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Paper Piles


Papers from school arrive nearly every day, and someone’s got to do something with them. But what?

One Syracuse mom I know of looks at the papers, tells her children their work is wonderful, and then throws them (the papers, that is) away. Wow. I wonder what her house looks like. I bet I could stop by any time and find a clean chair to sit on.

As a journalist, I’ve had a problem with accumulating papers for a long time. My kids just compound it. So I turned to an alleged expert: Maureen Jones. A Syracuse native, she just moved back to town.

“I raised five children . . . so we had a lot of papers,” Jones says. Friends and family call on her to help them organize. She’s even considering starting an organizing business.

Jones recommends the “one-touch system.” When you receive the paper—say, right out of the backpack—you decide right then what to do with it. Jones recommends three options: Trash/Recycle, Action or Save. For adults, there’s a fourth option: Shred, for documents displaying personal information like bank account numbers.

Let’s start with the Action pile. That’s for permission slips or notice of a fund-raiser. But if you put them in the Action pile, remember to act on them soon! Jones had In boxes for herself and each child. The kids put their take-home papers in her In box. Any paper that needed to be returned to school, she put in that child’s In box. The children retrieved them, stuffed them in their backpacks, and took them back to school to start the process all over again.

Then there’s the Trash/Recycle category. I usually look at my kids’ “take-home folders” in the kitchen, right next to the recycling bag. I can easily trash announcements that I’ve read, routine homework and even most tests—after I’ve praised the student. But I start to get bogged down with the artwork, stories and outstanding tests or projects. I pile them on the kitchen table or a side table.

For the Save group, Jones suggests deciding on a container in which to keep each child’s important work. She recommends clear, plastic boxes. My sister used leftover shirt boxes from Christmas. She wrote each child’s name and year on the box, and she’s got a stack of more than 15 boxes in her basement from her three kids, now out of college.

My friend Chris in Oswego used expandable folders—again, one for each child for each school year. But now she would do it differently if she could. “Twenty-five years later you end up with piles of paper and nobody knows what they are. You ask your kids and they say, ‘I don’t know. I was 5,’” Chris says. Now a grandmother, Chris proposes instead asking the children once a week which items they would like to keep. If they select something for the “keeper box,” they must write something—“like ‘first star from Mrs. Florek’”—on the back of the paper to explain why it’s important.

For another option, Jones advises using the refrigerator. Artwork can be put up and rotated down every week and then moved into the trash or recycling. I get stuck on the refrigerator idea or the wall hangings: I never take them down. I did change two of my daughter’s winter scenes last Christmas and replaced them with two new scenes. (I think the old ones are in a “keeper” pile somewhere.)

A neighbor told me in the fall that for this school year she wanted to arrange some of her kids’ artwork into a collage by each one, frame the collages, and then hang them on one wall of their house. When I recently left a message asking how the project was going, she didn’t call me back. Well, the school year’s not over just yet.                                  

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York