What is the best way to store your child’s artwork? I have three tried-and-true ideas for you that I know will work.
Children are prolific producers of stuff. From their first drawings of a real person, to restaurant doodles, to the piles of art that come home from school, it’s hard to know what to do with it all. If you are a throw-awayer, then there’s no real problem here. You can officially stop reading! But if you are a saver, like me, you have to implement a sorting and storing system before things become unruly.
My sorting system looks something like this:
Imagine that I am making piles.
The first pile is for pieces I want to frame or hang up.
The second pile is for keepsakes and art pieces I want to save.
The third pile is for collage material (things that can be cut up and used in art class).
And the fourth pile is very full and will disappear forever (sorry, 80th drawing of the New York Rangers logo).
We can get rid of two piles easily—the collage material pile goes off to a box in the art room, and the trash pile gets trashed.
Now we are left with two piles. Realistically, that “to frame” pile could sit and collect dust forever. It might be better to tape these pieces up or hang them on a clothesline right away. You can always go back and frame them later. (My book has a wonderful section on displaying your child’s art.)
Now we are left with the ‘to save’ pile of artwork. What is the best way to store these keepsakes? Here are some suggestions that will work for you.
STORAGE IDEA ONE: PAPER BAG PORTFOLIOS
I make portfolios from paper bags for my students. At the end of each session, I send them home with their portfolios full of art, rubber stamped with their names. Sometimes we decorate the portfolios, too.
You can keep the sides of the portfolios open, or you can tape them closed like a pocket. You can assign one portfolio per year, or just fill as you go and write the dates on the front.
One amazing find that I discovered was this folded magazine stand that I use to house the portfolios during the year. I just love the size and height and the way it’s so easy for the kids to go into their own portfolios and add their work-of-the-day.
Read more about how I make these paper bag portfolios. One mom of twins in my art class says that after her child’s portfolio is full at home, she then puts them into a big plastic sweater box. Which leads me to my next storage idea…
STORAGE IDEA TWO: BIG BOXES
Saving artwork in boxes is the most logical idea. Boxes can be moved around easily, can be sorted by year, can be piled on top of each other, and can be bought with acid-free, archival linings. I bought our red ones years ago and can’t seem to find the long ones anymore. But here’s what you can buy:
~ Smaller ones just like the red ones above which are 13″ x 14″. Great for most daily art.
~ Ikea always has good boxes in sets of three, the polka-dot ones above are from there.
~ Or these gorgeous acid-free boxes which are expensive but big and can probably hold a lifetime of art.
Keeping the boxes closeby, like in an office or a family room, is key because there are things to save almost daily, it feels like.
If you’re wondering, this big blue box came from a fancy children’s clothing store about 18 years ago. Someone bought a gift for my baby daughter (who is now 18) and this beautiful blue box arrived at my house! I don’t remember the gift, but the box is still one of my best and most cherished boxes, and has stored all of her artwork from toddlerhood to middle school.
STORAGE IDEA THREE: CHEST OF DRAWERS
This is how my mom used to store all of our keepsakes. Each of her three children had a drawer in an old dresser. How simple and practical is that? She was very liberal with the trash can, so by the time I was eighteen the drawer was only about halfway full. Inside the drawers were our report cards, a few essays, some artwork, some photos, a playbill, some ticket stubs, and possibly a favorite well-loved shirt.
I admire the way she didn’t bother sorting it separately, and that she kept only the most important things. I save way too much, and I separate schoolwork from artwork from remembrances. But I do use her chest of drawers technique for saving art. It just makes sense. The big drawers fit every size of art, and it’s just a very easy system. Even easier than boxes!
(That chest of drawers above is actually the one my mom used growing up! She handed it down to me a few years ago.)
It’s possible that you might have a chest of drawers in your house that you can clear out and use today! If not, I highly recommend the Alex drawers from Ikea. I use mine in our art room and store paper in the top drawers, and then artwork in the bottom. I love that the drawers are on casters, too.
Get my Art Class poster here!
Little ones can easily open the Alex drawers and add artwork that is important to them.
Although sorting and saving is loads of work, there are many great advantages to being so caring and diligent about archiving your children’s artistic life. As the family historian, you are preserving their creative voyage, and one day your children will look through the pieces you saved and feel so proud and accomplished and worthy and loved. And perhaps they will share them with their own child. You are creating a tradition of saving art, and you are sending the message to your child that art is valuable
I do think it’s okay to throw art away under your children’s watchful eye. Editing is a life skill that they should learn. It’s good to sort things with them so that they understand the difference between what’s important and what is redundant.
Something I love to do with all of my children’s artwork is to hang it up in chronological order—with a photo of them at that age—on a clothesline for their birthday. It stays up for a few weeks so that friends and family can see their creative journey. It’s my favorite birthday tradition.
And just in case you are wondering, yes I use all three of these ideas! The portfolios are for my art students, the drawers are for artwork that I might hang up or frame, and the boxes are for forever pieces.
Let me know of any ideas that you use to sort and store art. I would love to hear!