Day 24: Storing Homework

The IKEA Expedit has sat close to empty in Mikey’s room since the big toy purge of 2012. I thought I would sell it on Craigslist, but now that we are thinking of putting the boys in one room, I’m thinking I should keep it or swap it out for a white one. Anyone want to trade?

There were a few books, some empty/collapsed cubby bins, and the set up I had to store Mikey’s homework K-2nd grade. The way I had it organized worked so well that I decided to tweak it to work for both Mikey and Nico.

I found with Mikey that Kindergarten through 1st grade came with a truckload of schoolwork and homework to store in the form of worksheets, coloring pages, and little reading booklets. I saw a decrease in the paper by 2nd grade, and so far 3rd grade has been light, or at least reasonable. He brings home his graded homework and tests, but most of his schoolwork is now in workbooks that he leaves at school.

It’s hard to tell from the angle of the picture, but already Nico has twice as much paper as Mikey. The lined paper in the back are blueprints, business plans, stories, and comic strips Mikey works on and leaves laying around the house. I love them, so I’m going to find a special way to store them.

Because of the avalanche of paper I know is coming, I decided to buy 3 magazine files instead of the one I used for Mikey. The other files in the lead picture held coloring books and workbooks, and by the end of the year I had to scrunch the paper into the magazine file. Since their school uses a trimester system, I have a file for each trimester.

I keep every graded piece of work in the event of a discrepancy or error in grading come report card time. It helps to keep everything in one spot and easy to find. Last month I checked Mikey’s progress report online and saw he had a F in science. Not freaking likely, I thought. It turned out to be a simple miss-key, but I had the science test he supposedly failed (89%) as proof.

Because I check homework folders every day, I created a flat-out lazy, brainless system that is easy to manage. I will rarely need to look for graded work, so I pull out the magazine file and put Nico’s homework on the right facing out.

Then I flip the file around and put Mikey’s homework on the left, also facing out. They meet back-to-back in the middle. Nothing separates one from the other because it’s not that hard to shuffle through some paper once, maybe twice a school year. It’s pretty obvious which work is Mikey’s and which work is Nico’s.

I could get away with one magazine file and empty it out at the end of each trimester, but I like to keep everything until the school issues final report cards. Then, at the end of the year, I throw it all away.

[Pauses for dramatic effect.]

Whenever I say this to other moms, I get wide-eyed stares and clucking tongues. It’s true; I throw it all away. I toss coloring pages, tests, booklets, and scribbles. I throw everything away because their teachers have a running memory book for the parents at the end of the year. Inside the slim binders are pictures, big tests, special assignments, and important classwork. Because we’re required to check their folders daily, I know when do something fantastic I want to keep. Instead of filing it in the magazine file, I put it aside in their special keepsake box.

My friends think I have a cold, black heart for tossing out their classwork, and I think they are crazy for storing every last scrap of paper in 10 bins that line the ceiling of their garage. If it’s special, it shouldn’t be in a bin in a garage–unless the garage is a place of honor. Mine isn’t. It looks like something you’d see on an episode of Hoarders.

I keep what reflects their personality at the time, not busywork. The subscription list Mikey made for his comic book business, the drawing of the Titanic Nico made after he watched a documentary, that’s what is worth keeping. And, when the boys leave to establish homes of their own, I hope it will be worth taking with them, too.

Well, maybe I’ll just let them borrow it. We’ll see.


New here? For the next 31 days I’m living according to the famous William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” You can learn more about the project here, and catch sneak peeks of my projects by following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram (I’m @pancakesfries).

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. Lu says

    I would love to be as organised as this for school work. You have inspired me to sort. I have stuff the kids have created going back a few years in a huge pile in our study. What are your special keepsake boxes like? Are they just boxes you pile things in or is there some rationale behind them? My Mom kept everything of mine and it was (sort of) fun to look through 20 years later but then when I didn’t want it she was hurt. So I agree, do the culling now. Decide what’s worth keeping and keep only some of it. Now to apply this to the huge pile.

  2. says

    Cool system. This reminds me that I desperately need to go through Sam’s art/school work drawers. I usually end up throwing most everything away, but I always feel like an evil Mom for doing it. Mostly because if Sam catches me he looks at me like I am.

