why i threw away your artwork (letter to my kids)

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To my adult children,

As you read this to yourselves, I want you to do so in the context of our relationship. You must know that I love you dearly. You are, and always have been, our greatest achievement, source of immense pride and joy, and our lives are immeasurably richer for having had you in them.

That said, as children, your artwork was regularly binned – by the bag load. This is not because I didn’t love you or because I wanted to discourage your artistic attempts – in fact, I feel partly responsible for the creative people you were (and possibly still are – I don’t know, because I’m writing this in the past – your past – and you haven’t grown up yet, so who knows). I provided you with materials, and a space, and tried to nurture a love of Trying Things Out. But I threw away so much of what you produced, daily and without shame.

Let me try to explain the factors which led to this course of action:

1) The quantity. I’m sorry, but you seemed to bring back an average of four pictures a day from school. Apparently the teachers also taught you some reading and writing, because you’re now literate (again, not entirely sure as you haven’t grown up yet), but how they fitted this in, I don’t know. Because you drew so much. How big did you think our house was? I mean, I know you were small so it probably felt bigger to you, but seriously – how much wall space?

2) The poor choice of colours. Yellow on white does not work. It won’t be seen from a distance. And that is important, for some reason. Also – you didn’t understand that eyesight deteriorates, not improves, with age. So, no, I didn’t keep anything I couldn’t detect without a UV lamp.

joel pic

3) The repetitive nature of your output. Obviously, what with you being all (fictitiously) grown up and everything, I’m over this – but there was a time when I wanted to inflict some serious damage on whoever it is who markets all those identikit superheroes. You never seemed to get bored of drawing them, over and over again, identified in your pictures with capes and sometimes-decipherable labels. But I was so bored I was screaming inwardly. “TRY MIXING IT UP!” I was yelling in my head. “TRY PAINTS OR PASTELS OR COLLAGE OR SOME KIND OF FUN TECHNIQUE THAT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE THE YUMMIEST MUMMY FOR HAVING SUCH NATURALLY CREATIVE KIDS. BUT, DEAR GOD, NOT ANOTHER FELT-TIP SUPERHERO.” Man, am I glad I don’t feel that way now.


4) The poor choice of medium. Chalk will rub off. Things that were not meant to be stuck to paper will fall off. And I wasn’t prepared to adorn our home with A4 sheets decorated with PVA splodges where the yogurt pot and pine cone had been. Just wasn’t.

I hope you’ll forgive me, and understand why I chose to act in the way I did. I don’t think you’ve suffered any major trauma as a result, and I’d like to think you’re all well-adjusted adults – perhaps that you benefited simply from the act of being creative, even if it wasn’t always displayed. But if you’re reading this with your therapist – what can I say?

Sorry. And I love you.

Mum xx

PS Some tips for when you have your own kids:

a) have a space where their artwork can be displayed. A big space, but defined – so that it can’t overflow. Despite what I said above, you had your own defined display spaces in the dining room, kitchen and bedroom. (They just weren’t enough for the HUGE amount of things you drew.)

b) keep a folder in the hall for all pictures produced in the week. At the weekend, decide with your kids which ones are keepers and which ones are not.

c) work on a one-in, one-out basis – kids want to display a picture? They have to take another one down.

d) cut round anything small-ish and stick it onto a card for the next birthday party they get invited to

e) palm off some pictures next time you see grandparents, aunts/uncles, godparents, cousins, neighbours, random strangers…they see your kids’ pictures as a novelty, something sweet and innocent, rather than a noose around your neck.

f) don’t use the words ‘bin’ or ‘throw away’. Instead talk of ‘recycling’, and make it an Adventure – “hey, I know, why don’t we put this one in the RECYCLING?!” you could say, excitedly. You never know, they might just buy it.


  1. Haha, brilliant! They’re a prolific little pair aren’t they?! I remember noticing when Mister was younger (and Missy a baby) how much he seemed to draw, then one day I noticed Missy coming out of Grace Tots or similar with a masterpiece of her own and thought ‘ah, DesertMum’s really in trouble now!’ As a parent of a low-output child when it comes to drawing (don’t hate – he’s high-output when it comes to energy, bless him!) I still struggle to afford wallspace to all offerings, so I do empathize with parents of junior Picassos! May you have many a merry day of RECYCLING – woo! X

  2. Love this! I secretly bin (sorry, recycle) lots and lots of pictures and agree whole-heartedly with your stated reasons. Perfectly reasonable – no grounds for complaints that you ruined their life by binning the picture of a cat that frankly wasted a good piece of a4 paper by covering only 1/16th of the available drawing space!

  3. Thank you for showing me I don’t have to feel guilty for not keeping every single glorious item produced by my offspring.

  4. Interesting perspective on this from the autistic 18 year old in our church who loves art and scribbles away throughout the service, but who is also quite happy to tear up or crumple up his own work as soon as it’s done. For him what’s important is the pleasure of making something, not the end product.

  5. Not that that’s stopped his family from turning some of his patterns into rather attractive mugs and cushion covers.. 😉

  6. So glad I am (almost) over that stage…..I made a big thing of framing one piece of art, many of the other languish at the bottom of my drawer (after brief but rotating exposure on the kitchen board). Still not sure what to do about the 3D ones (the pots with holes the 20 meter paper chain, the strange construction made out of egg boxes). Boy is suddenly (and fleetingly) attached to any I attempt to recycle! I am sure there is a meaningful life lesson in learning to let go there, but for the time being, they are staked in the barn, vulnerable to the ravages of the mice.

    Lovely piece.

  7. Absolutely, we’re the same. One week (or one day) pegged to the gallery string, then recycle, recycle, recycle! The advantage of home ed is I can ban felt tips and insist on watercolour. Always easier on the eye 🙂

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