Sorting Old Pictures – A Bittersweet Effort to Put Life in Order by
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Prompted By Good Riddance

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When my mother died, I inherited her photo albums. She had been meticulous about keeping photos in these albums and taught me to do the same. Taking them apart and deciding what to do with my parent’s memories was a sad and labor-intensive task. I vowed I would cull through my own albums so my children would not have to decide what to do with over 50 albums I had stored in my attic.

For some pictures, it was easy to say good riddance. But the photos of people I love – that’s another matter.

For some pictures, it was easy to say good riddance. Like my mother, I had filled albums with photos of scenery. These were fun to look at in the afterglow of a vacation, but easy to toss as the memories of beautiful landscapes faded with the years. But the photos of people I love – that’s another matter. My decision to remove them from the albums, discard the ones that didn’t hold meaning, and scan the best ones into my computer was incredibly time consuming. As I closed in on 2003, the year we bought a digital camera, my impatience and frustration approached a breaking point.

I know. I could have sent the pictures to a service to have them digitalized and put on flash drives. But I would still have to have dismantled those albums and decided which pictures I wanted to keep. Plus, I wanted to edit the photos I was keeping. As I lightened one that was dark, there was my grandfather in the background. Some needed cropping and most benefited from a touch up here and there. Now the last of those bulky albums is headed to the trash. Good riddance to that and to this tedious task.

I gave each of my kids a shoebox filled with pictures of them and their kids, with my blessing to do whatever they wanted with these. Look, laugh, and toss. Save some or all. They were out of my house, which felt pretty good. Interestingly, they all liked the ones of their children I had printed out over the years to frame or put in grandmother brag books before my phone took over that function. You see, they have so many more pictures of their kids than I ever took of them, but their vast collection of pictures resides on their phones. I still love actual photos in frames, and I think they were struck by how nice it was to see baby pictures of their kids that they could actually hold.

The result of this project is that I now have all of the important pictures on my computer, and I saved the very best organized by year in one of these:You can get them in craft stores or on Amazon. One year in each little case (except for very special years that required two cases) and four larger cases altogether. That’s so much easier to manage than 50 large and heavy albums. I feel pretty good about this achievement. But letting go of sentimental things is just not in my wheelhouse, so now I have yet to figure out how to part with the framed photos, the ones I love best, all over my house.

In addition to tossing so many photos, I organized the pictures of special vacations and events (only snaps that included people) into paperback photo books via Mixbook. There are many online services that help to produce condensed and light-weight memories. I just can’t let go of these yet. My last project, a trip to Alaska in 1998, is about to hit the scanner.

I guess I have merely edited my photo collection, just as I will have to edit all of my belongings when I decide to let go of this big, old house of mine where I have lived in for 43 years, and downsize. But for now, baby steps. As I tossed each empty photo album in the trash, I thought good riddance to that. I have kept the important part, the memories, on my computer and in my head.

As Paul Simon said in his song Old Friends,

Time it was
And what a time it was
It was . . .
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago . . . it must be . . .
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you

Of course, now I have to organize all of those photos that live on my computer. And cull through the framed photos that inhabit every room of my house. I guess there are a few I could junk, but how do I get rid of old family photos like these?

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Tags: photos, memories, downsizing
Characterizations: well written


  1. BRAVA! – on such an enormous undertaking! How can anyone move quickly through such a project as you look at each individual picture, to remember each unique memory? Your final accomplishment will be cause for true celebration. I can’t even imagine where to begin with my own photos and memories. When “antiquing,” and seeing those ancient pictures of people often unknown and forgotten, it’s so sad for me… in “real life” many are left behind that way. How difficult, these transitions. Again, brava, for the exercise toward fruition. You write so very well. Because I lost my Dad when I was ten, I learned that studying a single photograph could bring about an entire story, maybe much of it arriving through the imagination, but no matter, that bountiful place is a river landed where actual revelation filters through. There is never a lack for storytelling or ideas for writing things down – just look at the one lovely photo (above) of family gathered around the dinner table – those wise Jewish fathers. . . within that place, amid those four characters from ago, a rich story awaits its delightful unfolding.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thank you for your beautiful remarks. Yes, the top photo of all of my grandparents was a real find. I have been trying to piece together their stories from what my parents shared with me. Not enough, though. Sadly, we never think to ask the questions when we are young and our parents are young enough to remember. My grandparents only wanted to share happy memories from after they came to America.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a Herculean and difficult task you undertook! But you must have such a sense of gratification that you completed this and have left everything in good order for your children and future generations.

    I love my photos, but tend to take them of people not places (except special places). Throwing out photos from my father’s albums after his death was very painful indeed. I understand your process entirely.

  3. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I am so impressed by all the work you have done with your photos. I have many boxes of photos, still in the envelopes in which they came back from being developed, that I have never gotten around to putting in albums. I always said I would do it when I retired, but I have been retired for more than 10 years and still haven’t managed it. However, your tale of taking apart your photo albums to digitize the pictures makes me feel much better – I can just skip that intermediate step of albums, and go straight to digitizing. Maybe I’ll do that. Some day. Thanks for your story!

  4. Then do what I still try to do Laurie… study the photo for the missing details, improvise, just BEGIN writing and the story does come forth, and oftentimes, supernaturally!, because the love that you have for them is there. Write about the imagined conversation, the read words sacred kept, the ambiance, the china, the food and wine, the painting on the wall, the weather, their clothes… whatever! Your love will reveal their story because they are part of you, their spirits in you. After my Dad died I went through every sacred photo found with him in it, and my hunger to know more took me to that higher ground of mystery and gifting. I came to believe that my ancestors gifted me every curiosity from heaven’s bounty, from our families whom watch over us still. So try. One day, someday, I hope that you do try to tell that story, inspired from this very special picture of both sides, together sharing at the same table!

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