My de-cluttering/minimalist mission is still going strong. I used to wait for a surge of motivation to tackle a particular cluttered area of my space. But something magical happened along the way. I now feel that about half of my space has been successfully de-cluttered!. In addition, I feel motivated to de-clutter and maintain my minimalist space at all times. No more waiting around for motivational surges. The other half of my stuff is a different kind of beast however. The first half of my minimalist journey was and still is about paring down my possessions, ridding myself of the clutter and unnecessary items, creating a calm and serene space where I can feel relaxed as opposed to the “heavy” feeling I lived with amongst all my old stuff.
Recently I have been tackling the second half. For me, the second half represents categories. By categories, I mean stuff like books, photos, kitchen odds and ends…etc. I am more or less finished with the typical cluttered drawers and cluttered shelves. But the categories are quickly becoming the more challenging half. In today’s post, I would like to discuss the category of photos and what I call my Great Photo Purge.
A bit of back story. I have taken a lot of pictures roughly over the past 15 years. Some of my photos represent my quirky creativity that I honed in grad school where I majored in Studio Art. The other photos I have amassed are of friends, family, crazy times, happy times…you get the idea. I used to LOVE looking at my photos of my friends hanging out and for a time became very involved with scrap booking my photos. I quickly realized that I was taking too many photos with not enough time to scrap book everything so I just gave up. I kept taking more and more photos however and I recently decided that it was time, once and for all, to purge my photos.
I am sure many can relate to the sentimentality that photos possess. I too feel this strong sense of identity and nostalgia when I look at photos of myself and my friends and remember the past. Over time however, I realized that like my stuff, my photos were making me feel weighed down and heavy. Every time I looked at them I felt less in the moment and more sucked into the vortex of yesteryear. I also realized that I didn’t even recognize some of the people in my photos. Maybe at one time I knew their names but they were in and out of my life very quickly and there were no lessons to be learned or growth to be had from holding on to these images.
So, on a random Tuesday, I gathered ALL my photos. About 15 albums, 2 shoe boxes, 2 drawers and 4 messenger bags, all FULL to the brim with photos of what I considered to be “my life.” Literally thousands of photos. One by one I went through them all. I didn’t have a plan of action. I simply followed a popular decluttering technique I picked up along the way. Basically you take a bunch of your stuff and one by one you quickly look at it and decide “keep, toss or maybe.” For the photos however I did not have a maybe pile. It was either keep or toss.
Anyone that knows me very well might think that this was an extremely hard task for me given my love of photos but it was actually very calming and easier than I thought it would be. I looked at each and every photo and very quickly determined it’s emotional value to me. As soon as the no pile got really big, I would toss it it the garbage and start a new no pile. I admit that I had moments where I felt pangs of anxiety. What if this is a mistake? What if one day I regret not having all these photos to show to my future kids? But I also could not ignore the increasing sense of release I felt the more photos I let go of. It is a feeling I have come to know and love that minimalism has brought to my life. It is hard for me to put into words but it feels like a breathe of fresh air searing through my body at a great speed. Like a heavy weight lifted off my chest and a strong sense of freedom. The whole process took me most of the day with breaks here and there.
In the end, I whittled my photo prints down to about 800 total. I started at what I estimate to be about 5000. I plan on sending my 800 remaining photos to be scanned digitally onto a cd. There are many great companies that will do this for you at a very reasonable price. They return all your hard copy photos as well so I plan on giving my family photos to my mother and whichever ones she decides not to keep we can toss. For the rest of my hard copy photos, I plan on tossing them as well. After that, I will be taking and storing all my photos digitally.
To some this may sound extreme and like I am throwing away memories. I can understand this view because of the attachment I used to have and still do to some extent to my photos. What I have learned though, is I don’t need photos to prove my memory is real. The photos will not enhance the experience I had. They are a simple documentation and for me, letting go of them allows me to move forward. In addition I now feel less pressure to take pictures of everything and anything. I still photograph for this website or whenever I feel like it but I am more present than I have ever been before and I therefore find myself less inclined or almost forgetful about taking a photograph to preserve the memory. This is a good thing!. Before this, I think I felt a lot of pressure to take pictures of everything and everyone around me. Pressure I had put on myself. Now that the pressure is off, I am enjoying life more than I ever could have imagined. I feel incredibly in the moment as I experience my life these days and so grateful for every opportunity to learn, love and grow.
What are your thoughts? Are photo prints important to you? Would you ever purge your photos?