Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever is an organization lover’s bible. The Japanese professional organizer’s “KonMari Method” prescribes minimalism and keeping only the items that make you happy. But how can this extreme method be applied to your photos?
Kondo recommends only keeping five photos per life event. She says that we fool ourselves imagining that we’ll want to look at them again someday because someday never comes.
Marie Kondo maybe right for your closet, but she is wrong when it comes to organizing your photos and here’s why:
Joy is not the only emotion to preserve in life
I have pictures of my children visiting their great grandmother in a nursing home for alzheimer’s patients. They are reaching out to touch the hand of an old woman who can no longer recognize them. Joy is not the emotion the photos trigger but I would never think about throwing them away. They are now a treasured part of our family history.
Strict limits create false choices
I’m all about culling pictures on my phone so I don’t end up with blurry pictures and ten shots of the same thing, but setting a limit of five per life event creates a false choice. I recently returned from a spring break trip to Savannah and restricting myself to five shots per day would have forced me to cut pictures of either the kids at the Tybee Island Lighthouse, eating ice cream at Leopold’s or on the carriage ghost tour. Each of these photos helps tell the story of our visit and why should I delete any of them? Discarding photos is difficult at the best of times, discarding perfectly good photos that help tell a story is needlessly torturous.
“Somedays” do come
While Kondo may still be too young to have experienced her own “somedays”, they do come and our photos can bring us joy and comfort at those times. Looking back at old digital pictures with the kids is something I do regularly – they love to see themselves when they were little. Another of my “somedays” was when my wife’s grandfather passed away I was put in charge of pulling together a slideshow. It was amazing to see how people were drawn to the pictures and the stories they started telling about each. I was glad he hadn’t KonMari-ed his photos.
The KonMari Method can help us though if we adapt the rules as guidelines. Here are a few of our favorite lessons from Marie Kondo and how they can help us organize and enjoy our photos.
Make a day out of it
When it comes to organizing, commit yourself to tidying up all at once. “Tidy a little a day and you’ll be tidying forever,” Kondo explains. She also suggests treating your purge day like a holiday, mark your calendar and focus all of your attention on the project.
Just like getting your closets finally organized, this approach really helps you tackle those boxes of old family photos you’ve been meaning to organize for years. It can also help with organizing a backlog of digital pictures.
Tackle by category not by room
Rather than organizing photos from the attic and then the living room bookshelves, organize all your old photos from throughout the house at once. Pull everything into one pile so you can see everything you have and start the sorting process from there. This approach also works for documents and other memorabilia as well as your printed pictures.
Keep only what sparks emotion
Kondo’s mantra is to surround yourself only with happiness but, as discussed above, joy is not the only emotion that has value. Some other emotions that your pictures may stir up include fear, anger, sadness, disgust, trust, anticipation and surprise. Each of these emotions is a part of life’s journey and these memories are all worth preserving. Reflecting on and passing down a perfectly polished “Facebook Life” is superficial and lacks meaning.
Kondo’s method of touching everything and asking yourself “does this item bring me joy?” can be adapted to “does this picture make me feel emotion or does it help tell a story?” If the answer is no, you can discard it or give it away. Don’t tell Marie Kondo, but it is okay to keep thousands of photos if they each help you remember and re-experience life’s journey!
Show it off!
Kondo believes that inanimate objects have their own feelings. She thinks that your belongings are not happy on a cluttered shelf in the back of your closet. While I’m not sure my pictures have their own feelings, I do agree that more of them need to be rescued from being buried in boxes and attics.
Display the pictures you love! Put them in a place where they are visible, accessible, and easy to grab. Rotate them often to keep things fresh, designate a home for them and return them after every use. Another way to show off your memories can be to share them digitally with friends and family!
It is okay to let things go!
Another big lesson we can learn from Marie Kondo is that sometimes respecting something means letting it go. Recognize the purpose it served and the joy it once brought you. Digitizing old photos can help us hold onto them even after we downsize but there is a time in life where many of our physical possessions, including pictures and mementos, must be passed on. Hold them, enjoy them one last time, and pass them on to other family members and friends to enjoy.
The beauty of guidelines is that you don’t have to always follow them. Know yourself and adapt these methods to what makes you feel best. For example, Marie Kondo says to begin your cleanup early in the morning but if you’re a night owl, this may not work for you. You don’t have to be a minimalist or agree with every aspect of the KonMari Method, but implementing your own version of these principles will help put you on a path towards becoming more intentional with what photos and memories have a place in your home and life.