Recently a reader asked for some help on handling her unfinished projects and her sense of feeling overwhelmed. Many of the responses to the article echoed the reader’s issues – whether to finish projects for which supplies had been bought or to start projects that existed only on paper. Several readers had unfinished school year albums/projects on their list.
Like many of you, I have ideas floating around in my head and on paper for creative projects I’d like to start. In recent years, I’ve tried to mindfully adjust which projects I start so that I have a higher ratio of completed ones. I’ve also tried to seek solutions that were doable and realistic.
A couple of years ago, while I was in the beginning stages of practicing this mindful behavior, I was in the process of going through my oldest son’s school papers and doing something with them that would preserve his K-12th grade memories (he was a sophomore in college at this point!). Over the years, I’d stored the items in bankers boxes. For the most part, the items were chronologically stacked, but going through the boxes was not unlike an archaeological dig.
Establish a Goal
The first step was determine the goal(s) of this aspect of the project. In my case, the papers were scattered in several locations and unorganized. While most papers were in labeled boxes, there were other items stored with unrelated papers. Because I had been the one to keep the items, I knew which were from what grade, etc., something he wouldn’t be able to determine without my help. I wanted him to have easy access to the materials should he want to look at them. I also wanted to reduce the overall impact on our storage – we simply didn’t have the room to keep all of the work. To summarize:
- I wanted to reduce the amount of materials we were keeping, although I didn’t start with a specific amount I wanted to keep.
- I wanted to organize the materials, by grade, keeping the “best” and most meaningful work.
Reduce the Stress of the Process
- Let go of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” mentality. In other words, let go of the guilt of having held onto something for too long or for not starting or finishing the project sooner.
- Designate a work area that you’ll either clean up after each session or that you’ll accept as the work area until the job is done. I worked on my kitchen island, because I like to work at counter height when I sort things, and cleaned up after each session.
- The work area should have a trash can, paper recycling, a horizontal surface, sticky notes, pen and a container in which you’ll put the materials you’re keeping. Don’t buy containers for the items at this point since you don’t know what you’ll have until you’re done. I had spare boxes I used for the “keepers.”
- I worked on a consistent basis, sorting and tossing, every week day until the job was done.
- I worked on the papers outside of the room in which they were being stored (an attic space), one box at a time. This helped fight overwhelm since I was only looking at one box at a time.
- I targeted 15-30 minutes of time to work, but if I found myself fatiguing and being unable to make a decision on whether to discard or keep something, I stopped, even if I had only been working for a few minutes. I simply cleaned up and started fresh the next day.
How to Decide What to Keep
I had to decide what I would keep from the boxes; the items included artwork, school reports, certificates, classroom lists, and report cards.
- I chose to keep items that were unique, such as stories, or representative of accomplishments for which I knew my son was especially proud. If it still brought a smile to my face or could evoke a specific memory, I knew it was a “keeper.”
- I used an “A/B Test” when I had two items that were similar and I couldn’t decide which to keep.
- I did not keep workbooks or worksheets with the exception of one worksheet in which my son talked about his grandfather.
- I grouped the items into grade as best I could before making major decisions. Some items were not dated, but I was able to approximate the time frame. However, I didn’t first sort the work before getting rid of items I knew I didn’t plan to keep. For example, if I came across a set of worksheets, I didn’t put them in with their respective grade first, I just tossed them.
- I didn’t work chronologically. The items weren’t stored chronologically, so sometimes I was working on elementary items, high school, and then preschool in a period of just a few days. I found the preschool items to be the most difficult, (and I realize I didn’t title this post “Pre-K – 12th Grade” which would be a more accurate description), probably because they weren’t dated and there was less context. Looking at scribbles, it’s hard to determine whether it’s a significant milestone or just something done quickly!
- I created temporary category pages, printing titles onto colored computer paper, to help sort the work. I could then stack the categorized papers into the Bankers Boxes for storage.
Example of temporary category page to help sort school work.
Consider your Child’s Personality
My oldest son is more sentimental than my younger son. I knew he’d want to hold on to a fair amount of the materials. Ideally I would have gone through the materials with him, on a regular basis and long before the time he reached college. Nevertheless, I felt I had a good handle on what he would want to keep.
At the end of the process, I still had several bankers boxes’ worth of materials. In the next post I’ll share what I did with them. It’s a system that’s still working for me and my sons.
Until then, do you have a similar project – letters, school papers, other memorabilia – you have started, want to start or have finished?