The school year has finally ended. Cubbies have been cleaned out, worn out backpacks have been thrown away, classrooms have been stripped bare, and a year’s worth of artwork, class projects, writing journals and worksheets have been sent home. Let me say that again, just in case you missed it: a year’s worth of artwork, class projects, writing journals and worksheets have been sent home. And now it is sitting on my dining room table, waiting for me to figure out what the hell to do with it all.
It’s a dilemma that parents have been facing for generations. Obviously, I realize that the next time anyone will look at this stuff will be after I’ve died, when my children and/or grandchildren are cleaning out my garage and posthumously making fun of me for being such a packrat. But what else can I do? Am I to throw away a hand-drawn family portrait that includes the dog, the goldfish, and the nanny, with everyone’s name spelled phonetically? Am I to toss the construction paper pilgrim outfit from Thanksgiving, the mobile from Halloween, or the hand-written guilt trip, I mean, word problem that says, “Harper had 10 goldfish. 3 of them died. How many does she have now?” Please. I may drip with sarcasm, but I’m not heartless.
My system for storing these treasures originally started with those extra-large, brown paper folders that you find at art supply stores. During Harper’s first and second years of preschool, I dated all of her artwork, haphazardly shoved it all into a couple of said folders, and then haphazardly shoved those into my garage. But last year, when I pulled it all out in an attempt at organization and found it filled with dead spiders, live silverfish and what I’m nearly certain was rat droppings, I determined that it was time for a new system. So I headed over to The Container Store – which is my favorite store in the entire world, mostly because just being inside of it makes me feel like an organized, responsible parent instead of the giant ball of chaos and dishevelment that I actually am – where I purchased several large, clear, plastic containers with tight fitting lids, all the better to keep out those pesky arachnids and perpetually pooping rodents. But then the plastic containers got full, and I got too busy to go out and buy some more, so now my system consists of several organized, clear plastic containers that hold approximately two years and four months worth of artwork, with about eight months worth of newer stuff haphazardly piled on top of them.
But this year, when kindergarten ended and Harper stepped off the bus on the last day of school, carrying a trash bag overflowing with the fruits of her labor, I nearly had a panic attack right there on the sidewalk. And when I picked her up from her last day of art class, and her teacher handed me two extra-large, brown paper art folders filled with paintings and etchings and drawings, I almost started to cry. I want to save all of this stuff for posterity, I do, but pretty soon, posterity is going to need its own garage, because mine is just about full from all of this crap.
The art teacher, God bless his soul, noticed my angst, and gently inquired as to whether I have a system. I explained the folders and the insects and the rat poop and the plastic containers and my constant need for validation – oh wait, that was my therapist – and he smiled. I have one word for you, he said. What’s that? I asked. iBooks, he said. Exactly how do you mean? I asked. And he went on to explain the most brilliant idea I have ever heard to date, more brilliant than that little step that attaches to strollers for toddlers to ride on, more brilliant even than dual DVD players in the backseat of the car. In short, you take close up, digital pictures of everything you want to save, you create an iPhoto book (or you can use mypublisher.com for a cheaper, and, according to some camps, a better, alternative), and then you throw it all away, giving yourself something you and your children might actually might look at one day, in one compact, little book.
So, move over, Posterity. I’m making space in my garage for the things that actually belong there, like sporting equipment I’ll never use, and the five boxes of baby clothes that I just can’t bear to part with.