Tidy Friday - Kids' Papers

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Whether you send your kids to private school, public school, or homeschool them, you have paper to deal with, and it can quickly become overwhelming. After our paper blog post went live, I had a mom of 3 ask what she’s supposed to do with all the progress reports, IEPs, calendars, announcements, class pictures, art work her kids bring home….you get the picture. She recently spent 2 hours decluttering this shelf, and understandably, was a little discouraged.

I’m going show you how the KonMari Method™ can help you organize not just the family household papers, but all the papers your kids bring home as well. (If you haven’t read the blog post about papers, it will be helpful to check that one out first so you’ll know what I’m talking about when I refer to “take action” and “save temporarily” files.)

Something to remember about this before we get started is to give yourself grace in this season of life. One of the things I liked best about the Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, is that none of the families ended up with a Pinterest-perfect home. We’re going after what sparks joy and makes your life easier and more peaceful, not perfection. But if you are frustrated with clutter, especially the paper clutter that comes with school age kids, keep reading.

The first step of the KonMari Method(™) is to think about your ideal day. So take a minute to think about what a peaceful day in your home would look like, especially as it relates to school. At one of our workshops, a sweet lady named Alisha said she just wanted to get her kids to school without anyone (including herself) crying. Tidying her home allowed that to happen. The first day their morning routine and drop-off went smoothly, she sat in the parking lot and cried. The joy-sparked, good kind of crying.

Let’s get started!

I’m going to give you some ideas that can help get you to that point. Some are mine and some come from other families. The general rule of thumb in all of this is to make the process as simple as possible to maintain.

Collecting all the papers in one place is really important in order to find what you need with the least amount of searching. Designate a place for all papers to land every day and put the files and boxes you’ll store them in next to it. Maybe this is a spot in the kitchen, office, mudroom, or family room. We’ll talk about the containers in more detail below.

Once your system is set up and everyone knows how to use it, handling the paperwork shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes. If you have time when you get home, taking care of the papers right away is ideal, but obviously, that’s not realistic for everyone. However, sorting them as soon as you can is the goal I’d shoot for. You only have to focus on deciding which one of 4 holding places they belong in. Make the containers very easy to access so you increase the chance of success. Those with open tops are more likely to be used than something with a lid. If it does have a lid, I’d leave it off if I were you. Maybe it’s just me, but rather than taking 1 second to take the lid off a box, I’ll just lay whatever I have on top of it. That extra 1 second is just too much effort. Ridiculous, but true.

These are the 2 files and 2 boxes I suggest using:

  1. Family take action file

  2. Family save temporarily file

  3. Child’s save temporarily box

  4. Child’s artwork box

(There is one more long-term storage box, but it’s only used once a year, so it doesn’t need to be near the sorting station. We’ll talk about that later.)

  1. Family take action file

family filing system

family filing system

If you made this file after the last blog post, good for you! This is the place for things you need to do something with. The goal for this file is to keep it as empty as possible, so if you can handle something right away without even filing it, that would be ideal. I realize, however, that can’t always happen, so this is the place to keep it. I don’t recommend making a separate take action file for each child, because let’s be real, the things in this file don’t really spark joy. Knowing where they all are, however, does. Having to deal with one file rather than 3 or 4 would make me much more likely to tackle it. If you can manage it, keep things in this file roughly in the order they need to be completed. Then choose your least busy day each week to go through the file and handle as many things as you can. Or maybe you feel better going through it every evening. Or you could take it with you to piano lessons or soccer practice. Figure out what works best for you. We use a hanging file in a small box for our take action papers. Types of things to put in this file:

  • Forms to fill out

  • Birthday party invitations

  • Papers that need to be signed and returned

  • School picture order forms

  • Field trip forms

2. Family save temporarily file

If you made one of these files after the last blog post, double good for you! I’m so proud! This is the place for things you’d like frequent access to. You might think it would be a pain to search through one file with everything from warranties to lunch menus all mixed together, but it’s not. Because you definitely know that what you’re looking for is in the file. Even if it takes a minute to flip through it, it’s quicker than searching in multiple locations. And as a special bonus, as you go through the file looking for the paper you need, you can weed out the things that are out of date. Our save temporarily file is in the same box as our take action file. Things to put in this file:

