How to Let Go of Photo Clutter

Photos become clutter when they sit unlooked at in piles, bags, boxes or on the hard-drive on your computer.
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I have spent the past 12 years helping clients let go of unnecessary items in their homes, offices and lives -- one area at a time. This post focuses on cutting back on photo clutter.

Photos become clutter when they sit unlooked at in piles, bags, boxes or on the hard-drive on your computer.

1) The first thing you want to find out is if you like looking at the photos you take. This means past the time you first get them from the one-hour photo lab, or when you check out a photo you just took with your camera phone. Ask yourself, "Do I enjoy regularly looking at my photos?"

If you do enjoy looking at your pictures, great! But if not, it's worth noticing that the photos aren't serving you. I've worked with a lot of clients who saved bags or boxes of random photos, but never looked at them. They were hanging on to the pictures because they felt like it would be wrong to throw them out. I get it, we tend to take pictures at special moments. We end up making that photo sacred in our minds. But if it's not your nature to look at pictures, then hanging on to them will hurt you.

2) Printed photos. What if you like to look at your pictures but have large piles of them and are too overwhelmed to figure out what to do? Sit down with a stack of pictures, pick up the first photo and ask, "Do I like this picture or not?" You want to see which pictures mean something to you now. This is easier than it seems. You'll come across blurry pics, ones where you don't care for the person who's in the picture, seven photos of the same group standing in the same pose, ones where you don't like how you look, one where you can't remember who the person is, and one's you just don't like. Toss these pictures.

When you're done, either put the photos you like in an existing photo album that you like looking through, or go to the store and get a photo book that makes you happy. If you're starting from scratch, think of it as producing a one-of-a-kind book that is made just for you. Be creative!

3) Digital pictures. The thing about camera phones is that since we don't have to worry about film, we can take an unlimited amount of pictures. Often times what happens is these photos get downloaded onto the hard drive on our computer. In the long run, we end up with hundreds and sometimes thousands of photos on our hard-drive. I remember a client who scrolled down over hundreds of jpegs, not having a clue what each picture was about.

We don't do well with too many choices. We tend to shut down. What helps is to quickly go through each photo, one at a time, on your hard-drive and ask, "Do I want to use this in some way (Facebook, website, send to others, print it up on a calender or put in a picture frame) or can I delete it?" Remember, saving things and not using them creates stagnation. You're looking for a way to make a thing into an experience for you.

4) When to take a picture. The other night I heard a comedian talk about how parents compulsively take pictures when their kids perform at a school event. He said they don't even see their kid in that moment. They block out their kid with the camera so they can get the picture.

There's a powerful connection in a moment that occurs between you and what you are experiencing. It feels amazing. I know from experience that taking out my camera phone and trying to save the moment by taking a photo takes me out of the moment. I prefer enjoying the moment, knowing in a second it will be gone. It makes it more precious.

I'm not suggesting that you avoid taking pictures, but maybe let some moments be just between you and what you are experiencing.

Please write and tell me your experiences clutter busting your photos; it helps inspire people when you share.

Brooks Palmer is the author of Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back (New World Library, 2009) and Clutter Busting Your Life: Clearing Physical and Emotional Clutter to Reconnect With Yourself and Others (New World Library, 2012). To schedule an over-the-phone clutter busting session, go to

For more by Brooks Palmer, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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