All those school projects, papers, and awards are everywhere, and you can’t find it in your heart to let them go.
Organizing kids’ memories let you declutter your life and enjoy those mementos better. I will show you how.
First, gather all your children’s projects, artwork, school papers, trophies, awards, and the like. Go through every space, drawer, closet, and room in your home. Leave no space unchecked. Take all this kid-related stuff to a single place in your home to collect them together.
However, stay hyper-focused during this gathering process. Don’t get distracted by other things you might find. Your focus is crucial! Getting distracted is what trips people on this process, and then they get confused and can’t finish half the job.
Once you have this material in one place, you will have a large group of miscellaneous items. Now subdivide this big pile by the child if you have two or more children.
After having a separate pile for each of your children, sort each one by year. When you can’t recall the year when the piece was created, and the item does not show, assign some chronological order as best as you can.
You will have several groups of items per each of your children. Now follow the steps described below for each of those years, per child. You must work on one group (year or stage) for one child at a time.
1. Discard Unimportant Papers
Unimportant papers are notifications from school, lunch menus, and the like. These are things that won’t move our hearts at the end of the day. (You know what I’m talking about). So, recycle or trash all that.
2. Photograph Non-Scannable Items
Take good pictures of everything that is not flat paper, like artwork pieces, medals, trophies, etc. As you take each photo, include a post-it note with the child’s name and the item’s date. Place this post note at the bottom of each item so that you can crop it out of the picture later on. Then, when ready to work on a project with these pictures (like a photo book or scrapbook), crop the note out, if you can tag or caption the image.
If taking pictures of these items will suffice, you can let go of the physical object. When dealing with trophies, medals, and awards, if you or your child are not ready to part with the physical thing just yet, find a suitable location in the home where you can gather and display these items in a cohesive, aesthetic way. You don’t want them to look like accidents in your home.
3. The Written Work
Group items related to written work like stories, poems, analyses, and the like. The idea for these is to make binders or books later on. But, for now, organize the material to create these books later.
4. The “Warm & Fuzzy” Box
Regardless of your most ruthless efforts to eliminate clutter, there might be a few (a few), small items that you or your child can’t simply let go of, even when these have been digitized. That’s where the “Warm & Fuzzy” box comes in.
Everyone should have a “warm & fuzzy” box, by the way. This is a nice-looking box, basket, or container with a lid that includes items we keep forever. Those are the items that take us back in time and make us laugh and cry every time. Therefore, it is crucial to be selective with the things we include here. Not everything makes it to the coveted status of “warm & fuzzy” box material. Remember that!
5. Paper and Flat Media
Loose papers, awards, recognitions, messages, etc., on paper, are scannable media. As you do this, name the electronic file with the child’s name and the year when they made it. This process is equivalent to the post-it notes you applied to items photographed.
Scan everything using your printer/scanner, your iPhone, or any equipment you might have or can purchase for this purpose. This equipment is not that expensive anymore. However, it would be an excellent investment to have a reliable scanner at home.
Stories, poems, essays, and other items you put together to make binders or books (step 3), don’t need to be scanned individually. However, it is clever to digitize these, ensuring a safe record. If you do, ensure that pages of the same item remain together in sequential order.
You will manage the scanned material the same way you dealt with the pictures. So think of each scanned paper or project a digital image comparable to the photos.
6. Rinse and Repeat
Once you finish working with all the mementos of a child’s years, repeat the process with each one of your other children, working a year or a stage at a time.
In my case, we have three children, and for each one, I divided their electronic files into four main stages: infancy, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Note that pictures or souvenirs from extra-curricular activities and summers get included in one of these four stages, depending on the year.
7. Create Digital Files
Download all the photos you took of non-scannable items into an electronic file. You could name this file “Kids’ Projects” or something like that. Then create a file folder per child, and move every picture related to a particular child into their electronic folder. After this, you may subdivide each child’s electronic folder into years or stages or any way you want to do this.
Do not forget to add all images from your scanning process. Add these to the same digital folders.
From Now On
From the moment you gather all those projects, awards, and papers from around the home, consider it is a clean slate and new beginning. Pay attention to how you manage your children’s documents, projects, and awards. The key is to stay on top of things. Here’s is how you do that.
Every day, when kids come home from school or extra-curricular activities
Note important dates and deadlines and place those dates on the family calendar.
Post any school reminders for your children on a magnetic or chalkboard where they can see them every morning.
Discard those notes or papers. Those are the miscellaneous papers you tossed on step 1 above.
When the children bring home artwork pieces, trophies, medals, and other non-flat items
Photograph these as soon as they get home (so they look their best and you don’t forget to do this).
Save these pictures in the child’s electronic file. Name the file with the child’s name and year.
Add subsequent art projects during that year to that same file.
Create a new file with the child’s name and year every year.
