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The Art of Tossing Children’s Artwork

Updated on November 4, 2011

 "Art is never finished, only abandoned." ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Discarding Stuff

I’ve been in a purging mode this past year. Accumulating stuff is easy – you just tuck more into corners, closets, boxes and rafters, and voila – instant room for new stuff! We all love our stuff, and we spend an inordinate amount of time collecting more stuff – not just for the purpose of adding, but because we are like the four year old on the playground, perfectly happy digging with his shovel, until he sees another kid with a bucket. He grabs for the bucket, only to want the dump truck, followed by the rake, the boat, the tricycle, bike, ipod, laptop, multimedia system, etc.

So purging is good. But it takes a lot more thought energy, because the goal isn’t to get rid of everything, leaving you back at having nothing. The trick is to discern which of your stuff has meaning and value to you. Adding doesn’t require that.

So each week, I spend time in my closets and drawers winnowing out clothing neither the kids nor I wear any longer, deciding which items I can donate, sell on Craigslist or toss. It’s a good feeling, but a long term project – not nearly as much fun as buying new stuff!

Kids' art studio (aka dining room) at my old apartment!
Kids' art studio (aka dining room) at my old apartment!
Sword (aka light sabre) fight!
Sword (aka light sabre) fight!

Tangible Memories

That’s all fine and good until I came across boxes of artwork collected from my kids, particularly preschool through early grade school. My daughter, in particular, was a prolific artist. Every day she’d come home from school with at least four or five pieces of artwork, and then we’d pull out the construction paper to cut and paste and draw some more. I must have had hundreds of stick figure drawings with ear to ear smiles beside the words, “I love you, Daddy.”

Over a decade ago, when I was first out on my own, I let the kids tape their drawings to the wall of the dining room. Each posted picture motivated them to create more, til the walls were filled with their artwork … and it was time for me to move!

Even my son’s little chicken-scratched drawings, with repetitive little smiley-faces evoke memories of sitting around the table crafting art; he mimicking his sister’s artistic proliferations.

Most people I know are at one extreme or the other. Either they keep every tiny little keepsake (which they usually try to pawn off on their grown kids once they move out – and seriously, are we interested in tinker toys and clay casts of our 4-year-old hands when we’re 30?), or they constantly purge everything in an effort to keep down the clutter. For those in the latter category, I can see their point – we really don’t need as much as we think we do. The problem is that while memories are in the head, they need an access point – something that triggers them. Otherwise, they stay lost, tucked into one of thousands of hiding places in the brain, unaccessed unless they are triggered by some similar event or a random thought bubble pops out into play. So, the process of determining what to keep and what to toss isn’t simple.

I think I tend toward the “over-keeper” category. So, I work through the boxes of artistic gems separating out the truly special from the glued-on macaroni art on construction paper (sorry, Kraft!) I figure if I can fill even one box of paper waste, that’s one less box of stuff I need to move the next time.

How long did it take Picasso to pen this piece on his napkin?
How long did it take Picasso to pen this piece on his napkin?
my future Picasso?
my future Picasso?

Picasso's Parents

Of course, when I’m going through item by item of creative splendor with thoughts of skewering the kabob of clutter, I can only imagine what Picasso’s parents thought of his artwork when little Pablo was a child. Or Chagall. Or Botticelli. It’s not like a parent is very objective. I see Mrs. Picasso looking at his scribblings and though she loves the heck out of them, is running out of room in the attic of her villa, so she uses it to stoke the stove. What would those works be worth now? I go to galleries these days where famous artist chicken-scratch sells for hundreds of thousands (ie, “look, here’s a napkin on which Rembrandt blew his nose!”)

How can one be truly objective in deciding which items of juvenile artistry to preserve for the future? You should ask yourself:

  1. Who are you keeping this item for? What is your intent? Are you holding it because you don't want to make a decision? Are you holding it because you think your child may want it later (hint: grown kids don't want very much of this stuff-just enough to show you cared)? ... or
  2. Are you holding onto it because this one piece in your hand represents something beautiful and meaningful, a memory of a simple, blissful moment, watching colors and shapes be transformed by an adoring little child, who then holds it up to you, beaming with pride?

Something tells me the reason Mrs. Picasso may regret stoking the stove with baby Pablo art wouldn't be because of the monetary value of that art, but because of something intrinsically more valuable, something perhaps only she may understand.

And evoking that magical, inexplicable sense of meaning is what true art is all about.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important." ~ M.C. Escher

"To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams." ~ Giorgio de Chirico


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    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      I love this hub. My kids now being 14 and 16, I don't get armfuls of artwork when they come home anymore. It's bittersweet that I don't have to think about what to do with it anymore. It's a dichotomy, trying to keep ones kids focused on the arts; they do get self-conscious, and completely focused on their peer group as opposed to their parents. My daughter definitely has a talent with drawings, but no longer paints - I hope she does return to it, like I returned to writing decades later.

      Very cool children's book, Klara. I'll see how I can incorporate it.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hey Greg,

      I just read this awesome article and it made me think of this book

      It was brought to my attention during a music teachers workshop. It's a great little book for smaller children to understand that it is in the Arts where they can be themselves and not be judged... (if you can't sing, you might still be able to perform an instrument well) I thought you might want to consider adding it to this hub. It's a heart-felt story about a little boy who kept on failing at drawing and ended up making a smudge - a single dot on each page. But the teacher never threw away his artwork because it was unique in its own way. Very, very cute... it brought a tear to my eye, but then again, that's not such a rare occurrence. :D

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Thanks Jim. This is just to keep my writing chops up until I get back to writing the next novel!

