your child's learning and growth can be done and done well. Taking a few minutes each afternoon/evening to filter through their papers with an "aye" or "nay" can be a time saver in the long run.
As this school year wanes, take a minute to think about your paper system (or lack of one) and make the necessary changes or additions so that you can wrap this academic year on a less cluttered note and be prepared for when school begins again this fall.
Photo credit: Jes Lahay Photography
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