Children’s artwork is one of the most common types of clutter for a busy parent to contend with. Not only does it just keep accumulating but since it is something that your child makes, you tend to feel compelled to keep it around.  While covering your refrigerator with all those “paintings” might be good for your child’s self-esteem, there are solutions that allow you to foster your child’s creativity and keep your home clutter-free.

You don’t have to keep everything

Yes, I am officially giving you permission to “edit” the collection. Recognize that you are honoring your child’s creative impulses by being selective. When everything is special, nothing is special.

Keep this, toss that

The general rule of thumb is to keep three examples of artwork per year per child. As a mother myself I know this number seems a bit extreme, but the logic behind it is understandable. Say you decide to save 10 items per kid per year, and have 3 children, then after only 5 years you have to contend with 150 macaroni necklaces, scrap paper scribbles, and tissue paper flower collages.  For me, 5 to 7 is a more realistic number – for now.

So how do you determine what makes the cut? Here are some ideas: Artwork that reveals important milestones, like the first time your daughter writes her name, are always good to keep. Self-portraits that really bare a resemblance your child will be fun to look at later, as will artwork that provides insights into your child’s personality at that point in time. You also might not want to part with items with special sentimental value, like that collage made from leaves gathered on a particularly memorable mid-autumn family stroll. Be honest and toss anything that is not truly special.

Honor your child’s artwork

Once you have whittled down the pile, create a special area in your child’s bedroom or playspace to display some of these artworks.  Affix cork squares in a row along an empty wall, or use magnetic paint to create a unique design. I hung the Star Art Cable from Pottery Barn Kids, in the bedroom my children share. The IKEA Dignitet curtain wire system works well, too . Systems like these allow artwork to be changed easily and frequently, and give these items a distinct home.

Let your child play curator

When your child hands you his most recent creation, provide the requisite “oohs” and “ahhs” and ask if he wants to hang in it his “art gallery.” If the answer is yes, place it there. If the answer is no, then set the picture aside and, when he is not looking, toss it. (Again, don’t feel guilty- if it is not important to him, it does not need to be to you.) Empowering your child to make decisions like this will get him invested in the organizing process and teach him valuable lessons about managing his things.

Manage long-term storage

Inevitably, you are still going to have more artwork than you will have room to display. Use one plastic under bed storage box per child to store your “keepers.”  This container is both large enough to hold over-sized pieces of paper and compact enough to prevent your collection from adding to the clutter.

Now, here is the key to the system: when the container fills up, resist the urge to buy more containers. Instead, revisit step #2 and edit the contents.  With the passage of time, certain artworks will no longer seem as important as they once did and letting them go to make space for other things will make more sense.

Good luck – and happy organizing!