Decluttering Stumbling Blocks: Photos

Mom Betty Hilda


Oh… the photos!


One of my “inherited treasures” from my sister was her collection of thousands (not kidding here) of photos. My sister traveled all over the US and at every State or National Park entrance. She would stop the car and take 4 photos. All were  the same shot of my nephew, standing in front of the sign telling you where they were. This was back in the day, before digital cameras, where you had to wait for the pictures to be developed to see what they looked like.  Lots of times it was a crap shoot.  Photos were too light, to dark, too blurry, or just plain awful. Plus the companies that processed these pictures usually had deals and  discounts on multiples of the same shot.  We got into the habit of ordering extra so we had pictures to give away and share. In my sister’s case, this meant 16 pictures of Chris standing in front of the Flathead Indian Reservation sign in Montana.


Along with the multiples, there were the plethora of wallet sized school photos, and those really huge ones that go into a 10 x 16 inch frame. We had some old vintage cabinet photos from 1901 that were cool.  And I can’t forget the slides! Betty had all kinds of slides singles and doubles ( you need a different type of projector for each).


When it came down to sorting through all of them, it was hard to know where to start.  I had to fight through that old style of thinking, about how everything was valuable because it belonged to a family member.


Finally, I settled on a step by step plan of attack, which worked pretty well for us. You may have a different take, which is always fine, in my book.


I knew I’d need some time to do this, because there really were thousands of pictures on hand ( I counted, but quit after 2037.  I mean honestly what was the point?  I wasn’t keeping them, and it wasn’t a competition.


  1. My vision or plan for the photos was to have just the ones that meant the most to me and Chris. I also wanted to be able give a digital copy to Chris, organized in such a way that he can figure out where, when and who these people are. I wanted to be able to see most of these pictures regularly, as well. I also set a workable time frame to do this, because there was no way I would get these done in a day; too many emotions involved.


  1. I gathered every photo, slide and cabinet picture that I could find (I found out later that I had missed some, but I did the best I could at the time). I also cleared a working space and just put all of the photos in several big boxes.  There was no order, just tossed them in. I kept an empty box for the keep pictures.


  1. While the photos were mainly from my sister’s collection, it was decided that I would be the one to review them.  When my sister passed away, my nephew was not in a good place to sort through a hoarder’s home.  He was 16 at time and just couldn’t cope with the mess and having just lost both parents within 6 months of each other.  His solution was to just burn everything.  Totally understandable given the situation as a whole, but not practical. So I plunged into the fray. We decided on some basic things that were important to Chris, such as some pictures from childhood and special times, but not everything. We were also doing this process long distance.  Chris was staying with a friend, so he could finish high school in a setting that was supportive and familiar. I brought the photos home, some 250 miles away.


  1. Because there were just so many photos, I set up some general guidelines and did a “first pass” to chew down the amount, before deciding what actually sparked joy.  Any blurry pictures, duplicate pictures, angry, or crying pictures were trashed immediately. I truly believe that bad memories don’t need memorializing.  It’s hard enough to forget about them and put them into perspective without having to see them staring back at you in a photo. Anyway, that sort did a good job of helping to cull more than half of what was there.


  1. Then I got into the spark joy part of the process. I tried to trust my instant feeling about the photo I was looking at. I wanted pictures that would make us smile, and remember the person and occasion with happiness, not sorrow.  I could do that with some clarity about family gatherings but the pictures that were of just Chris, his Mom and Dad, I set aside to bring for him to look at on the next visit.


  1. There were a few photos that I was stuck what to do with, such as the  “cabinet photographs.”  These are pictures from the 1900’s and have some intrinsic value, but they were of people I wasn’t too familiar with.  I kept those, partly because they didn’t take up much space and also because I could see doing something in the future with them. I also kept a long scroll of pictures of my sister, done when she was about 2 years old.  I don’t know what to do with then even now, after all these years, but they make me happy.  The slides were a different story. I pretty much dumped all of them for various reasons: I would need two different machine to view them in a large format, neither of which I had; some were just damaged and moldy; a lot were random pictures places and landscapes that were nothing remarkable; the rest were not joy sparkers. On a side note, these slides were buried in boxes in one of three storage units that my sister rented for a good 20 years or so.  Along with them were broken pieces of furniture, and  her college notes. None of which were salvageable. I know what she spent just to store these things and it’s sobering.


  1. I bagged up those uncertain pictures for Chris and brought them down with me on my next weekend visit.  Chris kept some and let a bunch go. I had also brought down some of the pictures that we were trashing.  Partly so Chris could see what was going, but mainly so we could dispose of them together.  We had a fire in the fire pit with the pictures we didn’t keep. It was very cathartic and emotional, but afterwards we both felt better.


  1. Lastly, I scanned what was left and made digital copies of everything we kept on a flash drives.  He and I each have one I also loaded my favorites onto a scrolling app on my computer, so I see them everyday as I work. At the house we have a few family pictures on display, but I see my family pictures every time I log on to do some work.

Anyway, this is what worked for me.  I like have the digitized pictures, but I can understand loving the feel of the actual picture in hand, too. Our home is fairly small.  There isn’t a lot of room for hanging stuff or picture frames.  We love our little home, so I went with the practical approach to handling our pictures.

The cool thing though, about having them digitized is that, along with seeing them all of the time, I can share them with you, on my blog.



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