The Elegance of (Finally!) Organizing Our Family Photos

Did you hear that deep sigh of relief? It was just me, basking in the satisfaction of finally organizing heaps and heaps of family photographs into labeled storage boxes that fit perfectly in a single living room cabinet. I’m feeling as light as a feather and breathing deeper than I have in a long time.

I like to keep a home that is fairly minimal and well-organized, but our messy stash of family photos became my dirty little secret, much like Monica Geller’s closet on Friends. I think what pushed me to finally deal with them was a book on Swedish death cleansing. Don’t worry, it’s not as morose as it sounds. The idea left me totally inspired to get all of my personal things in order. (Look for an upcoming post on the topic.)

I did make cute scrapbooks for my children as they went from birth through their high school graduation, but that barely made a dent in our photo collection, and another decade has now come and gone. I’ve tried to tackle the ever-growing heap, but I get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the photos and the emotions that inevitably come along with a trip down memory lane.

After our last move, all the photos ended up hidden away in six deep drawers of a large bedroom dresser. We’ve since randomly tossed in more and more photos, greeting cards, notes, and special memories.

But wait, it gets worse.  When my mother moved in with us, she brought along a big cedar chest filled to the brim with thousands of loose photographs spanning more than 100 years. Stick your hand in the chest and it might come out with a picture of my grandfather as a baby, my parents’ wedding, my first loose tooth, my sister’s prom date, a pet from 1972, my daughter’s college graduation, or someone nobody knows.

If you can relate and could use some inspiration, let me share my process. It’s certainly not the only way, but it got the job done.

Sort Photos:
This took me a full week. I dumped manageable-sized heaps of photos on the floor where I sat sorting into piles around me. Me…my daughter…my stepson…my husband…my mom… my sister…my grandmother…my niece…my son… my step-daughter…my dad…with a cadaver! (Seriously, he was in dental school.) Everybody’s family is different, so just start making piles and see how they start to shape up. Take a break when your head or back starts to hurt or you feel emotionally drained. It can be an exhausting process even without pictures of cadavers.

Purge Photos:
While you go through each and every picture, have a criteria for what to keep. I decided to immediately toss photos that are:
*duplicates of the same event/people
* blurry, dark, or unclear
* unflattering of the person in the photo
* shots of nature or tourist sights
* of people you barely know
*of cadavers

Give Photos Away:
I don’t think we are obliged to run around giving people photographs we come across during our sorting. However, since I was doing this project on behalf of my family, I was more than happy to box up and ship hundreds of photos to my two sisters who live in other states. I told them the photos were coming and to feel free to do with them whatever they wished.

Organize Photos: 
There are lots of ways to organize photos. After careful consideration, I think I did the simplest thing. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought all of the large-size photo storage boxes they had. It turned out fourteen boxes worked perfectly for us. In case it might help, here’s how they’re labeled:
*Alicia – childhood photos & personal pursuits
*Mike – childhood photos & personal pursuits
*Woodward – family photos
*Fry – family photos
*Alicia & Mike – our photos together
*One box for each of our children and grandchild
*One box for each of our daughter’s weddings
*Alicia’s Keep – special cards, notes, and letters
*Mike’s Keep – special cards, notes, and letters

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My Thoughts On Digitizing Old Photos:
I know a lot of people recommend scanning and digitizing old photos to get rid of the physical clutter. In fact, that’s what I was going to do, but I decided against it for several reasons.
*Services like Legacy Box are expensive.
*We have photos from 1900 that still look fine, so I’m not particularly worried about our photos aging.
*I love the idea of pulling out a box and looking through the photos.
*I suspect any digital format available will eventually become obsolete.
*I like the ease of having the physical photos and not having to log on to a computer to find the photo I’m looking for.
*We can easily add to the boxes or add more boxes, if needed.
*Finally, I like knowing that upon my passing from this realm, our children can easily take the boxes they are interested in.

If your family photos are in order, I applaud you. I know it’s a huge job. If it’s something you’ve yet to do, I hope this encourages you. It really does feel great to have it done, and I was surprised by something unexpected. I truly feel I’ve honored the people in those photographs, especially the ones who are no longer with us, by making it easy to open a box and see their smiling faces again. §

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”

~Jim Croce

The Minimalism Game – what I decluttered in 30 days

The Minimalism Game was invented by a couple of guys named Joshua and Ryan, better known as The Minimalists. The object of their game is to declutter unnecessary possessions over thirty days. The rules are simple. The first day you get rid of one item. The second day, two items. The third day, three items and so on.

I heard about the game years ago, long after I’d set on my own path of simplifying my life. Honestly, I was never interested in playing; it was for amateurs. After all, I’ve been simplifying longer than The Minimalists have been alive! There couldn’t possibly be 465 useless items cluttering my tidy house.

