Organizing Photos: Can Photographs Be Clutter?

by Sally J.

in * How to ORGANIZE Your Photos, Free Articles / Blog

Our favorite photographs are valuable beyond measure. Many folks name a photo or album of photos as the possession they would grab first if they ever had to flee. Just last month, I heard a story about a woman who escaped her burning office tower on September 11th…only to rush back inside to retrieve the photograph of her daughter she had left behind in the panic. She never returned.

We place a high value on the photographs we treasure most, and that is perfectly reasonable. Just thinking about them disappearing is horrible to contemplate — so horrible that we might actually go back inside a burning building to rescue one.

So, how on earth can I talk about photographs as clutter?


That shoebox full of photos isn't going to organize itself, now is it?

It’s simple, actually.  All photographs are not created equal. They do not have the same value.

What I think happens is that we generalize our intense love of specific photos to a love of all photographs. As if the value lies in the medium, rather than the content.  This is misguided.

But before we can decide if photographs can be clutter, we should probably get a handle on what clutter is.

What is clutter?

I’ve been reading up on organizing and clutter busting lately, so I’ll let the experts tackle this question for us.

“Clutter is anything in your life that no longer serves you.”

Brooks Palmer, Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back, p. 12.

Brooks is my favorite of all the “get organized” authors. I just love his style. He is very calm and extremely supportive. He points out the outward signs that reveal whether a specific object is clutter or not: If thinking about it makes you tired, it’s clutter. If it brings you joy and energy, it’s not. Easy peasy.

If a photograph no longer serves you, get rid of it.

Blurry ones are obvious. As are the end of the roll shots we used to take so we could take the film in to be developed. (Something kids these days will never have to do!) Those snapshots of childhood acquaintances whose name you can no longer remember? Let them go. Photos of childhood friends you still love and adore? Keep. But remember you don’t have to keep every single snapshot.

“Clutter is postponed decisions.”

Barbara Hemphill, Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever p. 41

This one’s a kicker, let me tell ya. I would like to remind you that no one knows your story as well as you do. If you insist on keeping every single photo you are setting up a disaster down the road. Your kids will not be able to discern which images are significant, and which are meaningless. The inevitable result is that they will toss them.

Much better for you to invest some time now and purge the low value photos. Then you can focus on taking proper care of your high value photos. Write down the who, what, where, when and why. Share the stories behind the images. Make it as easy as possible for your kids to say “Yes, I’ll keep it!” by leaving them only the best photos.

P.S. If you are reading this during the month of January, that means you can purchase one of my “How to De-Clutter Photos Like an Archivist” kits. Click here to learn what’s in it and how you can get one.

Note: Book title links take you to If you decide to purchase from that link, a small fraction of your purchase price will go to yours truly. Like a tip jar!

Karen Rhodes January 21, 2010 at 7:36 am

Let the congregation say, “Amen!”

I did one pass to get rid of some definite photo-clutter: Polaroids that my mother-in-law took over the years. For one thing, I’m afraid my dear M-i-L was not a good photographer. For another, the photos themselves are deteriorating. They are becoming darker and darker, and beginning to fade away to a black square. So I pitched them.

Now I have a bunch of unidentified photos and no one left to identify them, so I may just scan them and submit them to Dead Fred, and let them go, too.

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