It never fails, as the last days of the elementary school year comes to an end, so starts the plethora of paper that begins to appear in my kids’ school bags.
Like the coming of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, their arrival is typically foretold in the reappearance of the classroom folders that the kids innocently put together at the beginning of the year. Who knew that two pieces of heavy weight, stapled together cardboard could hold so much? Agendas, assignments, tests and pieces of art for every holiday observed and otherwise. You can hear the mighty redwoods crying over the loss of their brothers and sisters that were sacrificed to create such a pile.
It always astounds me that every scrap of paper that my child wrote on, drew on or even cast a sidelong glance makes its way to my house. Could some of it not found its way to a recycling bin at school? Is the concept of a paperless classroom nothing more than a Star Trek fantasy? Could we not celebrate the end of the year with a massive bonfire (I’ll bring the marshmallows)?
Sadly no. None of these things exist. All that exists is the guilt hoisted upon parents to keep their kids’ school stuff or be the worst parent who ever lived.
Needless to say, as a newbie parent, for years, the guilt got the better of me. I kept everything that my kids did. All the valentine’s day cards, drawings of Santa, mock certificates, book reports and handprint turkeys. It started off with Ikea magazine holders in bookshelves. When that got unwieldy (and they started to do science experiments), it moved on to Rubbermaid bins in my basement. When the bins got to be 4 or 5 and took up a sizable space in my basement, I realized I had a bit of a problem.
In attempts to avoid being cast on the next episode of Hoarders, my wife and I decided to begin to filter through the stacks of assignments past. Tests, agendas and mass produced stuff was quickly disposed of. Typically in the dead of night, in a black garbage bag, at a dark harbour, weighted down with rocks. Now whenever we see it come home at the end of the year, it will barely make it to the driveway. If you don’t believe me, check out the wolf habitat diorama that is currently sticking out of the top of my recycling bin.
What we keep is the truly interesting stuff. A number of items I have taken pictures of and stored for posterity. Some of it adorns their bedroom walls and has even been deemed worthy of being framed (“well la di da”). Some I have even taken to work, in efforts to show off to other parents that my kid is much better at gluing Popsicle sticks together than theirs. I still have the Rubbermaid bins in the basement, but that is for the “keepers”. The cool drawing that might encourage your child to get in touch with their creative side when they need it later in life. Or that really embarrassing journal, that you can read out loud at a wedding in 20 years. Or the photo collage of a young girl playing with her young and fun parents.
So the next time you feel compelled to keep everything your kid brings home at the end of the school year, ask yourself if it is really worth keeping and if it isn’t, pitch it. Your child will thank you.
Actually they won’t.
They’ll think you are a horrible person and a terrible parent. And most likely your parents and other parents will judge you. And it’s possible that that stuff you threw out might be very valuable if your child becomes famous. And storage lockers are really cheap if you sign a long-term lease.
Perhaps you can stop that recycling truck….
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