How to declutter – photos

This past week, I had time to finally tackle my photos, once and for all.

I’ve decluttered photos many times before, but I was never happy with the outcome because I still felt overwhelmed by the quantity that I kept.

It’s like I knew that I wanted to let go of most of my pictures, but something was still holding me back.

Now that I finally deleted the most, I realised what that was.

And that is why I want to help you declutter the hardest category of decluttering as well 🙂

1. WHY DO WE KEEP OUR PHOTOS?

The most important step before decluttering photos is to think about our relationship with them:

  • Do we keep them because it’s the norm?
  • Are we afraid of ‘what if’?
  • How often do we go through our photos to relive the memories?
  • Do we feel overwhelmed with storing and backing-up our photos?
  • Can we quickly find the photos we’re looking for?
  • How easy is it to sort new photos in our files and albums?

This assessment is critical because it will tell you how you actually feel about keeping all the photos.

It’s common to think that all pictures bring us joy just because some do, so we have to look at this category as a whole.

The reality is that most people don’t enjoy the number of photos they have, so they always plan (aka postpone) that one day when they will finally sort everything, make cute albums and they’ll have peace of mind.

But that never happens. 

And if it does, keeping up with new photos almost always becomes too much.

So why do we put ourselves through endless organising and sorting? Why don’t we just let go?

The truth is that we keep photos out of fear, not out of joy, so the usual methods of decluttering can’t help us before we realise that.

We’re afraid of forgetting a memory if we let them go (we won’t), we worry we might need them someday (we won’t), and we just keep holding onto them like we’ll lose a piece of ourselves if they’re gone (again, we won’t).

Of course, keeping a few photos here and there won’t hurt anybody, and it might be nice to remember some things, but honestly, we can easily let go of 80-90% of our pictures.

If you feel shocked hearing that, don’t worry, you don’t have to go and delete everything.

Instead, keep an open mind and gently think about the next point.

2 ARE YOU HOLDING ONTO YOUR PAST?

I believe that the biggest reason we keep obsessively holding onto our pictures is that we’re still holding onto our past.

Maybe there is something unresolved we know we need to process, or we want a reminder of who we are and how we lived.

So in a way, when we delete our photos, we’re letting go of our past and our identity.

And that is frightening.

We think we’ll feel lost, but I would argue that most would feel free.

Free to become whoever they want and free to focus on the present.

I encourage you to think about this, and ask yourself how you would feel if all of your photos were gone?

Observe what thoughts and feelings come up, and if you need to, write it down.

Once you have more clarity about your reasons for keeping the photos, you can continue with the practical decluttering steps.

3. PICK A NUMBER

The easiest way of storing and sorting through your photos is to decide how many images you want to keep in one year.

It can be five photos a year, 12 pictures a year or maybe even 50. But I wouldn’t go any higher because that will result in a big mess again.

When deciding on the number, always think about the bigger picture.

Seeing 50 photos in one year might seem little, but if you’re 40 years old and you keep 50 pictures for every year, that would mean the total of 2000 photos! And who has the time to look through 2000 photos joyfully? Nobody.

I’m 28 years old and I kept around 190 digital photos and videos in total, so I chose to go for an average of 6 pictures per year. It’s just enough for what I need.

So I encourage you to try and stick to a lower number that will set you free and make browsing through your photos enjoyable.

But please don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do. If you’re not ready to let go, maybe you need to give it some time and come back to it.

What about videos?

When it comes to video formats, I just count them as photos and I keep them in the same files to make my life as simple as possible.

But if you have a lot of videos, you can tackle them separately.

4. SORTING THROUGH

When deciding what to keep, try to pick photos that really speak to you emotionally.

When I did that, I was surprised I kept so many “not-so-pretty” pictures, but they were candid and they had the right vibe.

So focus less on the prettiness and more on the feeling you get from it. That way, sorting will become much easier.

5. ORGANISE

The organising system is essential when it comes to photos because it will determine how easily you’ll sort through the new pictures.

The rule is to keep your photo storage as simple as you possibly can!

You can organise them by years, specific categories or events, but try to make folders as general as you can; instead of creating ten folders for ten years, you can create one for a decade, and for your childhood years you can simply create one folder for all the images.

This way you’ll keep way less.

I keep all of my photos and videos in 7 different files:

  • Childhood (54 items)
  • Our wedding (26 items)
  • Link, our doggy (10 items)
  • Dancing (19 items)
  • Singing (37 items)
  • 2010-2020 (39 items)
  • 2020- (2 items)

Very simple and I know exactly where to put any new photos that I want to keep 🙂

And you can apply the same principle to photo albums as well.

You can have smaller albums for specific events or categories, or you can keep a larger one where you store all of your photos chronologically.

6. BONUS – DELETE IT ALL

There are many minimalists out there who don’t own any photos at all and as someone who is not sentimental, I must say, not having anything seems appealing.

I’m not there yet, and I’ll probably always love having a few pictures from my past.

But if you feel like you really don’t like the idea of holding on, and organising and sorting seem too much hassle, maybe the best thing to do is to declutter all of your photos.

Many people have done that, so I have to state it as an option 😉

Are you a sentimental person or is decluttering all of your photos something you would ever consider? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 😉

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