THE BLOG

Clutter Busting Photos

05/28/2015 09:03 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016

Photos are often given a certain sacredness by us. Because of this they tend to get a special clutter busting dispensation. I've been told by a lot of clients that it seems wrong to put photos through the clutter busting look-see.

The reason is we tend to take photos at very exciting and emotional moments. We've been trained to bring out our camera or camera phone to capture the special moment. Because of the specialness that we associate with photos, it can seem wrong to question photos and see if we actually look at and enjoy them today.

I've worked with clients who have stacks of photos still in the envelopes from the one-hour photo store, or boxes of old photos of relatives that they hadn't looked at in years. Sometimes clients will have hundreds, even thousands of digital photos stored on their computer and they are clueless what's behind each icon. In all cases, they'd rather leave the photos be rather than look through them.

I always encourage clients to look through the photos and I encourage you to do the same thing. I tell everyone that not wanting to take a look is normal. You can say, "Of course it makes sense that I don't want to do this, but at the same time, I don't want to be intimidated by anything in my home."

I encourage you to sit down with the photos and a trash bag. Next, go through one photo at a time and ask, "Do I like this picture? Does it make me feel good today? If it resonates strongly with me today, do I want to put it in a book or photo box where I will look at it again?" If no, toss it out. Believe me, you will find pictures that you don't enjoy, or are blurry, or you don't like the person in the picture, or you don't know who the person is, or it brings up bad memories, or you don't like how you look, or there are six of the same picture. You'll feel better when it goes. Continue going through each photo, whether tangible or digital.

Another good question to ask is, "Am I the kind of person who likes looking through photos on a regular basis?" I've met a lot of people who think they should have a photo collection. But it wasn't their nature to actually look at and enjoy photo albums. They thought they should be this kind of person. It's very much a cultural thing that we should be this way. But clutter busting is about being honest with yourself. You're looking at how you actually live. You're looking at what brings you joy and what brings you pain. If looking at photos doesn't make you feel good, you get to let them go.

Regarding inherited photos, if looking at them doesn't please you, you don't have to be the default family historian. You can ask other family members if they want them. If they don't and you don't care for them, toss the photos.

Sometimes I've seen people feel guilty about letting go of family photos that they didn't care for. If no one else wants the pictures, you're not hurting anyone alive or passed on by letting the photos go. When you let go of a picture of a person, you're not throwing away the person. What's important is your happiness and removing things that hurt you. What matters is taking care of your life right now, rather than the past.

If you do like looking at photos regularly, then find a book or box to put them in that makes you happy. You can think of it as a creative project. You are creating a book. What interesting ways can you put it together? You can turn digital photos into photo book. There are companies on the internet that will do this for you. I've used snapfish and liked what they did. When you've assembled your book, or special container, don't hide it away in a box. Leave it in a place that's easily accessible.

(I'll write about other questions people asked in following posts. Please feel free to let me know if you have questions that you would like me to answer.)