So, last week in The Ultimate De-Clutter, Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) helped us purge by defining various types of clutter. Turns out she missed one major category: photograph clutter. Do you suffer from this?
Much of the problem has been solved by smartphone technology. Unless it’s a special event – a wedding, a birth, etc. – who bothers to print off pictures anymore? Chatting with my daughter Jetanne about this a while back she said, “Well, yeah, but now we have stacks of old computers in the basement, to get all of the pictures off of them!”
Is it me? Or is it the era I come from? Is it because I used to have to wait for photos to be developed that I regarded all of them as significant? Whether they were of good quality? Flattering even? Or does the significance of all things alter significantly over time? What about the negatives I once carefully saved? To toss those meant giving up so many future possibilities. Copies for others. Enlargements. What if you lost the original?
I’ve been sifting through the old photo albums and the stacks that didn’t make it into albums – I suck at putting albums together, at putting photos in frames to display – and I see that there are whole albums, handfuls of photos, that should be tossed. Does this mean I’m more discerning now? Oh, finally, I have taste? Or . . . I’m just, ugh, old? The times, the people, the places are long gone. And who, even, was that person? That place?
Maybe Rubin didn’t mention photograph clutter because it devolves into many of the other clutter categories. Perusing my photos, I note many activities I’ve outgrown: scuba diving, motorcycling, horseracing. Speaking of horseracing, I came across huge binders of win photos meticulously placed in plastic sleeves, and then I unearthed boxes of framed win photos! How very many photos does one household need of family and friends stiffly lined up beside the ass-end of a horse, often covered head to toe in winter garb, grinning? Does this fall under conservation clutter? Useful, but too damn many? Or freebie clutter? Gifts, swag? Back in the day, there was so much pride in winning and the horse owner gifting win pictures to those in attendance. And speaking of swag, what about all of the golf tournament foursome pictures I’ve collected?
Getting back to old, I’ve existed for almost six decades. What, pray tell, isn’t nostalgic? Gravity and time keep working on my appearance, making me yearn for my once smooth (and hairless!) twentysomething face. Oh, and here’s a sobering thought: the future may be so bright I’ll have to wear shades, but surely my past now contains more quantity than what lies ahead. I should hang there in for quality, right? As the joints succumb to arthritis, the feet to plantar fasciitis . . . geez. Okay, I’ll just keep working out. Another day, another Aleve, I say.
“Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Grateful Dead. Truckin’. Having spent the last week observing, in pictures, my life so far, these lyrics come to mind. Are you like me? Do you look in the mirror each morning, and despite concerns about your appearance – that too-big nose, that hair flip that you can’t control, those hips!!! – you still say, in your head, to her/him, before you leave to greet the day, “Damn you look good!” You don’t deliberately choose extra pounds, weird clothes, ridiculous hairstyles, do you? Yet . . . your old photos – mine anyway – may tell a different story. I look into my very own late-thirty-to-early-forty-something eyes, in photos, and gasp, thinking, “Who the hell are you? I don’t remember being you! You are most definitely not me!” My kids try to placate me. “You looked like a mom, you know? You had ‘mom’ hair going on.” No! The look I was aiming for? Yummy mommy!
I have so many old journals, words, to remind me of who I was, my internal workings, embarrassing or otherwise. Are they more readily acceptable because I can conjure more flattering visual images of myself? And what exactly is a photo-graph, invented in 1839, anyway? From the Greek photos, meaning light, and graphe, drawing or writing, so, drawing with light. When I think of photographs that way, as just drawings with light, they seem less permanent, less damaging, easier to accept, easier to let go of too.
Time. More time is what’s needed to properly address the heavy stacks of light drawings I’ve accumulated to date. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words then, sadly, I’ve got millions upon millions of words going into storage on Friday.