I recently wrote about my system for dealing with children's papers, from the mundane to the beautiful and precious. Today, I'm going to go more in-depth (warning: very in-depth) regarding what I do once I've sorted what's important.
Store informational papers digitally. The permission slips and forms that need to be returned to school should go in an action inbox that you deal with very regularly. But the papers that include information you may need to reference later doesn't need to take up residence in your home. While some parents keep binders or folders of the papers their children bring home from school, I prefer to file them digitally. The less paper clutter (whether it's organized or not), the better, in my book.
I use Evernote on my phone to take a picture of the paper with the function called the document camera. Boom, done. Paper goes in recycling. I title the document according to the information it contains (for instance, school lunch menu) and store the paper in that child's Evernote notebook. I add tags like "school," "lunch menu," etc. as appropriate. The search functionality in Evernote is powerful and lets me easily find what I need when I need it. For even more explanation and some excellent ideas, check this out.
Photograph the artwork and assignments you want to keep. Once you've sorted twice, you'll be left with a (hopefully) vastly reduced pile of schoolwork and art that you want to keep. At this point, which is ideally at the end of the semester or school year, you can sort again: what do you want to keep physically and what are you alright with simply recording.
My goal is to take mostly pictures and keep only a very, very few cherished pieces. Photographing my kids' work not only allows me to capture it in a convenient medium, but also helps me let go of what isn't being physically kept. And boy does it feel great to send bags full of papers to recycling.
To photograph art projects and school papers, I usually use my phone. Good natural light and a neutral background ensure the pictures are excellent quality. My master bathroom happens to get the best light in the house, and white foam board provides an ideal background.
Photographing papers not only preserves them, but also opens the possibility of taking a photograph of several of the same type of item together. For instance, a spread of all my daughter's practice writing numbers and letters in a rainbow of markers. So even though I'm only keeping maybe one physical example of this, I am still able to record the magnitude — in one small photo versus a stack of papers. The legless hand turkeys with feathers and glitter and the monster painting with googly eyes can also be "kept" in the much more manageable medium of a photo.
What will you do with the photos? You have your wonderfully edited down stack of physical must-keeps (some of which you may display for a while). And now you have photos of art and papers. You do need to decide what to do with them. Answering this question is so important. If you're content to record and store your memories exclusively in the digital world, that's fine, but I would encourage you to do this deliberately, not by default, and to also consider this: bringing some memories back into the physical realm makes them consumable in a special way— one that's "more real," if you will. I've been doing Project Life with our photos and I'm so, so glad.
Here's my plan for the collection of art archive photos I've amassed: 1) Decide which to print out as photos for putting in an album. The Project Life system (read more about it here) features what's called "pocket scrapbooking." You simply slip photos into pockets and add some notes if you want to. Fast, simple, beautiful. 2) Make a slideshow to record the rest of the photos. This is in effect another culling process, which someone less sentimental than I am may be able to avoid. 3) Upload the slideshow to YouTube and create a QR code for the link, which I will print out and include in the album. I love having everything together, presentable, able to be consumed and enjoyed.
Do you digitize your children's papers?