Preserving “K-12” School Work Memorabilia: Part One

by | Scrapbook Storage and Organization | 11 comments

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.

What’s Next?

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?

Be sure to check out Part Two and Part Three of this series.


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  1. Nathalie

    Great post! I totally need to tackle the school paper beasts that are in several closets of my house!!!

    • Carol

      I have kept every paper that my daughter has bought home Please help I am getting stressed about what to keep my daughter even tells me I don’t need to keep everything she is a freshman in high school

  2. justasiam

    Just a friendly note…overwhelm is not a noun, it is a verb. Your reader may have felt overwhelmed, but to say “conquer her overwhelm”is incorrect grammar.

    • Jean Manis

      Thanks – I’ve corrected that sentence.

  3. Shari

    Great article Jean – I especially like the advice you have shared on deciding what to keep. Thanks 🙂

  4. Deb

    Great article! I don’t use banker’s boxes, I use pizza boxes. I stole the idea from some parenting magazine, and it’s worked out well.

    At the beginning of each year, usually after I’ve put names on all the back-to-school items the kids will take their first day, I get a clean, unused pizza box and put their names, the year, and the grade on it. (Clean pizza boxes can be bought from organization stores, but I have a good relationship with the local pizza place and they give me two clean ones every year for free.) As the papers come home each week, I do a quick sort, deciding on what to keep and what to recycle, much like you described above. If they don’t have a date, I put the month and year on them right then. Then I put them in the appropriate pizza box and forget about them.

    Right now, in my garage, I have two pizza box for my daughter, from her first and second grade, and a pizza box for my son’s daycare projects – and all of those stacked on top of each other are fairly chronological, flat, and still shorter than a banker’s box. In my kitchen, right on top of the microwave, I have a pizza box for my daughter’s third grade year and my son’s pre-K year, which will move out to the garage when the new year begins.

    I don’t know when/if I’ll ever put everything into a keepsake book, but I hope to. In the meantime, I think it’s a small victory that I’m staying on top of the craziness.

    • Jean Manis

      Deb, that’s a great system. A pizza box is a terrific container for the work. And kudos to you for keeping on top of the papers on an ongoing basis!

  5. AnitaB

    Wow – what a helpful post! This is coming at a perfect time.

    I have one grandson – just turned one year old last week. I’m trying to ‘keep even’ with scrapping 2011-2012, but what I REALLY want to do is creative memory albums for my four children.

    I have several banker boxes full of materials. I homeschooled my children, and kept everything they did at first, to prove that they were really being schooled. Now that they are settled in careers, not so necessary! A good point – not all of them will care equally about what I save. My older son, who is a research chemist, does not seem to be very sentimental about such things; my younger son, who is a graphic artist, will definitely appreciate all I feel I can preserve – as will my daughters.

    I’m looking forward to your next post on this subject!!

  6. Claire T

    We are at the opposite end of the process with our two and a half year old. She brings a folder of work home every Friday. My husband has taken a photo of each piece of work and we have a storage box from Ikea that the work is then placed in. Our intention is to keep about a dozen key pieces and discard the rest. I am toying with the idea of doing some sort of insert in our family album using the digital images. I am thinking that Project Life style page protectors might be the way forward with that. I am looking forward to discovering the next step in your process.

  7. Tricia

    Thank you for this post! I have P-12 papers from both of my boys and the baby is a sophomore in college. Lots of stuff to go through and I have put it off for long enough. These tips will help me get started and hopefully finished. Thanks again!



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