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  • Leah Cee

Decluttering - Printed Photos

Photos, in my opinion, are the hardest of all possessions to declutter.


Photos awaken memories few other material goods can muster. They instantaneously transport us back to another moment, time, place, season, and era. They are highly visual, capture a snapshot in time and can bring us an incredible amount of joy. They have the power to evoke happy feelings, sad feelings and all the in-between feelings. Some maybe don’t generate any feelings at all ... and they are the photos we can afford to delete from our lives.


This is a uniquely personal exercise and everyone will go about this in their own way. I will give you an insight into how I go about decluttering, collating and storing photos, but it may not work for you. This is the one area of decluttering that is exclusive to each and every one of us.

Firstly, allow yourself time to do this. It could take days, weeks or even months to complete. And even then you may find in a year’s time, you hit the photos up for a second pass, then a third pass and so on.


Personally, I am at about pass number four and it has taken me far too long to get to this point. I have not regretted releasing one single photo to the bin, because in my somewhat Kondo-esque approach, each is held, looked at and scrutinised before the decision is made to toss it out.


So, where do we start when decluttering photos?

THE START


First up, grab the following - pens, post-it notes, scrap paper, a couple of shoeboxes or small tubs to help with sorting, some cardboard if you have some (if not A4 paper will do the trick), a couple of garbage bags, and a cup of tea. And some Tim Tams.

  • Find a spot in your house that is comfortable and you can afford to spend some time sorting through the photos. The preference is to be able to keep the photos in this spot until you complete the task. You don’t want to have to pack it all up, move the photos every time you eat a meal, watch TV or have guests over. This, for some people, is a ‘long haul’ task and chances are you won’t get it completed in a day.

  • Gather every single photo in your house and have all of them in the one spot. Every album, box, plastic pocket, shoebox, bag … every photo. You want to know what you’re working with. I guarantee that if you spend hours re-sorting albums and getting everything into chronological order, the last thing you want is to find a packet of 24 photos from 1995 that you need to shuffle in somewhere. It will drive you crazy!

  • Have a cup of tea and a Tim Tam while you gather yourself. This is already looking overwhelming and the Tim Tam will lift your spirits.

  • Dig into the photos. Perhaps start with a small packet of photos and look at them (Marie Kondo style if you like. Does it spark joy? NO = BIN, YES = KEEP).

  • Take the photos out of the albums - one album at a time. I know it's a big job, but this will make the reorganising process easier in the long run. It's much easier to sort your entire collection into chronological order as you declutter them. By removing every photo from the album, the organising of the photos becomes infinitely easier. While deleting photos from your collection, you may also find you can donate or bin (depending on the condition) some of your albums to further reduce the amount of stuff in your home.

  • As you find photos to keep, try to establish the year and some info regarding the shot. For now, use a shoebox to file the photos you wish to keep, using a piece of card to separate into years / events / places / trips / people or whatever filing system you find easiest to use.

  • Use post-it notes to jot down brief info regarding the photos. For example, you may keep 75 out of 150 photos of your trip to Scotland. On one of those photos, stick a post-it note with “Trip to Scotland 2010” on the first photo in the batch.

  • If you’re really wanting to go full-organise on the first pass, use some scrap paper to jot down a few extra points about the photos including people in the photo and what is happening in the photo. In the event that you are no longer around to pass on this information to your loved ones, it will make their job a bit easier deciphering what was important to you and if to keep those memories in the family or not. I’ll give you an example. My Contiki tour to Austria in 1999 is of absolutely no interest to anyone in my family and although there might be one or two nice photos of me in the snow, the rest can easily be dumped should I not be around to enjoy them. Photos are incredibly personal and if you can’t enjoy them anymore, it doesn’t mean someone else in the family needs to take on the responsibility of caretaker.

  • Once you are happy with the photos you intend to keep, you can choose how best to store them. See below.

WHAT TO DISCARD

  • Photos of landscapes that have no meaning, no name, no interesting features or you have no recollection of. When looking at happy snaps, it's usually much more visually interesting to look at a photo with someone in it than a blank landscape.