Every shelf in our home holds uniform boxes whose contents are identified by my handy dandy label maker:  Lightbulbs, Stationery, Extension Cords, Makeup, Cold Remedies, Office Supplies, Tools, Hair Accessories, Craft Supplies, Holiday Decorations. You get the idea.

Last month, I decided to play The Minimalism Game. I quickly realized just because everything I own has a place, doesn’t mean I don’t have too much stuff.

For example, I’ve always had a big box labeled “Markers.” Since there was room on the shelf and room in the box, I found no reason to question whether I actually needed three large zip-lock bags filled with colored markers, even though I’m not an artist or a fourth grader.

Thanks to The Minimalism Game, instead of opening my closets and admiring my organizational skills, I examined the contents of each bin, box and drawer searching for broken, duplicate, ineffective, unnecessary and unwanted things. Surprisingly, I decided to let go of some categories entirely, including nail polish, necklaces and DVDs.

I think The Minimalists would agree the real point of the game is to build awareness of our possessions and consciously decide if we want an item to take up space in our life. I’m glad I finally decided to play those boys’ silly game. I might even play again next month.

Here’s exactly what I decluttered playing The Minimalist Game during the month of June.

1st – one picnic cooler
2nd – two book ends
3rd – three expired over-the-counter medications
4th – four power-surge strips
5th – five books
6th – one decorative wax burner and five refills
7th – seven autumn decorations
8th – one shower cap and seven towels
9th – nine magazines and catalogs
10th – ten holiday cookie tins
11th – eleven packages of light bulbs that don’t fit any lights in our home
12th – four shoes, one coffee mug, two bathmats and five mismatched hangers
13th – thirteen cooking utensils and kitchen items
14th – three dog brushes and seven articles of workout gear
15th – fourteen articles of clothing and one pair of winter gloves
16th – four lipsticks, two eyeshadow palettes, two blush palettes and eight hair accessories
17th – two bracelets, three necklaces and obsolete earbuds
18th – twelve bottles of craft paint and six cheap paintbrushes
19th – nineteen Christmas decorations
20th – twenty miscellaneous buttons
21st – twenty DVDs and one DVD player
22nd – ten notepads, two binders and ten non-functioning ink pens
23rd – twenty-three sketchy pantry and refrigerator items
24th – twenty-four notecards with envelopes
25th – twenty-five free return address labels
26th – three bottles of nail polish remover, twelve bottles of nail polish, a five-piece skin care system, six sample-size anti-aging products
27th – twenty-six more DVDs and another DVD player
28th – a box of twenty-eight holiday greeting cards
29th – five shot glasses, four terra cotta pots, two can koozies, three wall decorations, five cans of spray paint, three struggling houseplants and (with a little arm-twisting) seven articles of my husband’s clothing
30th – way more than thirty colored markers §

This article was recently published in Minimalism Life’s Mindful Moments. Click here to read this and similar articles: https://minimalism.substack.com/p/mindful-moments-1ef?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email

 

 

 

Letting Go of Leaves and Things

On a crisp autumn morning I shuffled into the kitchen in my robe and slippers and stopped. Something was different. Our home was flooded with bright golden light. Through the glass doors, the rising sun, usually filtered by thick woods, was in full view. Falling leaves cast confetti-like shadows on the floor and walls. They danced and swirled through the air singing, “It’s time to let go…”

I was suddenly inspired me to let go of a few things myself. The trees showed me the way. I remembered how their budding leaves thrilled us when they appeared in the spring. How they shaded us all summer and graced us with their autumn colors. Soon their leaves would lay on the ground like faded and forgotten toys.

I was reminded most things in life aren’t meant to hold onto forever ~ that’s what people and memories are for.

I spent the day searching our home for things to let go. By afternoon the pile on our kitchen table included a cheap shirt that looked shabby after one wash, a miracle cream that wasn’t, two scratchy throw pillows, an avocado slicer that works no better than a paring knife, old towels, a pair of uncomfortable shoes, a couple decorative doodads, a stack of magazines and a few good books someone else might enjoy.

Are there things in your home you’d like to let go of? Worn-out things. Useless things. Ugly things. Broken things. Meaningless things. Uncomfortable things. Too many things. Perfectly wonderful things that don’t suit your season of life.

Don’t over think it. It’s kind of like raking leaves. There are lots of ways to tackle the job. Just start somewhere.

It’s amazing how letting go of a few things can change our perspective. With the clutter gone, I saw our home in a new light. I appreciated its bones. I noticed a subtle shift in the way the rooms felt, in the way I felt. I think I even found a little clarity under some of that stuff.

That evening I watched the sun sink below the horizon. The clear autumn sky seemed endless, and my view of the lake was unobstructed. Bare trees stood like graceful sculptures, and I thanked them for showing me how to let go. §