  3. says

    As an elementary school teacher, I know I won’t save everything my sons bring home. I know how quickly they slap out those worksheets and scribble those pictures – to me that is not a treasure. Like you, I will hang onto things for one quarter (how our school operates) and then bin them. But I have saved a couple of things (like Miles’ first drawing of a person and the first time he wrote his name). I’ve already thrown away probably 100 pictures- I can’t give them a chance to become precious by default, because what am I going to do with 55 gallons of precious treasures?

  4. says

    Once again, I’m floored. At first I thought, “She saves every graded paper – what??” – but then, there was a grading issue (frightening as I probably would not have saved everything) and further, you aren’t saving it just to save it: you throw it away later. Genius. Also, my boys (esp my oldest) leaves scraps of paper everywhere. I can totally identify with that. He practices writing his name, his friends’ names, super hero names, numbers, you name it. They drive me crazy. But they are also precious – I need a system. Thanks for giving me some direction.

  5. says

    Yeah, you gotta throw it away — good for you! Can you imagine the number of bins required to keep every one of those blasted worksheets? Please. We’d soon be perched on them like a bunch of birds. That having been said, I have one slim box for “treasures” and it’s almost full. Clearly, I’m hanging on to too much.

  6. says

    Speaking from the vantage point of 9th grade, I’m with you all the way on tossing those papers. I’m glad I have some of my kids’ writing and art from earlier years, but you don’t need the whole jar of cookies to have a satisfying treat. But I’m with Monica–best to do the tossing when they can’t see you.

  7. says

    So this post cracked me up for two reasons:

    1. I’m a memory keeper, a sentimental, a family historian.
    2. My mom doesn’t have a sentimental bone in her body.

    I recently moved and found our “keepsake” box, and my heart swelled with joy. She kept my first Bible, some photos, a few drawings I did as a kid (one was a paper with a big A written on it with crayon and nothing else)… but she hadn’t kept my baby blanket! And we joked about how characteristic it was of her.

    That being said, I think your system is perfect. If everything is meaningful, then nothing REALLY is, you know?

  8. jeanne says

    Take it from the mother of a 9th grader who has just spent a couple years purging grade school papers, you are sooooo smart to pitch it right away. even if you are sentimental, as I was, you completely change when they cross the threshold to teenage years and realize it doesn’t really matter, and they are never going to take it with them when they leave. That said, I still have too much, but am working on it.

  9. Shannon says

    Jules – I started to panic thinking I was supposed to keep all their papers. I literally recycle 99.9% of the stuff they bring home DAILY now. When my oldest was in preschool I kept everything and was so overwhelmed. I then realized that the important things get lost in the clutter and keep their “treasures” to a minimum. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when you said you throw it all away at the end of the year. Phew!

  10. Susan G says

    Oh good for you! I thought I was “supposed” to keep all of it and did for a couple of years before I started tossing stuff out. I keep papers they’ve written, some essays, maybe an early spelling test or two, but most everything else gets thrown away. If you don’t do that, the good stuff may as well be thrown out because it’s lost in the avalanche of math homework and grammar quizzes.

    Magazine files are a great way to store this stuff – good thinking!

  11. Jaimie says

    I just set up an expandable accordion-style file folder for my son, to hold his important school papers … for the entirety of his school career. I’m hoping to restrict myself to just that. My mom held on to a few of my things (report cards, significant artwork, awards) and it’s nice to flip through occasionally but I wouldn’t want to lug around more than that. I try to imagine my son moving out into his own place years from now and think about what he would be happy to have and what would be a burden to him.

  12. says

    I hardly save anything- except for artwork they don’t want to part with, which goes in a box designated for it. There is just SO much daily paperwork. I keep what they feel is important and what’s important to me. I’m a pack rat by nature, but the barrage of school sheets is more than I can handle.

