Thinking About: What to do with your children’s art

“The point of life isn’t to prolong youth, but to have grown up. That requires discarding things along the way, and enjoying the appropriate relief.”

In her article “Throw Away Your Children’s Art” in The Atlantic, Mary Townsend contends that “What parents do with children’s art depends on what they think about the nature of childhood, nostalgia, and beauty.” And with this she proposed that we should all be throwing our children’s art away, accepting the “ephemeral qualities of childhood.”

Your pride lasts longer than the child’s does. Eventually, and soon, it must move on to another venture. Theirs always does, but yours lingers, heartstrings tugged.

It’s the wish to prolong this moment artificially, I think, that motivates the urge to keep and curate your children’s art for posterity. You convince yourself there’s some future where your child will want to return to that moment of pride and love through the act of witnessing the thing she made so long ago.

Don’t fall for it. You’re only trying to make yourself feel better. You’ll never quite be able to tell which moment your children will remember, and it’s not as if you can regulate that memory on their behalf anyway. And besides, childhood is made from a thousand moments just like this. There’s no way to hold on to all of them.

It’s a compelling argument, reminiscent of that in The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up: cherish who you are now; thank your unused things and then let them go.

Aron has taken to photographing some of his favorites and then throwing it away, but this solution seems almost less satisfactory. The art is flattened, losing any of the tactile quality of finger-painted strokes that make it special. And it will be doomed to disappear into a digital archive of thousands and thousands of images. Moreover, it shifts the burden to the family photo editor (me).*

That said, I understand well the impulse. He, too, is only trying to make himself feel better about throwing the originals away.

My solution of keeping a few favorites isn’t much better, considering how much space preschool art is apt to take up. Plus, “few” is a relative concept, and I’m more inclined toward saving than tossing.

I’ve heard from others that their living room wall (or the refrigerator door) acts like a rotating exhibition hall: nothing is tossed immediately, but the time for display is limited. This makes sense to me. And if something is still compelling after the time is up, I suppose it could move into their room for a while longer.

In terms of motivation for holding onto these things, one hears people talk fondly about the way their mothers saved everything—as if a token of their worth to their parents. Does a grownup feel less loved as a child if their parents don’t have a box of crayon drawings to pass along?

What do you think? What did your parents do? And if you have children, what do you do?

P.S. Tips for visiting an art museum with kids, best creative gifts for preschoolers, and more on Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up.

*Apologies, I stand corrected: the images go into their own file in Evernote, which he will manage.

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