Does the thought of decluttering photos, email, and other electronic documents make you want to throw your hands up and run screaming from the room? You are not alone. In fact, I would suggest you are in the majority of people who feel completely overwhelmed with the thought of digital decluttering and can’t fathom where to begin. With that in mind, I will be sharing a series of blogs that address three areas of digital decluttering- photos, email, and electronic documents. First up: photos.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY
I am not going to lie; the task of decluttering bins and bins of photos was one of the largest organizational tasks I ever undertook (for myself and for a client who also chose to take on this task). Curious about the process? Read on! I will share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, there were moments of REAL UGLY!). I should also add that what I’m going to share is my own experience and that of a client I worked with. It may feel very extreme to some of you and I can assure you, there were moments of real hesitation and insecurity as I was making decisions about how far to take my photo decluttering. If my journey doesn’t feel right for you, that’s perfectly understandable. I get it! I’ve been there! I hope that at a minimum, there will be parts of the process that you find helpful and can implement in your own digital decluttering journey.
SET A GOAL
My goals in photo decluttering were twofold. The first was to get our photos out of bins and albums, sort them, and scan them. I simply did not have the space in our condo to store umpteenth bins of pictures and albums. I also wanted the photos accessible so I could enjoy them – and at the same time, give digital copies of our childhood photos to my siblings.
STARTING THE PROCESS
My photo decluttering process began when my husband and I made the decision to downsize to a condominium. Our previous home had an 800 square foot crawl space and two-car garage that was largely used for storage- and oh my, could we store!! Imagine row after row of neatly labelled and organized bins lined up but inside those bins were thousands of loose photos, photos in old sticky albums, photos in frames (not to mention PAPER -imagine every credit card bill we ever received - but that is for another post!) I was not only in possession of the photos my husband and I amassed over the years, but also had all of my old family albums after my parents passed away. What struck me most when I embarked on this process was that I NEVER LOOKED AT THEM! They literally were in bins, tucked away in a corner of the crawl space and on garage shelving, never seeing the light of day.
Fortunately, we had several months between selling our house and moving to our condo. I used that time to literally go through every photo and decide what to keep or toss. I just felt your gasp. TOSS??? Yes, I tossed; in fact, I tossed hundreds of photos. If the photo was blurry or if it contained a tree, or a bird or some other object I didn’t care about (imagine 20 photos of a flamingo at the zoo), it was tossed. If I had multiple photos of a friend’s wedding, I kept one or two. All those sunrise and sunset photos? I kept a few if I knew where they were taken, and the rest went. Vacations? Well, those were a bit harder. I love looking at vacation photos so I kept most of them (although did end up deleting some when I got back the scanned photos). And at this stage, I also kept photos of people I didn’t know if they were from our old family albums, in hopes one of my other family members knew the person.
So, you get the idea. A lot of paring down took place at this point. I also took every photo out of its album. This part was the REAL UGLY. We had many of those albums from the 1970’s that were “peel and stick.” I lost a number of photos that tore as I attempted to pull them out. In some instances, I had to cut around the photo in the photo album to preserve the photo. When I undertook this process with my client, I did some research and found several good YouTube videos on removing photos from a sticky album. Lessons learned- dental floss and a very thin spatula work well to lift off photos. Did I mention already how much time this takes? It’s not for the faint of heart!!
I’VE PARED DOWN…NOW WHAT?
At the end of the day, what I was left with was about 3,000 photos (coincidentally, this is also the rough number my client had). Does that number sound high? Low? It did seem like a lot to me, considering for the last 10 years or so we hadn’t printed many photos. But regardless of the number, these were the pictures I chose to have scanned. I opted to send these out to a company and did not take on the scanning myself. It was the best decision I made from a time perspective (remember, I was moving!). From a financial perspective, it was costly, but the cost/benefit analysis was worth it for me and I rolled the cost into our overall moving budget.
Three weeks later, the photos were returned together with a USB stick containing all of my scanned photos. I was ecstatic! Until another decision was before me- what did I then do with the 3,000 original photos? My goal all along was scanning, but I underestimated just how hard it was to toss the hard copies. Would I regret it? Since so many of them were our childhood photos, I decided to confer with my siblings and my sister opted to keep the originals. So, I packed them up, together with a USB stick of the scanned photos and sent it off. My other siblings also got a USB stick of the family photos, fulfilling one of my primary goals. It was such fun for all of them to look through photos they had not looked at for years.
Last but DEFINITELY not least, I now had a USB stick of 3,000 photos to organize on my computer. Another long process, but after some natural themes occurred, I set up folders (and subfolders) and proceeded to copy the photos from the USB stick to my computer. At this point, I did end up deleting more photos when I discovered some duplicates and many that were dark or blurry on a computer screen. Another lesson learned- my folder system was too elaborate. Too many folders and subfolders result in difficulty finding a photo when you want it. With my client, we kept it much simpler and her system really worked well for her. I’m tempted to refine my folders – but that’s for a later time! I also renamed some of my photos by year, but will admit, this was a daunting task and subsequently, still remains on my winter to-do list!
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Did I achieve my two goals? YES! My photos are all now scanned and organized on my computer. No more bins of loose pictures and albums. The original USB sticks are now secure in our fire-proof safe. We have 3 different back-up systems to ensure all of our precious photos are safely backed up.
What I love even more is that we enjoy looking at our photos every day. We have a digital photo frame with hundreds of our pictures continuously scrolling. We also have photos scrolling on our television, so when we’re listening to music or have some quiet moments, we can watch a fantastic slide show of our favourites. When we have people over, it’s so fun to have it in the background.
Okay…how is your anxiety after reading this? Have I swayed you into any of these steps to manage your photos? If so I am ready, willing, and happy to help in your journey. Looking back, I can honestly say that not only was the investment of time worth it, it has been a life-changer for ongoing digital management. I will say, with confidence, that the photo decluttering process and results were exactly what I hoped to achieve!
I welcome your comments and questions below.