I finally reached the end of this stint of a grand clean-out: tackling photographs. Before the big cross-country move 3-1/2 years ago, I removed all of my physical photos from their albums and placed them into two archival-safe (acid-free) photo storage boxes from the craft shop. I felt like I was rescuing them, since some of the
photos were sticky on the back from Scotch tape or a tacky self-adhesive album page (both of which are big no-no’s when it comes to photo preservation — bad me!).
SORT + ORGANIZE
I took Marie’s advice from her second book, Spark Joy, and resolved to organize the photos by year. I found it helpful to first sort them by decade, then divide them into specific years. Since I was born in 1979 and have in my possession only a few snapshots from my birth year, I initially focused my sorting on the first full decade of my life: the 1980’s. Again following Ms. Kondo’s method, I placed every single photo on the table so that each one was clearly visible. First I sorted them by year; next in sequential order by month within each year. When I paused to think about it, I was surprised to realize that I’d never laid them out like this before; I’d either looked at them a page or two at once in an album, or one snap at a time in a stack. Creating a large photo spread like this was worth the extra time as it made more obvious which photos I was automatically drawn to (both in positive and negative ways).
SAVE + DISCARD
I let go of the obvious stinkers first: blurry photos, random shots (is that a toe, or someone’s eyeball?!), and those for which I couldn’t decipher the subject or setting. Next, I set aside duplicates and placed them into an envelope to show my parents and sister in case they wanted to have them. Finally, I looked at each photo, year by year, reliving bits of my childhood, remembering things I’d forgotten until studying a particular image. Having everything laid out really afforded me the opportunity to reminisce on some of my sweetest times as a kid, seeing places and people I hadn’t seen in quite sometime, and smiling back at loved ones, some of whom are now gone.
I tried to keep only the photos that sparked joy and dumped the ones that did not. I worked on this weeding process during the course of a few days. Although I try to work any type of activity in 20 or 30 minute blocks, I’ll admit that I became obsessed with this project and found myself working on it for a few hours at a time. I had not seen lots of these images in years and it was a blast to romp back to my kid days.
Since I planned to keep only a few hard copies to display or use in projects, my final step of the process was to scan all of the photos that remained. I began in sequential order, beginning with the year 1980. Since the first few years proved to have a low volume of snapshots, I scanned two years in one day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – to break up the task and make it more enjoyable. If a certain year has a higher volume of material, I’ll focus on scanning only one year on a particular day. In the Documents section on my laptop, I made a folder for each decade, and subheadings for each year. After scanning a photo, I labeled it with a brief title describing the people and/or event pictured, including the year. When grabbing a snapshot to be scanned, I briefly assessed it once more to be sure that I wanted to preserve it.
BACK IT UP
This is crucial: Remember to back up your files. You don’t want to have gone through hours of thoughtful work, only to have everything disappear because of a situation beyond your control. Technical glitches, viruses, device failures, and power surges are more common than you may think; I’m sure most of us can say we’ve experienced at least one of these annoyances. The results can be devastating in terms of information and archives lost forever. Backing up your photos (and all of your data for that matter!) is essential, and it’s super easy to boot.
Upon scanning a full decade’s worth of visual memories on the hard drive, I will back up the files not once, but twice (just in case one of the backups fail). I plan to back them up on the portable hard drive first. As far as the second backup, I will probably go with an online option like Google Drive, since I learned that it’s best to have one online backup and one physical backup in place.
Here are popular options to choose from:
- portable/external hard drive (I use this one)
- high quality disc such as this one
- cloud storage: iCloud for Apple, and Google Drive for iOS
Honestly, I put this project off for such a long time because, #1: I didn’t think I would be able to part with any of the photos, so what was the point in taking the time to go through them?, and #2: I was opposed to digitizing and dumping the physical photos. Well, it turns out I was able to ditch a few snaps so far – admittedly not many yet – but it’s not as difficult as I thought it would be. And guess what else: Photographs change color, texture, and fade over time. Digitizing them now, especially ones from my childhood and ancestors before me, ensures that their quality will remain intact. Having a digital copy on hand also opens the door to photo restoration if need be.
The same way in which I like to hold a book in my hands as I read, I still like to see and hold a real photograph to delight in the experience more. With a digital library, we have the option to select images to print whenever we choose, quite easily and with rapid turn-around time. From now on, I will surely be in the habit of doing so along the way to make it simpler to display, to make an assemblage, or to give pictures as gifts. However the most important thing to me is that the integrity of our memories, our stories, and how we lived is preserved.