Yes, I throw away my child’s art

My son jumped off the school bus yesterday with a familiar roll of paper sticking out of his backpack. I took it out and admired it, “Wow, look at this painting! Can you tell me about it?”

He quickly recounted his ideas, thoughts, and enjoyment of the second-grade art project before it fell into the trash with a familiar crunch.

That’s right. I openly discard most of my child’s artwork. Sometimes I even use it to fuel the bonfire at our weekend festivities.


I do not think so. In fact, by recycling my children’s artwork, I control the clutter in my home and teach them important lessons. Life is not about collecting a bunch of nice things; it’s about enjoying the journey along the way.

As adults, we see the finest works of art hanging in galleries and museums around the world. These pieces usually represent a snapshot of the human experience. Do you know why you like to see art this way? Because it’s organized. There’s only a small selection of things that are easy to focus on and enjoy.

In our homes with children, we often struggle to retain art. We rarely have the wall space and/or the patience to handle the vast amount of treasured creations our children create to tell their life stories. It leaves us overwhelmed with the art and unsure of how to handle it.

This might sound familiar: the piles of artwork pile up until a fit of rage hits you, and you put the majority of it in the bottom of the trash can while saying a silent prayer for that they are not discovered and that your children do not notice anything that is missing.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be afraid. Here’s a three-step process for saving some of your child’s favorite artwork and tossing the rest with confidence – right on top of the trash.

Appreciate the process

When admiring your child’s art, focus your questions and praise on the process rather than the finished piece. “Why did you choose to use this color? What kind of things inspired you? Did you have fun doing it? When we can focus our feedback on appreciating the process, we can help our children understand that art (and life!) is more about the journey than the end product.

Designate the space

You can (and should) keep some of your children’s works, but with parameters. We have dedicated space for short term storage and long term storage in our house. Each piece that enters is admired and discussed. Then 90% goes directly to recycling. The remaining 10% head to a channel with six clips that contain current favorite tracks. When these places are filled, we use a “one-in-one-out” policy to bring the new one.

A few of the most beloved pieces go into a single long-term storage box, our “Art Box”. When the Art Box is full, we select and recycle anything that has lost its sentimental value. It’s true; Just because that Thanksgiving placemat was special three years ago doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same today. Our feelings towards sentimental objects change over time.

If you can’t remember why you saved him three years later, you certainly won’t remember it 30 years later. So, yes, even long-term storage can benefit from preservation, and by limiting it to a single box, we’re bound to do that.

Model letting go

Our homes and our lives are overflowing with things. By stuffing things in the bottom of the trash in secret, we can teach our children that letting go is scary. By showing our children that we can confidently unleash art, we are showing them that we can enjoy the creative process and make room to unleash the creativity of new works.

When it comes to our children’s art, let’s appreciate the joy it has brought them to create it. Then, show them that it’s safe to get rid of it to make room for new experiences.

It’s okay to let things go; growth occurs in the process, not the product.

Denaye Barahona Ph.D.. is a family coach, author and host of the Simple Families podcast. Her work has been featured on Netflix, Real Simple Magazine, The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and many more.

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