      ~ G

    • profile image

      Jim Keddy 

      8 years ago

      Love these postings Greg! Keep at it. Multi media fun

    • Satori_1957 profile image


      8 years ago from Sacramento


    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      D - there's certainly a happy balance somewhere with purging/keeping. I've been of the "professional organizing" spirit this past year, for many of the reasons you conveyed in the PPoint. I did manage to consolidate around 12 boxes of children's artwork into one nice, neat plastic lidded box per child. That'll preserve them much better than cardboard paper boxes, and focus the keeping on the truly interesting stuff!

      Thanks again for checking in. ;-)

    • Satori_1957 profile image


      8 years ago from Sacramento

      Great post! Being the mom of a now 25-year-old AND an organizer, I tend to be a purger. In all fairness though, I kept much of my daughter's stuff and as she grew older, gave her the responsibility of going through it every so often, and deciding if she wanted to keep or purge. What was kept, she kept, with the exception of only a very few things that I have kept for her.

      I subscribe to the "taking a photo of that which evokes memories" and putting those photos in photo books; then purging is easier.

      I'll email the recent 10-minute PowerPoint I did for a training I went to. It was on organizing and you may find it useful :-)


    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Nellianna - wow, you are now a great-grandmother! That must be satisfying. You're right, there's so much more to consider. I love your illustration about 2009 Christmas cards vs. 1970's and most particularly 1920's checks. I'm particularly fond of antique books - particularly from the 1800s. I like to think about where they've been, who wrote them and read them; it's also affirming to hold something that lasts, unlike so many things today.

      Now I'll have to go scan your attic series!


    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      Laura - I love the illustration with your daughter in the attic. Thank you, that's validating! My kids' Mom is more of a purger, so I doubt there's a ton of stuff at her place (I could be mistaken); there's definitely some happy medium. Hopefully I can strike it!

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      8 years ago from TEXAS

      I tried to convince my daughter, Dyane (now 53, the mother of 5 girls and grandmother of 4) that she might like to have and treasure the stainless steel thumb-guard with the pretty pink ribbon to tie it on which we put on her thumb when she was still sucking it at kindergarden age, but she not only refused to accept this treasure of her past, she practically turned on me in rage!

      It was a key reminder of those horrid days for her, enduring the kindergarden class all day, thumblessly, till she could finally jump off the school bus in front of our house, head for her room, slam the door and put her thumb in her mouth!

      What was REALLY horrid for her was when her mean father and brother would burst in on her to catch her in the act! The poor little thing was so angry at them, yet so lacking in adequate vocabulary to express it, she finally came up with her own four-word letter for them: Big Old Gracious Things!! I still can picture and hear her, red-faced and steaming with emotion and I can't help but apply BOGT to describe some mean folks in my own mnd; I've even managed to get one curmudgeon friend to accept it as a term of endearment! (Of course he calls me TT - Texas Tornado, in response!)

      You're so right, Gerg. Honestly - coming from a line of keepers and savers whose practice dates back into the 1800s is a real challenge. Mother's & Dad's old school books? Treasures!

      I'm still trying to get myself to discard the file box of my Dad's cancelled checks dated back into the 1920s. I already went through and pulled a few, such as paying off the ranch loans. Any Mother wrote for $1 at Piggly Wiggly when I know she used it to buy herself art supplies, not groceries; and ones that had anything to do with me, such as one to the nurse hired to help out after my birth, no, - not in the 20s, thank you, but not that long thereafter; and the one he wrote paying for some educational reading material for me, too! Of course, I'll save those! I even scanned them for my "Attic" series on my website! haha Sheesh! Cyber stashing!

      I find I can discard things more easily BEFORE I've saved them at all. 2009 Christmas cards? Sure - in the trash they go. 1970's - well - there are some from people I've lost track or or even some who have passed on. Not easy to part with, especially the ones they made themselves.

      In fact my adage is that if it's survived two purgings, it's probably saved forever after! Fortunately mostly those can be kept in a couple of fairly small boxes. It's the ones which have not yet endured any purgings which challenge me and your article certainly renews the challenge! haha

      Most inspiring hub and the artwork is priceless!

    • lalesu profile image


      8 years ago from south of the Mason-Dixon

      I loved this hub! I am a self proclaimed "keeper." I tend to keep odd things, in odd ways. While I don't have a single pair of bronzed baby shoes or any neatly organized photo albums depicting all the various dental stages of K-12th grade, I do have every backpack that my two children brought home on the last day of each school year, still complete with all items toted home that day.

      A few weeks ago, my 23 year old daughter emerged from the attic crawl space at 3 dragging a box full of children's books and wearing a tutu that I made for her when she was five. We sat in the middle of the floor with the books that didn't need reading because we knew the lines by heart and went to a place in her childhood, all because I am a "keeper." ~ Laura

    • Gerg profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from California

      nifty - thanks, and I love the Carlin piece too. I initially was going to link up "the Story of Stuff", which you can find on YouTube, but George's piece was much more fun...

      rebekahELLE - thank you too! I really had a hard time deciding which art to scan and post - I literally have boxes and boxes I've been trying to winnow down to a largish box per child. Still working on it! I'm kinda biased, but I love the art work as well... ;-)

    • rebekahELLE profile image


      8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      delightful! I enjoyed every word of this lovely hub. I think I'm more of a stuff-keeper, but have been doing the same as you and attempting to keep only what is truly essential. I think often we are too quick to throw away something that will be very meaningful at a later time. the artwork here is amazing!

    • nifty@50 profile image


      8 years ago

      I really like the art work! That last picture has got a lot of stuff going on! I love George Carlin's take on flesh colored band aids! Great hub!


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