Sorting Through Paper Piles / Strategies Needed

Maura63April 18, 2006

Hi all ~ I mostly lurk here and come out of hiding to chime in now and then. You have all been a source of inspiration to me over the years -- thank you!

I am about to embark on a project I've been putting off for years and need help with a strategy.

I have two children and I have mini-piles of kid-related papers in a few rooms throughout the house (my bedroom, our home office, and the spare bedroom). The kids also have some mini-piles of school papers in their bedrooms. Some piles were created at the end of various school years with the intention of going through them before tossing. Others are mini-piles of mementos (some school related, others not) and other stuff.

My mother kept nothing of mine which is probably why I hold on to all of these papers. But I also know I only want to save maybe a box worth of stuff for each child, and perhaps a binder or two, at the most.

I need to attack these piles and organize the papers I decide to keep.I also have extra-curricular keepsakes: Girls Scouts, sports, music, church -- and I'm not sure how to go about sorting and organizing.

First, should I merge all of these mini-piles into one room?

Do I go through these piles/papers first and divide them into two (one pertaining to each child?)

Or, as I handle each paper, do I decide "School" vs "Non-School" and then break it down to each child?

Or, do I decide "Keep" or "Toss" as I go through these piles? And if I do it this way, does the "Keep" pile get sorted?

I know I will only keep a sample from each school year, or those pages where the teachers wrote thoughtful comments.

I'm thinking that then I will separate each kid's stuff into the elementary school years, the middle school years, and then the high school years. (My oldest is in her first year of HS and is pretty much maintaining her own paperwork, but I have started a binder w/page protectors to store certificates, newspaper articles, etc.) I think I will use the "binder system" for the Middle School years too. For the Elementary years I have a file box for each child. Should I create folders for each grade and then put school and non-school items in those folders?

Deciding what to keep and what to toss is not the issue here; it's strategies/systems I'm in need of (and a little push too!) If you have a system that works for you, please share your tips, strategies, tools you use and ideas!

Thank you --


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First, clarify who you are keeping things for. You or the kids?

Get the papers all into one room, and start with "Trash" versus "Not Trash" ... with one "Not Trash" box per child and one for you.

Trash = unlabelled papers, ripped, scribbled, or mangled paper, etc.

Your Not Trash = One or two items from each activity or year that are meaningful to you. This is "mom's mementos". Skim these off as you put things into the boxes for the kids.

Their Not Trash = make them folders for each activity and year and give them a set time each day to sort through and decide what's important to them. This can turn into a gab-fest and a remember-when session, which is not a bad idea.

In the future, have them do the sorting per term, or monthly or whatever so the piles don't pile up.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 7:00PM
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My mom kept tons of my stuff, which I threw most of it away.

How old are your kids? If they are high school or older, I would have them be in the process of deciding. If you limit the space allowed, as you said a box or couple of binders, they won't end up wanting everything.

I have a banker's sized box for each of us for those "where do we put it?" keepsakes.

For school years, I would make up a scrapbook type thing with the school picture for the year, notes about the teacher's name and if they took group class pictures, a couple of sample of writing or artwork and let the majority of it go to the trash.

If it is Scout stuff, can you put it together with Scouting pictures? My DH started out keeping ton of his Scout stuff, but I had his Eagle stuff framed and he really only wanted the pictures and his badges. At 50, he has a few of the Jamboree keepsakes in his office.

If we are talking craft items made in Scout meetings...I would really let that kind of stuff go.

I've learned over the years that the kids are usually ready to give up the stuff before we parents. We make sure we have an art corner to display this year's nice art projects. My kindergartner hangs the overflow up on the walls of his room.

At first I had my 11 year old go through the stuff yearly. Now, all of them are good at displaying what they like and letting go of items.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 9:50PM
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Wow Maura, I feel your pain. My mother kept nothing from my elementary school days. Wish I had an autograph book or scrapbook or something,even my old class pictures. I have two daughters who are now teens. I tried to keep meaningful papers, like the early stories my older daughter wrote in first grade. And the blue ribbon she won in a relay race in fifth grade,her first year in middle school. But it got to be too much. I have a huge artist's porfolio full of early grade school papers. It is so stuffed, then I jammed it under my bedroom dresser. I am afraid to open it up now. Sometimes I think I should just give the job to the girls themselves, tell them to pick out one paper from each year of school. Then I get all sentimental and want to keep all of it. Then there's my "pie in the sky" dream that I will one day find a perfect way to organize, make a scrapbook or buy a computer scanner. And once in a while I think "just throw it all out. No one cares and no one would miss it".

    Bookmark   April 18, 2006 at 9:54PM
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First get the box.


I have the big one, but it's way too big, encourages me to keep too many papers. Then again, I'll be OK for BOTH kids for a long, long while.

I just stick stuff in as I go, for both kids, and label the individual pocket. That's going to leave me w/ some big weeding out int he future, but Pill make the kids do that.

