Putting My Kids' Art in the Trash: How I Got Past the Guilt

It feels bad to throw away the crayon drawings and unfinished projects. But the memories stored there can never really be lost.
Hayes desk

A desk at the author's home, covered with her children's art supplies, drawings, and toys. Photo by Shannon Hayes.

A friend of mine once described my home as "a houseful of doers." At any moment in time, there is a pot on the stove, dishes in the sink, a knitting project next to a rocking chair, a half-woven basket on a work counter, soaps lined up and aging beside it, candle-making supplies neatly piled in the corner, canning supplies lined up on benches, fabric crated in Rubbermaid totes stacked beside a sewing table, research books and articles piled on every side table and beside the toilet.

I'm running out of wall space. I'm running out of storage space. And I face another year of creativity.

That's just Bob's and my stuff. Then there's the kids. Each girl has her own craft space: tables blotted with colorful splotches of spilled paint, made sparkly by a few glitter accidents and uniquely textured with crayon wax drippings.

These tables are rarely cleared. They are littered with paintings, sculptures, unfinished embroidery samplers, beading projects, weaving projects, knitting projects, sewing projects, and mud projects. Those projects that are actually seen through to completion then find their way to my kitchen counters, the refrigerator, my bedstand, and absolutely every wall my house.

In all sincerity, while I've never seen it promoted in any glossy magazine, I like the "shabby homeschool" look for interior design. But I'm running out of wall space. I'm running out of storage space. And I face another year of creativity.

Bob and I stealthily began breaking down a few of the household art exhibits. The collection of capital letters decorated with macaroni and Rickrack trim went out with the trash. The best paintings and crayon drawings were salvaged, but the rest went into the fire bin, carefully hidden beneath a stack of newspapers. The cardboard city that was slowly taking over the bedroom space was broken down for recycling.

Each time I select a piece for discard, I am wracked with guilt. I think back to the first days I held newborn Saoirse in my arms. Customers would visit the farm, coo over the baby, then admonish me repeatedly with what I have come to call "the lecture": "Hold on to this! Cherish everything! Take lots of pictures! Save all their beautiful artwork! The time flies, and pretty soon you'll be missing all this!"

I hear these words as I remove crayon-colored pictures curling up at the edges that are taped beside the bathroom mirror. And I feel as though, somehow, by throwing out a large percentage of my children's artwork, by going through their drawers and removing worn-through garments, by pulling out abandoned knitting efforts and rewinding the yarn for another use, I am somehow flouting the wisdom that has rained down from every parent who has gone before me.

It is good to cherish the past, but equally important to make room for enjoying the present and the future.

The truth is, as soon as I had a six-month-old baby, I no longer missed having a newborn. And as soon as I had a one-year-old baby, I no longer missed having a six-month-old. As soon as I had a walking, talking toddler, I no longer missed having a baby at all. And now that I have a ten-year-old and a six-year-old, I definitely don't miss having toddlers.

I look back at a few of the photos now and then, and they certainly make me smile. But the more engrossed I am in my life with these children, the less I think about the past and the more I immerse myself in enjoying the present. It is this thought that pushes me forward and helps me override the guilty thought that by refusing to hold on to every artifact of my daughters' childhood I am somehow destroying memories and flouting the divine gift of family that has so enriched my world.

I pull down the picture. With my fingernail, I begin scraping away the bit of tape that held it to the wall. I assuage my guilt by reminding myself that I am making room for this year's projects. I am clearing space so that we can all celebrate Saoirse's and Ula's newest creative endeavors. It is good to cherish the past, but equally important to make room for enjoying the present and the future.

Written plainly across my aging face is my truest memory book.

But what of that past? The curled-up crayon drawing is still in my hand. I remember the day they made it. They had decided they were opening a beauty salon, and decorated the bathroom with drawings and paintings of stylish women sporting trendy haircuts. If I throw out that picture, where will that memory go?

And then, I catch a glimpse of my own image in the bathroom mirror. My face has changed dramatically since I had Saoirse ten years ago. My own youthful skin is slowly giving way to smile lines and crows' feet, evidence of the years I've spent grinning, giggling and laughing with these children. And there, written plainly across my aging face, is my truest memory book. I cannot hold on to each and every slip of paper, to each and every shred of fabric, to each and every knitting project, shed tear, spill, impromptu song, music lesson, snuggle, or kiss.

All of them drift away. And I must keep physical and emotional space in my home and in my spirit to allow new ones to enter. But if I do, the lines on my face will capture all of it somehow, and when I gaze at myself and see those slowly emerging signs of age, I will know that I have lived well, and that I have enjoyed every moment.

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