You or your child might want to display such an item for a while. That’s great! Just ensure you place this item in that particular location you designated for this kind of thing. But, again, you don’t want their projects to look or feel like clutter.
In any case, taking those pictures early on gives you and your kids the freedom to let go of the item after displaying it for some time.
Scan all paper items and flat media such as report cards, academic evaluations, school pictures, stories, essays, and poems as soon as they come home.
If you can’t process these items immediately, park these papers in a bin close to the scanner, and assign a day of the week or the month in your calendar (yes, do it now!) to periodically scan these things. Of course, discard originals as soon as you digitize them. But should you need to keep it, place it in a file with the child’s name in your filing cabinet.
It’s a lot of work, I know. But consider that all this work needs to be done just at the beginning of the project because you did not have a method to deal with all this stuff so far. So once you follow the initial process, you only need to stay on top of it.
But why do all of this in the first place? First, this solves the overwhelming number of papers and artifacts cluttering our home space. Second, this process allows you to have all that worth-keeping material organized and ready to create meaningful stories of each stage of your children’s lives.
Telling a story is the real purpose of keeping all these projects, pictures, and awards. Having all those papers and items with no order all over the house does not tell any story nor inspire anyone to create one. This material is simply meaningless when scattered around or carelessly stored in a bin somewhere.
On the other hand, memories in book form, like photo books, are easy to keep neatly on a shelf or library and are a joy to share. Our children will be able to see and enjoy their path through life and share this fantastic legacy with friends, family, and their children.
Also, imagine the storage space you will recover when you let go of physical items and original papers! However, you might think that throwing all that away is what you did not want to do. But how many times has anybody enjoyed those things since you put them away? Is there space in your home to display them all? Are they all worth exhibiting? Do you want your home to look like a kindergarten classroom?
Maybe when your child created a project, you displayed it for about a week or so. But eventually, that project, along with so many others, started cluttering your home and your life. So, this way of purposely and intentionally working with your children’s stuff will take you where you want to be.
Looking Beneath Your Need to Keep the Stuff
If you feel it is too hard to let go of those physical objects and original papers, even when they are safely digitized, what you are probably trying to keep is the feelings they evoke. It is not about the item itself. Images of these items can still satisfy those feelings without drowning you in “stuff.” Instead, having these memories accessibly organized enables everyone to enjoy and share them for many years to come.
Emotions might impede your efforts to live a clutter-free life. There is usually an emotion associated with people’s resistance to part with stuff that no longer has a specific role in their lives. Let’s look at some of these emotions that might be obstructing your efforts to live clutter-free.
When you must keep stuff for their sentimental value
Some items do have sentimental value. When you can keep them in a particular place of honor, that is not a problem. But having too many of these sentimental items, or that everything is so unique, the truth is that nothing is. You won’t pay enough attention to each particular item to honor that special status. Special items get lost in the crowd, and instead of evoking sentimental value, those items become annoyances.
When you can’t get rid of items you received as gifts
Have you been a hostage of unwanted gifts? You might feel guilty about getting rid of something you received as a gift, whether you want it or not, or regardless of not having a proper space to home the item. This guilt probably arises because you don’t want to hurt the gift-giver’s feelings. However, if you follow the same pattern in many instances, you end up with a home where you feel unhappy, given the clutter comprised of so many things you’d rather not have around.
Your home should be your sanctuary, not a storage place for unwanted items. It is essential to learn to separate objects from your feelings for the gift giver. You can acknowledge the gift as an expression of their love for you, but that does not mean the item must remain like a subconscious point of contention between you two. It is also beneficial to look at the matter from the perspective of the gift giver. For that, read our blog about the subject: What Do You Give When You Give A Gift
When stuff represents unfulfilled dreams
Some people don’t want to get rid of things that might symbolize the life or experiences they wished they had but never did. It is common to hold on to things representing what we wish we had done. Karen Kingston calls this “aspirational clutter”.
A clear example is crafting. The amount of new crafts supplies and unfinished projects we find in homes is enormous. However, people can’t let any of those crafts supplies go because in doing so, they would accept that they don’t have time, desire, or the talent to do those crafts. But your home should reflect who you are now, support your goals and be the launching pad to your future. When you hold on to past dreams, you have little to no room for the future. Let go and rest assured that if it is meant to be (that you live those dreams sometime in the future), it will be.
When you paid top dollar for the items
You spend money when you buy something, not when you get rid of it. Keeping something because it costs a lot will not bring back the money spent. Besides, there are many ways for something to fulfill its mission in our lives. When it is time to let that thing go, think about the value it brought to you, recognize it accomplished its mission, and let it free to enhance the lives of others.
Keeping objects that clutter our lives compounds the problem. These items take an emotional toll on you, rob you of time, and cost money. Such things require that you spend time caring for them and money paying for the space they take up in your home or even a storage unit. It all boils down to forgiving yourself for past money mistakes or accepting that not everything continues to have a high value over the years. Understanding this will allow you to get past the emotions and part with the object without guilt.
