Can't Take It With Us: The Art Cabinet


All four of my kids have free, open access to our art cabinet. Yes, even the 19 month old can (and oh does he ever) get out crayons, markers, and colored pencils, as well as a wide variety of paper, coloring books, stickers, and a random assortment of crafting supplies as he pleases. (I do stash the paints and scissors elsewhere because I'm not a *total* glutton for cleaning up my children's creative process.) My former art major heart believes deeply in allowing this unfettered access because I simply don't want anyone to ever lose a sudden creative spark by having to stop and ask for permission. Also, I don't want drawing to be confined to the classification of an "activity"...something that happens at an assigned time and with a defined purpose. Instead, we've got a constant stream of creating that's based on inspiration striking*. Our only rules are that all supplies must stay at the table and they need to be put away before moving on to something else. Otherwise, I'm very hands off about the whole thing. Needless to say, the art cabinet is a disaster. (That's the contents of the emptied out cabinet in the photo above.) A creative, fun disaster that I pointedly don't make eye contact with very often. And that's ok. I love the piles of art that are created on a daily basis and they enjoy spending at least an hour (if not two) making them every single day. In fact, art supplies are in my Top Five Absolute Must Haves on the bus.

However, there isn't going to be an art cabinet on the bus. Perhaps an art cubby. Or an art basket. Or maybe an art box. But definitely no dedicated cabinet chock full of supplies.

Since we are not (despite my own incessant moaning and foot stomping) leaving right this very minute on our bus adventure, I'm taking a slow pare down approach to our art supplies. I'm hoping we'll use a lot of them up and some things we'll repurpose and other things we'll pass along. I've committed myself to not buying anything new (someone is going to have to hold my hand and talk me down when back to school sales abound) despite my tradition of filling Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with fresh supplies.

Here's what ended up going back into the cabinet:

This is much more manageable, and a few treasures were unearthed to include a book with the paint built right into the page and a whole bunch of missing in action LEGO manuals. (I'm still not satisfied with this solution for the manuals, but I'm not keen on the other options either. The boys like to look at them, but things rarely get rebuilt...seems silly to keep them, but I was outvoted on this round**.)

Here's the official before and after of our art cabinet that is now spacious enough for Eli's homeschool crate to fit on the bottom:

One last thing...I know that kid artwork is a stumbling block for many. What to keep? How to keep it?

Here's our solution...the Mama Mailbox (AKA a drawer in my of the boys named it!) and Art Recycling.

As artwork is finished, the kids show it to me and they decide if it's going to go on their cabinet (Our fridge is stainless magnets have a hard time sticking. We use the front of the cabinets to display artwork instead.), or straight into the Mama Mailbox. Each child has a dedicated cabinet door as their own, and because of space, only one thing can be displayed at a time. If they decide to switch it out, the old piece goes to the Mama Mailbox. The Mama Mailbox holds everything until it just can't hold anymore. Then we empty it out, sort everything into a pile for each child, and a final decision is made for each piece. Does it go into that child's memory box***? Or is it eligible for our Art Recycling program?

We make an afternoon out of recycling our art. Recycled pieces get cut, torn, shredded, painted on, colored over, and made into something new...think of it as mixed media gone elementary. Sometimes they cut out the characters they drew and use them as puppets on popsicle sticks. Sometimes they make mosaics out of tiny cut up pieces. Sometimes they just flip the paper over and draw something new on the back. Any way they do it, it's fun all over again. Everything gets a second life, and their creative muscles get stretched.

From there, the cycle restarts. After the recycling, there's generally a lot that goes straight into the trash because it's been cut and glued to within an inch of its life. It's understood that the process is the fun part of our recycled pieces, not so much the outcome, so no one is upset by these used up creations ending up in the trash.

How about you? How do you manage the bounty of arts and crafts related projects in your house?


* A side note...none of my kids are good with an "art project"'s like pulling teeth to get them to do a planned craft. (*Sob* Sorry to my carefully curated Pinterest account that is currently neglected and gathering cobwebs. I spent many a late night hour nursing yet another baby to lovingly hone those precious projects I felt sure we would be doing during their early years. Alas, it was not meant to be.) Give these kids a stack of paper and a handful of crayons and they are on it, no Pinterest required.

** Yes, I let the kids have a say in what stays and what goes. Not always, but more often than not I ask for their thoughts on what is busworthy to them. If I expect the kids to treat their things as valuable and worthy of their time and care, I need to treat the kids as responsible enough to manage these items.

*** Our memory boxes are plastic tote containers that fit into each child's closet. They hold everything from ultrasound photos to first outfits to certificates of achievement to prized artwork. If they deem it worthy of saving, it goes into the bin. The boys have yet to fill their respective bins, but my oldest daughter has filled hers. A full bin means it's time to evaluate what is *REALLY* important enough to keep long-term. We sat down and went item by item, reminiscing about many things and scratching our heads trying to remember about others. It was clear what was a cherished memento and what was only important in the moment.