  13. Carrie says

    Great ideas. Don’t feel bad. I put the stuff in the recycling everyday or at the end of the week. They usually have a stack of papers at the end of week, stapled from their teachers. We go through it, give out some congrats for the good work and then into the recycle bin it goes. If they have drawings or art projects they want to keep, they can and put it up on the wall. Sooooo much paperwork :)

  14. Melissa says

    Oh, thank you for voices of reason. My girls currently want us to keep EVERYTHING (they are in kindergarten) and the artwork alone would create a fire hazard. I’m of the stealth recycler school. They still have PLENTY to admire and don’t actually miss what is gone!

  15. says

    Are you kidding me? People keep all that every day classwork? I’m impressed you keep it as long as you do in case of grading discrepancies. I guess I never thought about that being an issue at this early stage, although it might happen now that I have a 4th grader. Every day I empty their folders and immediately recycle anything that’s not homework to be completed or a special project/artwork/wonderful test. At this point, they see me do it (I used to do it stealthily because my son was attached to everything, but he’s grown) and think it’s normal. I put all the keeper stuff in a magazine file and periodically sort through again and transfer to the file cabinet. Now THAT could use some organization…

  16. Erin says

    I put almost everything in the recycling bin the day it comes home. My kids are first and third grade, and I guess I’m not that concerned about report card discrepancies at this age. If there is anything I want to save, it goes immediately into their “save” folder for the year. Sometime during the summer I go through the “save” folder and make sure I really DO want to save it all.

    All this, though, and I STILL feel like we’re drowning in paper. My Achilles’ heel is the paper that needs to be dealt with, but for whatever reason can’t be dealt with right now.

  17. Larissa says

    My mom had about half of a small storage unit filled with rubbermaids containing my school work. It was absurd. When she decided to let me go through it all, I sat there on the dirty ground of that unit with a trash can and tossed and tossed. Mom was sad to see a lot of those papers go, but I felt so much better! We ended up with one manilla envelope for each grade. Truth be told, I’ll likely throw most of those away someday too.. . . really, my boys are never going to care about some picture I colored in 2nd grade.

  18. says

    Great system! I can say your boys’ future wives will thank you. Once I got married and my husband and I bought our first house that’s when the totes started arriving. Every time his parents would visit they would bring a tote of his “special” items ie- crap they didn’t throw away when he was growing up. Out of the 8 or so totes we have purged it down to one box of things he actually wanted to keep.

  19. says

    You are not alone. My Monkey could build a small homestead out of his kindergarten papers that come home everyday. Ours get tossed too. I show my husband, and congratulate Monkey with a high five, then toss the papers. Of course really cool art is saved, but sometimes only for a little while. I like the white paper sorters you used in this project, makes it look stylish, but so functional. I will be sad when October ends and I am not greeted with my morning Pancakes and French Fries William Morris Project. Great work.

  20. says

    Another daily recycler here, so I guess my heart is blacker & colder than yours! Although I have no system at all for the things I do save at the end of the year…just a big flat tub for each out in the garage, that I randomly toss things into.

  21. Stacey says

    Well, my kids are in their 30’s now and it was like pulling teeth to get them to take their bins…they didn’t care, and I can’t blame them…can you imagine generations of that stuff? Let it go!

  22. Karen F says

    this is something I struggle with! I have 2 plastic bins of my girls’ pre-school projects (which don’t fit neatly into a folder, usually), which I haven’t culled at all, and they sit there taunting me daily. I am of the school of thought that when you save everything, nothing is special (I think I picked that up from you, so thanks!). I need to go through those bins.

    What I started this year was an envelope system. Each girl gets a 9×12 clasp envelope each week (I use one envelope for 2 weeks for my 3 yr old). I date the envelope, and as the papers come home I put them in the envelope. Once the week (or 2 for the little one) is over, I store the envelope and start a new one. Special/big/seasonal projects get hung up for a little while. I still need to cull/purge the papers at some point (probably the end of the school year) and I hope to end up with one envelope per child, per year of papers/projects worth saving. Easier said than done (I’m a sentimental packrat) but I felt like with my older daughter starting K this year, I needed some kind of system to deal with the paperwork. Ironically, I think she brought home so much more work in pre-K! I needed a system then but didn’t have one, and my house was overrun with papers and art projects (which now live in those plastic bins). Sorry for the novel here, obviously you’ve touched a nerve! :)

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