You CAN do it: Organizing your photo collection requires liberal use of the trash can

Ready, set, GO!

It’s GO month, as dubbed by the National Association of Professional Organizers. GO means Get Organized, and a lot of New Year’s Resolutions revolve around cleaning up, scaling back and streamlining every bit of clutter from clothes to collections and housework to paperwork (click here for more about GO Month).

A part of any organization effort certainly must include a trash can. As we sort through our stuff, we inevitably find junk we can’t believe we’re still storing or otherwise holding onto (unless you’re a hoarder who mourns every bit they’ve ever thrown away instead of the garbage they’ve still got).

Even if you’re not a hoarder, getting rid of emotionally charged belongings can be difficult. Real Simple magazine addresses this subject this month with “Sentimental Clutter: 7 Steps to understanding what — and how — to let go.”

This magazine article addresses all kinds of meaningful — and meaningless — clutter including a deceased parent’s collections, sweet baby clothes, correspondence and other memorabilia. But if you’re holding on to a slew of printed or digital photographs that are overwhelming you, the article offers some good ideas that can be applied to a photo collection:

  1. Enlist help, if you need it: “If you’re the kind of person who works better with a partner,” Real Simple advises, “a friend could be a great motivator.” Remember, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers can put you in touch with just such a coach, trained to help you.
  2. Do you like it enough to display it, or will it be in a box forever? This question from the story is great to ask about blurry photos, duplicate images and photos of scenery. If you no longer know the names of the people in the picture, is it really worth keeping? If you can’t think of a way to display the photograph (in an album, on the wall, in a digital slide show or even in a box that will be sifted through at some point by someone who cares), then get rid of it.
  3. Save the best, toss the rest: Though I once worked for a company that encouraged moms to make beautiful, detailed scrapbooks for their children, it’s a high standard to set and no child leaves home and takes 18 2-inch thick scrapbooks with them to a tiny college dorm room or apartment. But I do believe every child should have at least one photo album chronicling their life and at that rate, you need only 4-12 photos per year of the child; if that’s how you’re paring your collection, those 4-12 photos should be the very best of the year.
  4. Give things a new home: Would your ex-husband or your children, the family genealogy fan or family reunion organizer, an alumni group or a local historical society appreciate some of the photographs? Pack ’em up and send them away. Real Simple suggests that “if you get that ‘oh, please no’ look, donate the belongings instead” but honestly, if that’s how other people might feel about your excess photographs, the trash is better place than Goodwill.

The whole concept of organizing and clearing clutter makes me think of a 38 Special song from the 1981 (I heard it on the 80s channel on xM radio this week, and I just knew I could work it into a post a some point!):

Just hold on loosely
But don’t let go.
If you cling too tightly,
You’re gonna lose control.

Good luck controlling your clutter — photographic and otherwise — this month and beyond.

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2 comments on “You CAN do it: Organizing your photo collection requires liberal use of the trash can

  1. mom says:

    Speaking from experience I know how much a photo album of a child’s life can mean. When my daughter made my son a small album entitled This Is Your Life for one of his college-age birthdays, she had no idea he would be killed in a car accident when he was just 26 years old. The album is very meaningful to me and my husband.

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