Keeping Childhood Artifacts

My love for Evernote is well documented in these parts, but did you know I actually listen to the podcast? Such a geek. It’s actually quite entertaining, the guys are funny, and I learn a lot about new uses and features for Evernote. (Word count for the Mac version, pleeeeeeeease?) I also feel like I get some insight into Robert’s job, since he is a product manager for a software company and the guys talk a lot about the process of deciding what features to roll out and when.

The last podcast I listened to featured an interview with writer Susan Orlean. (I highly recommend The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.) I was nodding along as she talked about Evernote as a tool for research and writing. She then started talking about Evernote as a storage solution for her kids’ artwork—she takes pictures of stuff and stores it in notebooks so it’s all accessible and organized.

She is totally right that the sheer volume of creative output is overwhelming. What’s the opposite of a hoarder? That’s what I am. Our house lacks the storage space, and I lack the inclination, to organize and store everything they do, but nor do I relish the idea of going through their creations and judging certain ones worthy of keeping. (I love everything they do!) So… this morning I spent some time taking pictures of their artwork over the last year and sorting them into Evernote notebooks. I pictured our kids, as they age and grow up, scrolling through dozens (hundreds?) of pictures and school assignments, marveling at their progress, laughing at the misspellings and the whimsical drawings.

But even as I went through this process, I realized that something is definitely lost in storing artwork this way. There is an energy that’s present in physical artwork that doesn’t translate to the screen. Real paintings and drawings have a three-dimensionality to them—when you hold a piece of kid artwork in your hand, you can feel the brushstrokes, you can practically see the fat little fingers grasping a marker.

I think, overall, the benefits outweigh the downsides. And there were some items that were just too precious to keep in an online system (or too complicated to photograph well) that I am storing in archive boxes. But on balance, I think this is the way to go for us. A good organizational system has to be fun and easy to use, and Evernote accomplishes that. (I admire people who scrapbook, but I don’t enjoy it. I like the person who said, “I don’t scrapbook, I pile chronologically.”)

Parents, what do you do with kid artwork?

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8 thoughts on “Keeping Childhood Artifacts

  1. marciglass says:

    Each kid has a rubbermaid tote. Throughout the year, as papers, pictures, awards, etc, come home, they go in the bucket. At the end of the year, I winnow it down some. There are some that I do scan and save as PDF files, just to make sure they are backed up somewhere. But I’m too touchy touchy (not touchy feely!) to be satisfied with pictures of it all.
    And, the older they get, the easier it is to let go of it all.
    There are a few pieces of art that were so remarkable they needed to be framed. In one of the communities in which we used to live, a local frame shop would frame and mat any piece of child’s artwork for $10. You had to select from some outdated matting, but who cares?
    So “mongoose at sunset #4” that Alden painted after we got back from Africa (he was 4) is immortalized on our wall. All of the “artwork” on the boys’ floor is original (their original work!).

    I need to take an Evernote class or something.

  2. Sarah says:

    I could use an Evernote tutorial myself….however, my two (grown) boys each have a teal tote (rubbermaid or similar) that reside in my attic for them to claim when they have permanent housing of their own. Then, it’s my hope that we’ll go thru the boxes “one more last time” as Peter once said years ago, sort out who keeps/wants what, and let the rest go. That’s how this mother of almost 24 y/o and 27 almost 28 y/o did w/o the benefits of ‘puters. Would do a combo approach now – and will when the time comes that grands come on the scene!

  3. Mamala says:

    I’m trying to get rid of or at least downsize the legal file storage boxes I have. I recently focusintonation the one that is labeled “Kids Art” and thought with the oldest of my kids turning 40 in Jan 2012, I really need to tackle this one first!

  4. General schoolwork, I cull with a fanaticism that dismays my husband. I have accepted his desire to make note of our son’s progress by keeping a sampling of his work. So far, I’ve been keeping most of the “creative” stuff. Hunter is the only child I’ve personally come across who gives all his people such juttingly square shoulders.

    Big artwork, on the other hand, covers the walls (and a bit of the ceiling) of his room. It’s his choice if he wants to get rid of some pieces to make room for others.

    Also, his kindergarten teacher made scrapbooks for all her kids, which was great. I just put his 1st grade work into a box to make room for this year’s stuff.

    I do have to say, however, that as much as we’d like another child, there is something to be said for only having the one right now….

  5. MaryAnn says:

    It’s staggering the number of things I gave myself permission to half-a** once we had a third kid. Keeping the physical artwork in a Rubbermaid tub is the ‘right’ way to do it in my mind. But I multiply that task by three and think no way.

    I don’t know why I decided that three was my tipping point on stuff like that. I guess it’s because two was The Plan. Because heaven knows The Plan is always right! But it’s somewhat arbitrary, really. I know people with three or more kids who manage to pull off such tasks quite well. And others with two kids who’ve made the same half-a**ing decisions I have. Different strokes.

  6. Shala says:

    I am a firm believer in the idea that at 4 the process of creating art is what matters, not the output. I expect that will change as B gets older and more invested in the work for its own sake, rather than as a mechanism to learn to draw, cut, etc.

    For now, we have a wicker basket tucked under Michael’s desk and another in my car, because invariably the preschool bag gets emptied in the car on the way into school the next morning and not in an organized fashion. Once a week, we bring the basket in from the car and go through it as a family. Truly exceptional pieces are put into the basket under her father’s desk for longer-term storage. When that basket gets full, I go through it on my own and recycle almost all of it, leaving only the very best of the work in the basket.

    Conveniently, there is a scanner on Michael’s desk, which is theoretically easy to use. Perhaps I’ll adopt your idea of scanning in the best of the best for a long term electronic life.

  7. sherry says:

    I have pieces hanging on the inside of my kitchen cabinets. I have pieces hanging all over my office. (One up side of being a pediatrician). I have sculptures on my mantle.

    In the summer of 2005, (like every summer), I was going to cull through the stuff. Then Katrina hit and friends lamented the loss of every.single.piece of art that their children had created.

    Honestly, I think that Hurricane has created an epidemic of hoarders in this area.

  8. marciglass says:

    My kids also have a “baby book” bucket, smaller than their artwork buckets. I used to feel so guilty about not being the mom who kept beautiful scrap books for my kids. But I do, at least, keep it all in one place. Someday, when they marry women who are scrapbookers, it will be an easy project.
    In that bucket, I also save a few birthday cards each year that they get. My mom did keep up my baby book (and sewed all of my clothes, AND made matching clothes for my doll, AND cooked homemade meals each day….but that’s another story) and I love looking back at the birthday cards from my grandparents. The late 60’s and early 70’s had some awesome and kitschy birthday cards. I’m thankful to have a sampling of them from people I love.

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