Paper is Evil: Dealing With Kids’ School Papers

backpack of school papers

Another big and often overwhelming source of paper is kids’ schoolwork. There are a few things you can do to manage the oceans of paper that sneak into your home via the backpack.

First, decide whether you’re going to keep it all or just a few select items. If it’s a “keep it all” situation, buy yourself a plastic tote, slap a sticker on it showing what year the papers are from, and toss everything in there willy nilly and close the lid.

Advantage to this approach: you don’t have to wade through all that paper and make difficult value decisions that may offend the children. Disadvantage: you’re storing all that paper, taking up valuable real estate in your home. Clutter breeds guilt because you know it’s in there. Waiting for you. And, you’re only delaying the inevitable.

At some point in time, those papers have to be sorted and tossed. When your kid is 15, does he really want 47 copies of his printing from the first grade? Rather than burden her with having to go through years’ worth of paper, why not take care of that job yourself? Or better yet, teach them how to sort and prioritize along the way.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I think you should address the papers as they come in rather than letting the problem build. 🙂 So, here’s the eradication plan.

At regular intervals (weekly or monthly) go through all old assignments and choose one from each subject area. Recycle or discard the rest. Put the keep pages into a 3-ring binder. You can punch holes in the pages and clip them in or use sheet protectors.

This is a great time to get your children accustomed to sorting and prioritizing what to keep and what to toss. Even at the tender age of 4, my little boys are pretty good at sorting and tossing paper. And yes, they generate mounds of it here at home. I shudder to think how much they’d create with outside influences.

Captain Earthquake is all about tossing anything he doesn’t want to be responsible for, and he also makes a great paper shredder in a pinch. The Manager, on the other hand, is quite the packrat. We sat down and sorted through a mound of scribble drawings this summer and I told him to keep anything that makes him smile. Man, it was adorable watching him look at the various pages and react to them! About half of the time he pronounced the paper a KeepSmile, but he was willing to get rid of the other half. I was mightily impressed.

Getting the children in the habit of storing just the important papers nicely instead of giant unmanageable piles is a big help to for them for life. And think how nice it will be to have a nice neat binder of their best work to look back on over the years. Bonus for you: that binder makes a fantastic display at a graduation party.

Ooooh, here’s an extra tip for anyone wondering what to do with all those big school projects. Take a picture of each one and add to the binder. Then after a certain length of time (like a week! but warn the child in advance or even get him to suggest the time limit), reuse, recycle, or discard the project. It may seem like cruelty, but honestly who has the resources to operate a museum for perpetuity? And if you can’t take care of a project, why keep it at all? Sure, there will be the occasional item that is a permanent keep. No problem. But keeping them all…..not so beneficial.

Oooookay. Well. That’s a lot to take in. Between the mail and paper sorting techniques and eradicating junk mail strategies, along with keeping the kids’ papers under control you’re bound to see a giant reduction in the piles that threaten to take over various flat surfaces in your home. On top of that, you’re building great habits for yourself and the children. Granted, it’s a lot of work at first and can seem overwhelming. Take it in small steps, and you’ll see a difference. I promise.

Have you tried one of the strategies in the Paper is Evil series? Leave a note in the comments so we can cheer you on!

Earnest Parenting: help with organizing school papers.

Photo courtesy of ellipse via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind) November 9, 2007, 2:18 pm

    Great tips Amy. i used to do The Big Sort at the end of each school year. But even that was a struggle. I love the ‘if it makes you smile, it stays’ approach.

    Reply
  • Amy November 10, 2007, 9:19 am

    🙂 Thanks Karen. My mom used to put our papers in a drawer, and I think I was in high school before I went through all of them and sorted. I don’t remember how many years of papers I just chucked, but it was a lot. I think Mom had sorted some of the early years. I know I only chose to keep a small percentage of it all. It was a chore, that’s for sure. I’d like to have the boys accustomed to sorting and my house free of paper piles by the time they graduate.

    The “If it makes you smile you can keep it” rule comes from FlyLady, a big organizing guru. She’s got some good rules to live by.

    Reply
  • Blaine Moore November 13, 2007, 10:00 am

    My mother was one of the “throw it in a tote and let the kids sort it as an adult” types. Which was awful, because when she moved she made me take a few gigantic totes full of our crap from growing up. I also wound up having to take everybody’s crap, because my sister didn’t really have her own tote, my one brother was in Texas, and the other was in Virginia. So she just told me to load it all in my truck and when I finally sorted through it I realized she’d just offloaded her trash on me!

    Good thing I love my family.

    I kept a couple of items from my siblings and gave them to them at Christmas and recycled most of the rest.

    Reply
  • Amy November 13, 2007, 10:51 am

    Rofl. Yes, my mom’s a genius that way too. She even conned me into taking boxes of unfinished craft projects shortly after I moved into my own house. And Hubby’s mom still brings us stuff. I did threaten a mutiny if any more boxes of books come into this house while I have no bookcases. Fortunately, both moms are pretty understanding when I feel the need to let some of the stuff move on down the line to others who will love it more.

    Reply
  • Dave@backpacks for school July 4, 2009, 1:00 am

    Wow… I suddenly feel left out. All my homework was thrown out right away… well that is the stuff that didn’t get eaten by the dog! ;o)

    Reply