Kids’ Clothes, Toys, Artwork and Schoolwork: What to Get Rid of and What to Keep

Simplifying / Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

My in-laws celebrated their 61st anniversary this year. They also moved out of the house they’ve lived in for 50 of those years.

Various combinations of their nine kids spent weekend after weekend going through the 3-story house and sorting through the things they found there.

The attic has proven to be an especially interesting source of items, including three plastic bins of my kids’ baby clothes, another bin of their blankets, another of toys, and our old high chair, Exersaucer, and playpen.


The backstory is this: 12 years ago this summer we put our old house on the market. Since we wanted to make sure it showed well, we took a lot of the baby stuff we were storing to my in-laws’ and put it up in that 3rd floor attic.

We weren’t 100% sure we were done adding to our family, so we didn’t want to get rid of it. But it turned out that our family was complete after all, and so there it sat for 12 years.

That’s how I – someone who writes about simplifying and tries to regularly rid our house of unwanted items – found myself sorting through Osh Kosh overalls and Fisher Price school buses, when the babies who wore and played with them are now 18 and 21.

I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy on this soon to be empty nester.

I found my daughter’s blue and yellow fish raincoat. The same daughter who spent the summer studying and working in London. (Ironically one of the things she had to before she left was a raincoat.)

I also found my son’s sweet little Gymboree coat. The same coat that fell out of the stroller when we were visiting the Easter Bunny at the mall. The kids and I backtracked to try and find it (no luck!) and eventually left our name at the Sears customer service desk in case it got turned it. Luckily, it did.

And while I’ve been sorting and reminiscing about my own kids’ childhoods, some memorabilia from my husband’s childhood – and even a few of my in-laws’ – found it’s way into my house too.

All this has me thinking a lot about what things from childhood should be kept and which should be let go of. Here are some of my thoughts on that.


My kids are older, so we’re way past the stage where school clothes are outgrown from year to year. And there will be no little brothers or sisters to hand things down to.

When I was in that stage, however, a friend of mine offered up this suggestion: if you want to keep some clothes for sentiment’s sake, keep the outfits your kids had formal pictures taken in, so you’ll have both the picture and the outfit.

I thought that was a neat idea and I kept it in mind as I sorted through these bins of clothes recently. It’s fun to see a picture of your child in a special outfit or dress and then be able to hold the outfit in your hand at the same time.


Beyond that I just kept a few other special things, like these:

1. The sleeper they both came home from the hospital in.
2. The First Communion dress and suit.
3. A dress my daughter wore every day for what seemed like a year after she got old enough to express an opinion about what she wore.
4. A little navy pea coat and hat my son wore.


In addition to clothes, I had an entire bin of toys to sort through. I have some more of their toys in the basement that I’m holding onto for two main reasons:

1. So I’ll have something for little kids to play with when they come over.
2. I’ll have a few of my kids’ toys for my grandkids to play with if I have any.

For me, deciding which toys to keep is easy. I only keep the classic toys that really stand the test of time. Wooden puzzles, books, train sets, and a wooden cradle.

In fact, if I had it to do over again, I would probably only buy those kinds of toys for my kids. Less plastic and batteries.

Artwork and Schoolwork

This can be hard. You know you want to save the school pictures and report cards, but beyond that, what should you keep and what should you trash?

Back in my scrapbooking days, I used to advise customers to keep artwork or school assignments that were unique to the child.

If everyone’s in the class pretty much looked the same – like math tests and reports on Presidents – toss it.

But a story your child wrote or a drawing of how they spent their summer vacation. Definite keeps.


And artwork doesn’t have to reside in a box. Pull out a few of your favorite pieces and frame them. It will add a lot of personality and warmth to your house.

Those are my suggestions. Are you a saver or a tosser? What criteria do you use to decide?

Related note: over the weekend I re-read this interview with Sharon on how she saved $1800 on her family’s taxes in one year by donated unused items. So inspirational!

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

12 Replies to “Kids’ Clothes, Toys, Artwork and Schoolwork: What to Get Rid of and What to Keep”

  1. It can be hard to decide what to get rid of if there are lots of memories in the toys and clothes. I held onto bins and bins of clothes between the birth of our oldest son and our second son who came 7 years later. We had a miscarriage in between, and I just never felt like we were done.

    I love your advice about keeping the unique school stuff. I felt guilty dumping the kids handwriting books and some other stuff, and now I feel much better after reading your advice.

    1. It’s the hardest, isn’t it Barb? It’s like giving away their childhood. That’s why I need all these rules of thumb to keep me on track.

  2. Julie!
    Thanks for the shout out!
    I wish I had saved some of my daughter’s fisher price toys. They just don’t make them the same. I loved the farm the best. I did save Thomas the Tank Engine trains and track, sky dancers, blocks and a barbie doll house. I’ll need the toys when my future grandson comes to visit!

  3. Thanks for these tips, Julie! I’ve been a saver most of my life, trying to be a better tosser. I have 6 kids, oldest is 17 and youngest is 4 so forever we’ve had boxes of clothes that are passed down from one to the next. While I had saved everything that might be passed down to other kids, I’ve always donated goods to charity (mostly household things, clothing that doesn’t fit, books we don’t read anymore), enough to save on taxes, which has often bumped us into another tax bracket.

    The past year I’ve really been clearing out the clothes to pass down, realizing my 4 year old will probably not want to wear clothes that are 10+ years old unless they are classics like button down shirts or khaki pants which I’ll save. I’m super sentimental too, but getting better at deciding what will still be meaningful (or still “in style” for the younger ones) in years to come. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one to hold on to some of those tattered memories, I saved a pair of well-worn embroidered ballet flats my daughter wore day and night when she was 3 :).

    1. Susan, with 6 kids I imagine you did save everything to pass down. You would have a special challenge. And those ballet flats make me smile. It’s so funny when they go through those stages and where the same thing every day. So sweet.

  4. I will have to face this issue someday. Even though my kids are still grade school age, I haven’t wanted to toss certain things from when they were a baby. Is that weird for a Dad? Maybe, but I don’t care. There will be a purge someday because stuff can get burdensome, but hopefully we’ll be keeping some of the very most sentimental items. This is an exception for me, even though I’d gladly get rid of other clutter.

  5. When I was a kid, my mom and dad kept a “special box” for both my brother and I. Anything that was special went in the box. My first pair of shoes, my teddy bear that I loved, all of my report cards, school pictures, and anything truly special went in. It was just a rubbermaid bin, and anything that didn’t go in there wasn’t kept!

  6. I am currently in the process of downsizing and came across my sons sports trophys from grade&high school.I called each of them and they all said to donate them to a local group that can’t afford to buy trophys. I then took pictures of them and added pics of my boys at the age they won and added them to the collage.I plan on taking pics of some of their clothes before we donate them and also making an artwork collage!

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