When you fear you might need the stuff in the future
The fear of needing something in the future and not having it comes from the primal fear of not having enough. It comes from not trusting yourself or others to provide for you in the future. If you could replace the item with a couple of hours of work, let it go. There’s a point and time where you’ve got to take a leap of faith and trust in yourself and your loved ones to help you with things instead of thinking you’re all on your own with no resources or skills.
When you feel the mess is never-ending
When a task is too daunting, it is hard even to start and much more challenging to see its end. This feeling is a widespread occurrence when it comes to decluttering. It also encompasses the phenomenon of “perfection paralysis.” Some people would not start a project unless they are confident the result will be perfect. Unfortunately, that is hardly ever the case; thus, they never start the project.
When a task seems impossibly hard or the desired result unachievable, it is helpful to divide the project into smaller parts and conquer it in chunks. If this still proves too hard to handle, you might want to engage a Professional Organizer to guide you through the process. Having some guidance in the form of a project manager, coach, or even body double can help you see a more straightforward path to completing your project.
If you can identify your source of discomfort with decluttering, you can make significant breakthroughs. You can deal with your emotions, move on, and get rid of the stuff cluttering your life. Understanding and addressing the source of discomfort in parting with things you no longer need can also remove a layer of guilt and emotional baggage you may not have even realized you were carrying around.
See the ladder in the picture? During the early morning hours, the CO2 alarm started chirping. My husband went to get a ladder to fix the issue. Then it was almost noon, and the ladder was still there. It was out of the way but still, that ladder was in my face.
I was trying to work near that space, but that ladder made itself known, telling me it was out of place and in my face. I could not focus nor ignore that fact. It truly made me uncomfortable. This incident made me think a little about how clutter happens and why it creeps quickly in many homes.
It Seems Trivial, But Is It?
That ladder is precisely the kind of thing that no one would pay attention to because it seems trivial or inconsequential. But ignoring the ladder for a couple of days would result in everyone getting used to it being there. After a few days, we no longer see the ladder. And weeks pass, months pass, and next year, the ladder is still there!
This phenomenon happens with the ladder, with every tool we own, packaging from store-bought items brought into the home, cleaning products, and even kitchen gadgets.
If we do not remain vigilant to these instances and miss the signs, clutter will likely follow. We stop seeing things when we ignore them.
What Is Your “Un-comfort” Zone?
The question is, how likely are you to take notice, and how tolerant would you be of items out of place? At what point do you start feeling uncomfortable?
Some people might not even have proper space in their kitchens to cook and not be bothered. Feeling uncomfortable with the situation is a very personal threshold. But if we end up confused by the clutter or need help dealing with the mess around us, that probably means that stuff has overpowered us. We missed the early signals.
The mere idea of putting the ladder against the wall for even a minute after using it bothers me. But that is how I am sure clutter does not happen in our home – because my tolerance level is zero! My zero-tolerance ensures that I do not miss the early signs of chaos.
“For The Moment” = Creeping Clutter
It is unnecessary to be so drastic to be and remain organized, though. What is needed is to recalibrate the point where we start feeling uneasy, so we get the cue that it is time to act instead of ignoring the clutter. That is how we avoid mess from taking over our lives.
While it might seem normal to use a tool and leave it anywhere “for the moment” to “put it away later,” this puts us at greater risk of creeping clutter. How likely are we to place the item in its place at a later time? Not very.
As a Professional Organizer, I deal with people’s clutter day after day. Over time, I have discovered that most of the clutter found in any given home is things that should have left home but failed to do so. We’ll call it junk. If you are overwhelmed by clutter, show junk its way out.
Although junk includes trash, it also includes anything that does not serve us anymore, regardless of the item condition. How long waste stays in the home depends on the routines and procedures we follow (or fail to) in handling our belongings.
Those routines determine how cluttered our environment remains. Thus, consistently following specific practices and learning different habits can remove most of that clutter and help us maintain the space in much better shape.
Handle The Trash
Have a good size trashcan (13 gal.) and recycling bin in the kitchen. To be functional, these need to be out in the open. It’s a good idea to get matching trashcan and recycling bins (or dual-purpose units). Square or rectangular shapes are best because these save space and configure better to the areas.
Relying on the latest grocery bag hanging on a doorknob to discard your trash or an 8-gal trashcan in a corner to collect recycling might be an economical alternative. Still, it creates more obstacles than benefits, and it is not conducive to a cleaner kitchen. So instead, invest in good quality tools that make life easier.
Sort The Mail
Have another trashcan and recycle bin set where you sort mail if this place is not the kitchen. This process goes hand in hand with having an effective mail processing system.