  • Double-ups. Get rid of the copy. If you can pass it on to someone in the family or a friend who has a connection to the photo - great. If not, bin it.

  • Blurry photos. Unless it is the only photo of a loved one and you can’t find another similar then get rid of the blurry photos. They’re not appealing.

  • Photos of people you don’t know, don’t care for, don’t remember, don’t want to remember, or bring you negative vibes. Bin them.

  • Photos that are already in digital form and aren't really worth keeping the printed copy as well. This is what I’m struggling with at the moment. But, I’m learning that I’d rather look at photos on a larger screen than try to balance a 300 page album on my knee.

  • Photos that you potentially don’t want anyone else seeing or you would be mortified at the thought of someone having to sort through. Remember that little romantic getaway to that tropical island, and you had a few too many mojitos then flashed something you perhaps shouldn’t have? Not saying everyone has one of those sneaky little nudie-rudies in their collection, but if you do, perhaps this is a good time to reconsider what to do with that shot!


HOW TO DISCARD

Unfortunately, and it pains me to say this - photos are, as a general rule, not recyclable and they are destined to end up in landfill. They were processed using chemicals that can potentially contaminate an entire load of recycling.


You may find someone wanting photos for art and craft projects (perhaps not that nudie shot I mentioned above), in which case advertise them on a local free-cycle page.


If you’re like me and just want this collection in front of you reduced, bin them and be done with it.


I shred photos of people, before binning the shots - just for confidentiality.

Immediately toss the discarded photos into a garbage bag and be pleased that you are on your way to organising your collection.

STORING PHOTOS


I currently have somewhere in the vicinity of 6000 printed photos. I store the majority in plastic craft containers that are portable and hold around 1600 photos per container. I have them loosely divided into “travel”, “family” and “generic” photos and the individual containers have a small descriptive label printed on the edge. Most are sorted chronologically. The containers are portable and ready each summer to be packed should an evacuation be ordered. They are also somewhat water resistant but not waterproof.


These storage containers were purchased from craftonline.com.au but I believe Spotlight have a similar product available in Australia. If you Google "Francheville Craft Storage Box", you should find something similar. The advantage of this type of storage is that the photos are very portable, the individual smaller boxes hold about 100 shots each and keep the prints nice and safe in a handbag or backpack.


I’ve had people ask whether the photos degrade in the plastic. That, unfortunately, I don’t know given they’ve only been in the containers for a few years. For most of us, printed photos are generally “happy snaps”. By the time they degrade to the point they’re unrecognisable, I doubt anyone will be too worried about the subject matter anyway.


I also have four shoebox size photo storage boxes which house my “pre digital work photos” and “pre digital travel photos”. They hold roughly 1000 photos in each. The photos are separated into events or years and are easy to pick through should I want to reminisce.


Something like this box from IKEA is perfect for happy snap photo storage.

Once you have condensed your collection, I’d thoroughly recommend scanning your prints onto a digital format as a backup to the printed copy. There are many photo scan apps and options as well as flat bed scanners that will do the job. It is time consuming, but will give you peace of mind knowing that your precious memories are backed up.


You may revert back to album storage, but now, you'll find the collection easier to manage, much more interesting to look at, and certainly more organised.


If you have a need for storing photos for archival purposes, my suggestion would be to check for more thorough handling measures via the National Archives of Australia website.


NEGATIVES


I kept negatives in a different house to where my photos were kept for many many years. Now, if I were to lose my photos, would I reprint them all from the negatives? Nope. I quite simply couldn’t be bothered. I also couldn’t be bothered holding each negative strip up to the light to see what’s on the film, so they are of no use to me at all. I would consider the digital backup a better way of keeping your memories in a second spot should you lose the originals.


And that in a nutshell is my guide to photos. It’s not a quick job and you may find it incredibly overwhelming, but as you slowly work through each packet, box, tub or album, you’ll find the collection can be culled dramatically just by paring down the good shots from the bad shots.

Good luck. Enjoy the trip down memory lane. Cry if you need to - it's important to feel those emotions as you work through the memories.


And don’t eat all the Tim Tams. You’ll need some for tomorrow!


Enjoy the lightness of less.

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