Decluttering physical photographs

I’ve been on a minimalism journey for the better park of this decade, and it’s been a fantastic change compared to how I lived before.  As I was downsizing, one particular group of items caught me a bit by surprise, as I didn’t realize I had accumulated so much volume:  physical photos.  These included individual prints that were stored in various containers, several photo albums, and about a half dozen very large, very heavy scrapbooks of my prior travels.  Because of the emotional attachment I had to these photographs, I kicked the can down the road several times and avoided dealing with the photos by focusing my efforts on decluttering my other items first.  Eventually I got tired of carrying all this stuff from apartment to apartment, so I came up with a game plan to finally tackle this burdensome group of belongings.

1) Film negatives.  These were easy.  I didn’t get super involved in photography as a hobby until digital cameras became mainstream, so there wasn’t a mountain of film photos that I had to sort through.  If I had negatives available, I scanned those using my Epson V500 scanner and saved them to my computer.  All the Epson scanners come with free software that is easy to use and effective, so if you’re considering a project like this, there’s no need to pay extra for scanning software.  For 35 mm negatives, I scan in Professional Mode at 2400 DPI, which results in digital images that are around 6 to 7 megapixels.  Once I was done scanning, I organized all my negatives and stored the important ones in a single 1 inch thick 3-ring binder using these sheets.  The not-important negatives went in the trash.

2) Film prints.  Some of my film photos were only prints because either the negatives got thrown out or lost at some point in the past.  These also got scanned (I scan prints at 600 DPI; any higher than that doesn’t add much useful information) and stored on the computer.  Once I scanned the prints and made sure my computer was backed up properly, I tossed the prints out.  Printed photos weigh more and take up a whole lot more volume than film negatives, and I had no interest in continuing to haul these around wherever I went.

3) Posters.  When one photographs as a hobby, making large prints can be addictive.  Over the years, I accumulated an excessive amount of large prints ranging from 11x14s all the up to 24×36 posters (that’s in inches for you international readers).  I had neither the frames nor the wall space for all of these, so I picked a few of my favorite ones to decorate the house and trashed the rest.  I can always make more prints if I feel the need, but that’s not yet happened with any of the posters I decided to junk.

4) Photo albums.  I dealt with these the same as my loose small prints.  Scanned them and trashed the originals.  Several of these were from my digital cameras, which made it all the more easy since there was no need to scan a print that originated from a digital file.

5) Scrapbooks.  These were by far the hardest to deal with.  Over the years, I had put a lot of time and effort into making these.  The problem was that I never looked at them, and they were both bulky and very heavy.  I hated transporting my scrapbooks around.  In addition to the photographs contained within them, I also frequently jotted down notes explaining certain memories, and I didn’t want to completely lose these.  What I ended up doing was taking one of my nicer digital cameras and taking a picture of each complete scrapbook page so that in essence I had a virtual scrapbook that I could still flip through on the computer if I wanted to (though in the many years since I did this project, I haven’t looked at those photos a single time).  Once I documented everything, I threw out all the scrapbook contents and donated the empty scrapbook shells to Goodwill.  Getting all of that weight off of my hands was such a relief.

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So now that all this is done, what next?  The next step is a lifelong one:  be mindful of my actions so that I do not let clutter like this build up again and have to repeat this entire process.  I still occasionally shoot film – maybe one or two rolls a year – so whenever I do, I scan the negatives immediately and rarely make prints anymore.  If I do make a print, I do so with a specific purpose in mind and already have a planned display location either at the house or at my office.  With our convenient and ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, and computers as photo viewing devices, I am grateful to be living in a time where I can still take plenty of pictures without having to deal with the physical clutter than accompanied them by necessity in the past.

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