Downsizing can be overwhelming. Getting rid of clothes and clutter is quite straight forward because there is usually not a lot of emotional attachment. Transactional and functional purchases can be reversed quite easily. Candles, holiday decorations, children’s toys, cups and saucers are all quite easy to let go.

The deeper you go on the downsizing journey however, the more difficult the simplification process becomes. Collectibles, handmade items, and books are tough to release. Photographs are very hard (sometimes impossible) to let go.

Here are some tips for downsizing your collection of photographs based on my own personal experience.

Remember the More Personal the Items, the Harder Downsizing Will Be

I recently published an article and video on how I learned to simplify my collection of postcards. After hours of sorting and crying, I finally achieved the outcome I hoped for and was ready to move on.  My next project was to grapple with something very big and significant for most people. Photographs. All those memory markers in your life carry enormous emotional weight and I knew it was going to be very challenging. Every picture reminded me a person, place or experience. I was forced to ask what the point of my life had been. Had I been a good mother, wife and friend?

Don’t be Overwhelmed by The Sheer Number of Photos!

I have very few pictures of my mother and father and none of my grandparents.  So, I do treasure every single picture I have of them. The faded black and white pictures were so precious. When I began to travel and then start my own family,  the pictures started to emerge in full force!  It was only natural. I wanted to capture every minute and document every changing mood. Those precious smiles and milestones were so important.

As a result, 30 years later, I had photographs all over the place! In albums, boxes, presentation folders and envelopes. So, the journey began. Like many of you, I was in a state of panic but calmed down as I slowly dealt with each picture one at a time.

Get into a Rhythm and Establish a Process for Sorting and Storing

To be honest, I had started to plan my photo downsizing for a few months. My first step was to remove all the pictures from albums and folders and put them into envelopes. They were sorted by year, but I decided early on not to be too compulsive about having the years be sequential. I did not dwell on individual pictures at this point and tried to remain very stoic and calm.

After I removed all the pictures from albums and put them into envelopes, I started to lay them out on my printer and started scanning every page. There were approximately 5 pictures on every page. My secret was to cut the pictures into small images to make the scanning easier and get more pictures on every page. In most cases, the pictures included trees, weird buildings and other people who for this purpose could be cut out. This gave me a lot more space and less scanning.

Give Yourself the Luxury of Recalling Memories but Don’t Go Too Deep

The essence of picture sorting is to move forward with some level of detachment. It is impossible as a mom to not look at your children. To look into their eyes and be reassured by the smiles. You did ok as a mom. The children were on beaches smiling, in school uniforms beaming, holding your hand or giving kisses. All beautiful memories but incredibly time consuming. So, when scanning the pictures take time to remember the person, place, emotion, and connection but try not to go too deep. If you want to do that, take the one picture, go find a quiet spot and have a good cry. That’s ok. But trust me, you will be scanning for the next 10 years in you allow yourself to get attached to every image.

If you find yourself wanting to look at every picture and spend an hour thinking about, then my advice is to do that. You are not ready to downsize yet.

My advice however is to move quickly, giving yourself time to remember, reflect and smile but not enough to dwell in the past.

Keep One Album with Your Top 100 Pictures

I am very comfortable with technology but also a great fan of being prepared for “what if” scenarios. So, at the end of scanning all my 500+ pictures I selected about 100 that I put into a small album. I will be prepared to carry this album with me to the end of the earth. My logic is that if all technology collapses and I am 90 years old wanting to look at my life in review – there it will be!  Perhaps one day I’ll scan that album too – but not today!

Post Copies of Pictures to an External Drive and to the Cloud

I love and trust my computer and have confidence that it will keep all my photos safely stored, but because I know how things can go wrong sometimes, I copied all my family pictures to an external drive and also to OneDrive. I also put the family pictures and scans of documents on small USBs that I will give to my sons.

What Did I End Up With?

So, that’s it. After several days of patient scanning and organizing, I end up with the following. All photos that had been in heavy and cumbersome albums were digitally scanned to my compute. They were also posted to an external hard drive, on USB’s for my sons and in the Cloud on One Drive. I had also created one photo album of my top 100 pictures. I will add around 10 pictures every year.

For visual delight I also order regularly collages of photographs that replace frames and pictures all around my house. They are 3 x 4 feet in size and make my home feel inhabited by all the wonderful people I adore in my life.

Have you undertaken the project of downsizing your photographs? What techniques did you use to make the process a positive experience?  Are you still overwhelmed by the idea of learning to simplify your photographs?


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