Decluttering Photos


Boy in a box. Discards on left, keepers on right.

Begin with the paper photos. We will deal with digital ones later.

Gather them all in one place. Albums, boxes, envelopes, booklets. Pile them all up.You will have to adjust the space and time allotted for the project depending on the volume of photos you are dealing with. I would recommend you go so far as to include the photos in frames scattered about the house. You may find another photo you would prefer to display and it is a good idea to see how much of something you are dealing with.

Now, take a Before photo of your project. You may delete it at the end, if you choose, but you will not be able to recreate this disorganized pile after you have decluttered.

I recommend that you work in blocks of time, no less than 15 minutes and no more than 1 hour. Sorting through photos is surprisingly emotional work and you do not want to becomes discouraged or exhausted and give up.

You will be organizing them eventually, but for the first pass through just do this: 1) discard any bad photos: faces cropped off, thumb over the lens, you can’t tell what it is a photo of, it is supremely unflattering to most of the parties in it. You get the idea. 2) You realize the photo actually does, or should belong to someone else. Put these in a box or large envelope labeled with the person’s name. For example, when I sold my house and went through my photos then, I kept copies of my favorites of the kids when they were little. But other photos of them, especially ones that were multiples like school photos in different sizes, I gave to the individual child. When I was going through photos at my mom’s house, I came across formal baby photos of a cousin and his parent’s wedding photos. I sent those to him. He and his sister were thrilled to get them. Perhaps, you have photos of a family member involved with a group that would like to have the photos related to the group activity? 3) You do not know the people in the photo. Set these aside. You may be able to find another family member or friend who does know who they are. Don’t work on that now, unless the person who may know will not be available to you later (they are gravely ill, moving soon, or have early symptoms of dementia.)

Good job! Take a Stage Two photo of your piles. Now you may throw away the bad ones and give away the photos you identified as belonging to someone else. Presumably you have a little bit more room to work with now, which the sorting step requires.

How you organize the photos really depends on your preferences and how you plan to use them. Some people like photo albums or scrapbooks with a theme (wedding, high school, a particular trip) and some prefer the photo albums in chronological order, i.e. one person’s baby photos, then school photos, then adult photos. When I was younger, I had that type of photo album. Eventually I pulled out the photos of my first husband, which left gaps. Then I pulled out all the photos and put them in archival boxes. That method takes the least space, but makes them less likely to be retrieved and shared with others. Think about how you like to use your pictures and what type of type of storage will facilitate that.

Now you should purchase any albums or boxes or envelopes or binders you need to sort the photos and negatives. The photos and negatives should be stored separately. Buy archival tools as your budget will allow. If you don’t have a lot of time or money at this stage, putting the photos in archival boxes will at least preserve them for the future.

I recommend sharing duplicates with others and keeping just one copy of your favorite photos. Similarly, if you have twelve sunset photos taken during that Hawaiian vacation, select the best one and discard the rest. Some folks just can not discard any photo they have taken, no matter how bad or uninteresting…but I doubt they are reading this blog.

Think about the best place to store your newly decluttered photos. Attics and basements and garages are not good places due to the fluctuations in temperature and humidity which can destroy or degrade the pictures.

Take a Final photo of your collection and congratulate yourself on your hard work.

Digital photos:

  1. Delete photos as identified above as not worthy to keep.
  2. Organize them into folders that make sense to you, i.e. by person, trip, date.
  3. Back up your files.

Good luck, and let me know how the process is going. Be mindful that a large volume of photos can take weeks or months to sort through.



Current file system

Most household paper comes in through the mail and generally falls into the following categories: junk mail, bills, personal correspondence, magazines and catalogues.

I don’t get that much mail, and I deal with it as soon as I have brought it in. Junk mail in the recycle bin, credit card offers get shredded.

Bills get placed on my calendar and generally get paid a day within arrival. Some people have a special system to send the remittance off about a week before the bill is due. Years ago, when I was living paycheck to paycheck, I kept the bills on my desk and sat down the day I got paid and wrote my checks every two weeks. Some of my bills I have set up for online billing and payment, so no regular paperwork for those. Paper bills (and electronic ones) get stored about a year and then destroyed.

Greeting cards and letters I save only if they are especially precious. Invitations to weddings and parties I keep until the event, with my calendar. Paper explanations of benefits from my health insurer get saved until the end of the year, or until all the accounts are reconciled (sometimes into January of the next year.) Papers related to taxes are collected in a folder throughout the year and ready to go at tax filing season. I keep filed returns and supporting documents for seven years. (For international readers-please follow your own tax codes.)

It is a good idea to only subscribe to the number of magazines that you can actually read in a month, otherwise you are wasting your money and probably stressing yourself when you don’t get them read. I currently have only one subscription, though I have been known to pick up a couple of shelter magazines when I am travelling.

