I should expect it by now, but I’m always a little astonished when I hear the number of digital photos people have on their phones, cameras, computers, and external hard drives. 5,000 on a phone. Two terabytes’ worth on a hard drive. No wonder people today suffer from Photo Overwhelm! This month on Evolve’s #familyhistoryfridays, we will learn some tips for decluttering photos and then organizing them. Knowing what you have and where it all is is very important, but much more important is putting those photos in a format where they can be seen with their stories. Don’t forget that digital photo storage is a backup, not the goal. Print is how photos are known and loved. (There’s a lot of flexibility in HOW you print, by the way. See several ideas here.)
What Exactly is Clutter?
Dictionary.com defines clutter as
to fill or litter with things in a disorderly manner
This doesn’t mean clutter is junk or unimportant, it just means there’s a lot of something that’s unorganized.
So to de-clutter, then, means to organize and/or pare down so there’s not as much of it.
Some photos can’t be pared down. If you have 20 pictures of your grandmother throughout her whole life, you should keep all those photos. (Just don’t keep them in a box! Put them in a book where they can be seen. Write your memories of her and details of her life. But I digress.) If you have 300 photos of your last vacation, you more than likely need to pare them down by just picking your favorites. One reason people are overwhelmed with their photos is that they have overwhelming amounts of them!
I read a great article recently called “Stop Photo Clutter: Do You Really Need to Keep All Those Photos?” Andi Willis gave some excellent advice about photos, including:
- Get rid of the obvious garbage–duplicates, pictures of the floor or your finger, blurry pictures, etc. Don’t keep them another minute!
- Get rid of photos without people in them. Andi talks about scenery photos here. She gives the example of going to the Grand Canyon and taking 20 pictures of just the canyon without anyone in the photo–how different are your pictures from ones you can just look up on the internet? (Now, I personally feel that some scenery pictures ARE worth keeping to preserve what you actually saw. This photo, for example, is from a family trip to Puerto Rico where we stayed at a great house right on the beach. This view from the outdoor kitchen area is one I want to remember. I won’t find this on the internet anywhere. That said, I see Andi’s point when it comes to grainy pictures or 200 scenery pictures. When I went to Rome, it was so much better to buy the little tourist book of Rome because it had professional pictures of all the sights we saw. I would never have gotten shots like those inside St. Peter’s, but it was really neat to have a picture of us in front of it.)
- Get rid of duplicates. Andi calls this “The Kids – Versions 1-10.” It’s so easy to take 25 pictures at the hotel swimming pool or around the campfire. How many are the same? How many are just the backs of heads? Which is your favorite one? (Or two?) That’s what you keep. If you can pare down like this to just 2/25 of your photos or even 10/25 of your photos, that makes preserving your photos–the most important part–easier!
The Concept of Extra Photos
Do you remember when I introduced the concept of Extra Photos last July? If you missed that post, “When Photo Overload Becomes Photo Overwhelm,” you can read it at the link. If you think about it, the concept of Extra Photos is rather new. In the 1800s, people had maybe a handful of pictures taken of themselves over their entire lifetimes. No Extras there! In the 1980s, we were pretty careful with the number of pictures we took because it cost money to develop rolls of film. We didn’t want to get back 24 or 48 blurry, unrecognizable, or goofy photos–because we paid good money for that!
Until the 21st century, we didn’t really have Extra Photos. Sure, we still accidentally had pictures of the sky and the back of someone’s head, but we didn’t have many hundreds of pictures of one event. We have a lot more duplicates today than ever before, simply because it’s so easy to take 20 in an effort to get a great shot. And so: we have Extra Photos–photos we don’t need that are just taking up space.
And the Cold, Hard Truth
Do you have a hard time admitting (or believing in) Extra Photos? I talked to a lady once who wanted my advice on what to do with her thousands and thousands of photos from the last 10 years. She really wanted to make them into books for her family to see and enjoy. I love helping people get started on that road!! However, when I talked about Decluttering (as the first step to Organizing), she shut me down. She told me there’s no way she could get rid of even one of those terabyte’s worth of photos.
So you know what? She’s never going to see those photos again. And that’s the cold, hard truth. They will stay on her external hard drive forever (or at least until technology changes and she can’t access them there any more). She will continue to be overwhelmed with how many pictures she has, and they will die on her hard drive instead of live in a storybook, album, or scrap page.
Let me echo some advice I’ve given before. If you are overwhelmed with the amount of photos you have, decluttering is an absolutely crucial first step. You can’t be afraid to get rid of a photo. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but if you never see the photos you take, they’re kind of thrown away already.
Action to Take
Armed with this information about Extra Photos and Decluttering, here are three actions you can take now:
- Really look at your photos and what you have. How many of them are basically the same? How many of them truly capture the moments you want to remember? Keep only your favorites.
- Delete Extra Photos. Just do it. You need to be less overwhelmed with the amount of photos you have. And this is how that works. (If the thought of deleting makes you cringe, go buy a flash drive and name it “photos to delete.” Then move all your Extra Photos there.)
- Be mindful as you move forward in the future. Yes, we can take a million digital pictures these days. But don’t. Yes, it’s nice to have 3 or 4 shots of the same one in case one shot is better, but don’t overdo that. I personally look at the pictures immediately afterwards on my phone or camera. I choose the best and delete the others RIGHT THEN.
And, listen, if you like taking 300 photos every time you go on vacation (like me), that’s perfectly fine as long as you can preserve them! Letting that number pile up and overwhelm you and just stay in digital form somewhere doesn’t do anything for anyone.
The End Goal
Once you’ve decluttered and organized your photos, you’re ready to preserve them in books, scrap pages, or albums in their complete form–with the stories or memories that go with them. A photo without details or a story isn’t worth nearly as much. Given some time, if nobody knows who is in the photo or why it was taken, it has sadly lost ALL of its value.
We’ll talk more about photo organization this month on #familyhistoryfriday, including how to organize digital photos, how to organize photos in print, and even a basic run down of how to get your photos off your phone and onto your computer!
Photo and Storybooks pictured were created here.
- Dictionary.com. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/clutter?s=t
- Heritage Makers. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise
- Willis, Andi. (2016). Good Life Organizing. Retrieved from http://goodlifeorganizing.net/keep-photos/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Evolve. Retrieved from https://www.livegrowgive.org/photo-overload-becomes-photo-overwhelm/
- Wise, Jennifer. (2018). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/p/paper-scrapbooking.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2017). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-one-big-secret-to-organizing-and.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2016). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2016/09/digital-photo-storage-is-back-up-not.html
- Wise, Jennifer. (2016). Life Tales Books & Personal Publishing. Retrieved from https://lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com/2016/11/you-dont-keep-something-as-powerful-as.html