Add Trashcans Everywhere
It is easier to dispose of trash when there is a place to do so while we handle that waste. Therefore, place a trashcan in every room in the home. The amount of actual trash removed from homes while decluttering is astonishing. Trash goes on the floor, under the bed, on the counter, and everywhere else when we don’t have accessible trashcans. During the weekly cleaning day, take all trash out.
Pay attention to when and how you experience the feeling that something no longer has a place in your life or your home. This feeling could be subtle as an energetic discrepancy in your body or noticeable, like clothing that does not fit. That’s the moment when you need to act. So take that thing out of your space. NOW.
Handle Packages Immediately
When receiving a package, open the box and remove the contents. If keeping it, remove the outer and inner packaging and tags. Take the item to where it is used or stored. Then trash or recycle all packaging. Do not let those boxes and protective packaging material roll around your home for weeks on end.
Every time you come home, especially when you bring bags of any kind, open that bag and remove its contents. Take everything where it belongs. Then trash, recycle, or fold bags to reuse if desired. This process takes a couple of minutes, but better to employ seven minutes each day than suffer a panic attack when you realize that you can’t deal with the clutter.
If anything can go anywhere, then everything will go anywhere. So you want to have control of your environment. Every single day, with consistency, is how you achieve that.
When you decide something is for donation, take it out of the house and place it in your car. Then, place a note on your windshield or seat to remind you to stop by the donation center first thing when you go out next. This practice might sound silly to you, but it won’t when you see how effective this method is.
Deal with Broken Things
Upon identifying an item that needs repair, put that item in a particular place dedicated to this purpose. Assign a monthly date in your calendar for repairs. On that day, take the basket, bag, or bin with you and take care of all of them.
Send Stuff Away
If you see something that you should have/could have/would like to send someone, prepare the package at that moment. If this is impossible, place the item where it bothers you enough that you won’t ignore it or forget. Then include a reminder in the calendar for later that day to prepare that package. Once the box is ready, please put it in your car immediately to be shipped.
Take It Out NOW!
The point is to TAKE THAT THING OUT OF YOUR SPACE NOW. Some things might need to wait. For those, prepare a labeled area in your home to place those. As you place something in that area, calendar the action or reminder to take care of the issue.
Is the item too big to move, or is the action something cumbersome you cannot handle now? You can always calendar these things. You deal with the issue the moment you decide about it. By placing a reminder or an action in the calendar, these things will be out of your head – clearing your mental clutter as well.
Do not entertain trash, junk, and other people’s treasures in your home. Your home is living space, not storage space or a dump.
You might wonder what could possibly be the mess the Organizer made. Allow me to explain.
We overbuy for a myriad of reasons. We hoard stuff sometimes. Other times, it’s a matter of not letting go. Whatever the reason, we have a severe problem with space (although the real problem lies in how much stuff we accumulate).
We seem to need every inch of space available to store all the things we own. We have drawers open in a spare room, and there we go, filling them with the most unimaginable items just because there is available storage space.
What We Find
Too often, clients call us to organize a room in their home and insist there is insufficient storage space in the area they want to manage. However, upon assessing the project, almost invariably, we realize three things:
(1) inefficient use of the space
(2) the space contains many unwanted things that had failed to leave the home
(3) much of what the project space includes does not belong there
Well, no wonder there is no space for what needs to go in that area!
Once unwanted items are removed from the space, and we correctly allocate and organize what the client wants to keep, they usually marvel at all the space they have.
That is until they turn around and see the mess in their living room. Then clients might not be so happy (for just a little while, though).
How It Happens
During the organizing process, what we remove from an area of the home accumulates somewhere else while working on our project’s primary goal. But no one expects to end with a mess in other house areas when they engage an organizer to work on their home space.
Once we finish organizing the project area, whatever we removed needs sorting as well. The client needs to decide what stays or goes and the best place to allocate what they keep.
Often, we must repeat the organizing process in areas of the home that our client did not contemplate in the project. Such is when stuff removed from the space we are organizing needs to go to different home areas with no apparent space available. Then we need to create that space so that what logically belongs in those places can be stored in them.
Here are two pictures from a recent project. Our goal was to organize seven home areas, starting with three bedrooms upstairs. Although the plan included the living room, this area was initially uncluttered. Ironically, that was not the case once we finished the first three rooms!
The first picture is the living area “before” picture. The second picture is the living room after organizing the first three bedrooms. The before picture looks somewhat like the “after” and vice versa! That’s the mess we made! But it all worked out in the end. The client was delighted.
And as much as we would like to estimate the time a project might take, this shifting of things inherent to the organizing process makes it unpredictable. All we can assure the client is that “It will get worse before it gets better.”
As Organizers, we want to delight the client, take care of everything and leave their home looking perfect. So, take a deep breath and play along. The mess the Organizer made will go away.