As a minimalist, I advocate to cancel any regular arriving catalogs for clothing, housewares or furniture. These just stir up desires for new things and are a huge waste of paper. You know when you actually have need of an object and can research and select it without paper catalogs.

When I take my car in for service, they give me a paper copy of the work done. I keep any that are documenting major repair or recall corrections. I don’t keep routine oil changes or if I bought windshield wipers.

My papers are all stored together in the above file box and folder (for old tax returns.) The only exception to this is a copy of my mother’s Health Care Power of Attorney is in my glove box, as if she has a health emergency, I will likely be driving my car to get to her.

How about you, dear readers? Which of your paper systems are working and which need tweaking?

Summer Abundance


My first box of produce from the CSA*

I have signed up for a weekly box of produce from a CSA that delivers to the local farmer’s market. [ *CSA] I took my wire, wheeled cart and walked to the farmer’s market, then strolled home with my produce. I know my readers who live other than North America will murmur to themselves, “Hmmm. Yeah. So What?” Because that is how it is done just about everywhere else, substituting a basket or bag for the wheeled cart. But here in North America, generally we get in our car and drive to the store to get our food. And usually the food has been driven/flown a long way to get there too.

So, here is another small action that I take to realize my intent of shrinking my carbon footprint and encouraging restorative agriculture.

And probably a few of you are murmuring under your breath, “Fawn-surely you are not going to pass all that food through your alimentary canal in the next week?” Rest assured, gentle reader, I am not. I’m sharing some of the spoils with my son, who lives nearby. I’m making a salad this Saturday for a workshop for 50 people, and I’ll take some of the watermelon to a potluck on Sunday.

Because abundance is more fun when shared.

[Also, for those of you who do not read the comments–reader Beatrice has requested a minimalist online tutorial on dealing with papers, documents and curating a memory box. We would like to get a nice little discussion group going with folks who are working through these issues. Anyone game?)

Landscaping, Community and Global Warming


catepillar 2

This beauty is the caterpillar of the Monarch butterfly.

I have become involved with the landscape renewal of the local Quaker Meeting House. We are planning on the removal of invasive species from our property.  [Invasive species]

Then, as time and money allow, we will replace the non-native species of plantings with native species, which can support local insects, song birds and other local flora and fauna. We plan a milkweed garden to support the Monarch butterfly. Native species, thoughtfully used, can also sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. This has the potential to begin to reverse some of the damage we have done to our ecology.

St. Louis has a vibrant community of people devoted to bringing native landscaping to urban areas. I am getting to work with some of these learned and caring folks. The community has been welcoming of me. What occurs is healing on an individual, local and global levels. I have found my new place.

Cleaning the New Place


My polished door knocker.

I like almost everything about my new apartment: the charming and walkable neighborhood, the affordable rent, the just-right-for-me size, the responsiveness of the management when I make a request, the city life unfolding in the park across the street [dog walkers, yoga practitioners, frisbee players, would-be readers perusing the take-one-leave-one book kiosk, people resting in the shade on their stroll home from the grocery store, a girl playing in the fountain on a hot summer day, and so much more.]


Dirty door knocker before being polished.

What I don’t like about it, is that when I moved in, it was not up to my standards of cleanliness. Not even close. Almost every surface was filthy: the fridge, the cabinets, the bath tile and the windows and sill.


Here you can see a section where I have removed the first layer of grime from the window sill.

Happily, I know how to clean things. And I have more time now then ever before in my life to make my place pretty. What in other homes took years, I should be able to accomplish in a couple months.

Anyway, don’t expect photos until I’ve cleaned the place up bit.

Memory Box


16″ x 11.5″ x 8″ of happiness

What does a minimalist put in her memory box? Only items that make me happy to look at and handle.


The box unpacked

Starting at the left bottom and spiraling in clockwise: photo of my dad running in the Senior Olympics the day before he started his radiation treatments, a day book of meaningful quotes I have collected and decorated, a few copies of my book, a few copies of a literary magazine that published some of my poetry, photos that are too big to fit in the photo box, a laminated copy of a newspaper article on hospice care that featured yours truly, the stocking my mom knit for me, a box of photos, greeting cards-both handmade and purchased, and poetry contest award.

Each of these objects represents a happy memory, or uplifts me in someway to review it.

Objects that are not in my memory box: photos of my weddings, a snapshot of my brother being mean to me, a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s memoir that he had the publisher send to me.

It took me a little time to unpack the emotions of the things that I let go. There was such hope at the beginning of the marriages, and love. But the dark and twisty thing that those became does not need a memorial. I have happier photos of my brother and me and no longer need to keep the evidence of his abuse. The pride in having had a friend who went on to be an acclaimed writer, was undone by his lack of courage in explaining to me why he ended our friendship. His explanation is in the book, which he had sent to me twenty years after the fact.

I have said before that I will never be the family historian. It just isn’t something that interests me.  That frees me to keep only the objects that make me happy. Learning to live lightly and freely, that interests me very much.