Here is a link that might be useful: SchoolFolio

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 11:32AM
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It sounds like you pretty much know what you want to keep, just need help figuring out how to store it? When I go through these piles, I usually sort into a pile for each kid, then by year, then I try to sort into subject (class or other activity). This gets the piles more manageable. It also allows me to see what I have, and what seemed to be important for that year, and makes it much easier for me to throw out a lot of unnecessary stuff. I try to only keep things that seemed significant to the year (that was the year she was into studying planets, that was the year she drew cats all the time, etc.) I find that I do like to look through this stuff, and it does bring back memories. I know it's mostly for me - I think the kids would have thrown things out that I like to keep a sample of.

So I do pretty much like you are suggesting - a large, 3" or so? binder with page protectors for special papers (one for each DD). A bankers sized box with legal sized dividers marked with each year (one for each) and a portfolio for each for artwork. I display some of the 3-D stuff, usually it ends up taking care of itself by breaking or falling apart. My DDs are in high school now, so the box is getting full. I put stuff in there that is too big for the binders, or other stuff that is of interest, then go back through every now and then and get rid of a little more. But I think that's the point for me - to go through it every now and then, kind of like a photo album, just remembering them back when they were little. My mom saved a lot of my stuff, and I threw most of it away. Hopefully the binders (along with some written explanations as to why I saved some of the things) will have more meaning for the kids than just a box of papers.

Whatever you do, good luck! I find this very time consuming.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 12:10PM
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My mom saved a ton of stuff when I was in elementary. Then her filing cabinet got full and she weeded it down with my help (I was maybe middle school age). So now I have maybe an inch-high stack of school papers/art projects, and I think that's more than plenty. (I also have my old yearbooks, pictures etc, but I don't think they fall into a "stuff to be weeded" pile.)

As for your questions:
"First, should I merge all of these mini-piles into one room?"
I wouldn't. I can't ever manage to sit down and go through a mountain of papers. I'd rather grab one mini-pile, sort through it, and then put it away.

"Do I go through these piles/papers first and divide them into two (one pertaining to each child?) "
I would think that it should be divided by child so that they can easily be passed on to them years from now.

"Or, as I handle each paper, do I decide "School" vs "Non-School" and then break it down to each child? "
No. Why would you? Are you going to store it seperately? Ideally, you'd have only the most important keepsakes and there wouldn't be many so it'd be easy to go through later and find all "nonschool" stuff if need be.

"Or, do I decide "Keep" or "Toss" as I go through these piles? And if I do it this way, does the "Keep" pile get sorted?"
Just Keep or Toss for now. If it really bugs you later, you can always sort it later.

"I'm thinking that then I will separate each kid's stuff into the elementary school years, the middle school years, and then the high school years. ...Should I create folders for each grade and then put school and non-school items in those folders? "
Wow, it sounds like you're keeping a lot more than one sample per year!! Even if there's say 3 papers with with "thoughtful comments" on it, that's a maximum of 24 pieces of paper for all of elementary school!

I just think you're making an overly complex system. Go through the piles, pick out the best stuff. Write the child's name and grade on each piece of paper if it's not on there already. Stick it in a box, label the box, and call it done!

The benefits of a simple system are:
1) Better chance of actually doing it
2) if you really really feel the urge to subdivide the keepsakes by year, it can be easily done. But honestly I think that if you need to do that then you've kept too much.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2006 at 12:56PM
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All the suggestions are wonderful but I have a tip that might help you too. If you have a scanner you can scan papers and art that will fit on the scanner it you think you might someday want to look at the papers but don't want to hang on to the originals. I have three kids and I always want to keep everything but scanning things has helped. Much neater a lot less space and the kids can still see their artwork or print it out or whatever. I now only keep things that are very special to me or them and I have cut down on the papers I keep by 2/3, no kidding!!


    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 2:21PM
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Oh P.S. just make sure you back them up well!!!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2006 at 2:22PM
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My best friend found the boxes she made for her kids years ago, last fall. Her kids are now in their 30's and 40's. She wrapped them up and they were under the Christmas Tree. She said it was the best Christmas she could remember. Everyone had such fun reliving their school years!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2006 at 3:28PM
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Great thread.

What I do is toss the school papers into an in-box in the homework area. Go thru these ~1x month and the keepers go into a staging box in the homework room.

Periodically, the staging box gets emptied/2nd quick sort into the garage box. In the garage I have a big storage box for each child. When the box in the garage gets full, then I leaf through it and clean it out.

It takes years for it to fill up and these 3-4 years give me the "time perspective" of what I will truely treasure vs ok to toss. Over the 3-4 year span the kids change enough that the things that I took for granted --and save some of-- at the time have shown themselves to be special.

This method actually minimizes my time as I don't spend much time second guessing myself. I just do the high-level sort and move on.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2006 at 3:19AM
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A file cabinet is a great way to store things forever, or until you are ready to store in another way.

Before I got my file cabinet, I used a cardboard box and made labeled dividers.

I go through the cabinet once a year and throw things away.

The children's things have been in albums for years, and now I'm collecting things from the grands. I keep instructions for the things I've purchased, warranties, photos, vacation name it and I have a file for it. There's even a file for bills. chuckle

    Bookmark   May 23, 2006 at 11:47PM
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