  • Calendars

  • Phone lists

  • Lunch menus

  • IEPs

3. Child’s save temporarily box

save temporarily

save temporarily

This can be any type of box or basket. We got this one from IKEA. It’s big enough to save plenty of things and looks nice. Don’t worry about deciding if any of it is worth keeping long term at this point. You’ll do that later. For now, it’s enough to collect them all in one spot. If you’re lazy like me, keep the lid off. Things to put in this box:

  • Class or team photos

  • Progress reports

  • Certificates

  • Artwork

  • Papers your child is proud of

  • Recital programs

4. Child’s artwork box

Allie’s artwork box

Allie’s artwork box

This can be any type of box or portfolio for things that don’t fit in your child’s save temporarily box. Allie’s kindergarten teacher gave her a big pizza box at the beginning of the year. Her mom Liz keeps it between the washer and dryer in the laundry room, and after they’ve all admired the art projects Allie brings home, they go in this box. Eventually they’ll decide what to keep and what to recycle. You could also buy an inexpensive portfolio or make one out of two big pieces of cardboard.  Things to keep in a big box or portfolio type setup:

  • Artwork too big for the save temporarily box

Great job!  

That’s all you have to do to keep from having paperwork bury you during the school year!. Easy peasy.

At the end of the year (or more often if you like) go through the child’s save temporarily and artwork boxes and decide what they (or you) want to keep. Then put those things that spark joy in  a save long-term box or notebook. This will be fun. Honest. Some ideas for long-term storage:

brinkley for scale

brinkley for scale

Set up a box with a file for each year. This box cost about $5 at Walmart. It has everything from my daughter’s kindergarten diploma to her college diploma. Full disclosure: I just made this recently, but wish I’d made it when she started school. It would have been nice to have everything sorted by year instead of having to do it after the fact with 17 years of paperwork. One of my friends set these up for each of her 4 children, and they love looking through their boxes!

wendy’s organization system-divided by subject

wendy’s organization system-divided by subject

wendy’s organization system-consolidated into years

wendy’s organization system-consolidated into years

warren’s artwork

warren’s artwork

There’s an organizer hanging on the door to the room my friend Wendy uses to homeschool her girls. They file papers for each subject in this all year long. At the end of the year they go through it and decide what they want to keep. They end up with a 1” binder for each year. They also each have a file for sentimental papers for the year. They sort through those and decide what sparks joy, then store them in a banker’s box in the attic. Since they only have to access it once a year, it’s a great solution, and when each child leaves home, she can take her box with her.

Carman is scanning the artwork her son Warren brings home from preschool. She loves the things he makes and the effort his teachers put into helping him create them. She is planning to make a photo book with her favorites and recycle the originals.

Displaying artwork

Allie’s interchangeable frame

Allie’s interchangeable frame

dawn’s daughter’s art

dawn’s daughter’s art

If you want to display your child’s artwork before storing it, but don’t really want it taped to the wall or fridge (not that there’s anything wrong with that) this might be something you’d like. This frame is hung at Allie’s eye level in their living room. Her grandpa attached a thin plastic holder to the back of the frame so Allie can swap out pictures as often as she likes. It’s so cute! I think stapling a page protector to the back of a frame could be a low-tech way to achieve the same result.

Dawn has her daughter’s artwork hanging in her master bathroom. I love it! It’s like a bright, cheerful art gallery for her to look at and enjoy every day while she’s getting ready.

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I framed this beauty Carly made for me one Mother’s Day. It’s in our kitchen, and makes me smile every time I see it. I’m so happy I’m her tulip, whatever that means.

These are wonderful years you’re going through, and I hope these tips will help you have a little more free time to enjoy them.

If you have any great ideas about handling your child’s paperwork, let us know! We’d love to hear about them!

Happy tidying!


Sue Fehlberg is Arkansas’ only Certified KonMari Consultant