Culling photographs

Today’s Decluttered Item ~ Photos

Not many people would just up and throw away all their photos. Even I’m not that keen to create space. However having rows and rows of albums lined up in a bookcases full of photos that are of no historical or significant  personal value to you or your family could very well be classed as clutter. Quite frankly these albums would probably bore anyone, including yourself to tears, should you actually choose to take one down and browse through it.

Today’s post isn’t about how you should store your photos, how you should take photos or how you should identify photos when you do store them. It is about getting rid of the ones that are just wasting space.

Below are 7 characteristic of photos that guide my choices as to which ones to cull.

  1. Multiple copies of the same image ~ Ask other family member if they would like one of these copies and if not throw them out. Even stacked behind one another these photos still take up space.
  2. Multiple similar photos ~ Choose the best image among a group that are almost exactly the same and ditch the rest. Once again you can offer them to other family members or friends.
  3. Photos of people you don’t even know, remember or care about ~ There is no historical value to you in photos of people who are so insignificant to you that you don’t even remember who they are or, if they can be identified, you just don’t care. People come and go in our lives and some, who may have seemed photo worthy in the past, just don’t matter in the long term.
  4. Bad memories ~ Enough said, why keep photos that only give you grief.
  5. Blurry images (unless they are of significance) ~ Sometimes the only shot taken of an important occurrence unfortunately turns out blurred and can’t be recaptured, these are be the only blurred photos that I keep.
  6. Insignificant images ~ There are some events in life that over time become insignificant and not important to our history. We often get carried away taking photos at the time and then end up later with an album full of boring images such as animals in zoos, uninteresting locations, insignificant building etc etc. Why keep these images if they have no meaning to you.
  7. Bad timing ~ Photos where the focus of the shot has moved just as you click. Where you end up with  images of the backs of peoples’ heads, children ducking out the edge of shot and sometimes the focal point has disappeared altogether.

I am sure there are other reasons I have missed that warrant mentioning and if you can recall them please feel free to leave a comment below because we can all benefit from your input. The ones I mentioned were all used in the process of culling the photo prints in the image above that is today’s decluttered item. In fact many of them survived the first cut but as I continue on with the process I get more ruthless. Much the same as I do with everything in my home.

If you are confident of converting your printed old style film photos to digital copies why no do it. The only room you will then be using is space on your hard drive. That being said I use the same guidelines mentioned above to declutter digital images as well. We have in fact had all our old negatives scanned ~ in case of age degradation ~ but have chosen for now to keep the prints. At least those that make the cut.

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something that you have aspired to making use of for a long time but never have.

Remember the November Keep it Tidy Challenge

Eco Tip for the Day

Drive calmly as this will save on petrol and wear and tear ~particularly on the brakes and tires. It could also assist in avoiding accidents and  lower your stress levels. Leaving early so you don’t have to rush will contribute greatly to the likelihood of obtaining and maintaining this calm state.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Mini Mission ~ Friday 22Dec2017 Declutter a couple of old shabby shoes that you no long choose to use.
  • Mini Mission ~ Thursday 21Dec2017 Declutter your fridge of out of date items or by using up as much as possible before adding more. With the holiday season here you will likely need every inch of spare space.
  • Mini Mission ~ Wednesday 20Dec2017 Declutter by recycling some items. That mound ofused takeout containers, old newspapers and magazines, paperwork that needs shredding, glass jars you set aside in case you have a use for […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Just curious — How do you feel about displaying baby pictures/school pictures/graduation pictures/wedding pictures of family members who are now way past that stage in their lives, i.e., pictures of nieces/nephews from high school who are now in their 40’s with children of their own? To me, they constitute clutter and are totally irrelevant.

    • Hi Mary Ellen, funny you should ask that. I used to have a trifold standing picture frame that held about 18 8 x 10in photos. This frame never did fit well anywhere in this house so although I liked it it had to go. I had filled it with pictures when I first got it about 11 years ago and yes some of those photos were way out of date. I had kept meaning to update them but never got around to it.

      Also I bought a high school graduation photo frame when my daughter graduated five years ago. You guessed it, I never did put a photo and her certificate in it.

      In actual fact I have very few family photos on my walls. Although I live a long way from my extended family I just don’t feel the need to have photos on display to remind me of them. The ones I do have on my walls are all at least seven years old because I haven’t felt the need to change them out. The photos I do display are usually chosen because I like that particular photo for one reason or another. Like the one of my mother in uproarious laughter. It makes me happy every time I see it. I have only I professional photo on the wall which is of my wedding 25 years ago. I don’t feel the need to pay for someone to take staged photos of us I prefer photo taken when we are doing something interesting and enjoyable. Luckily for me we have some pretty good photographers in the family so we get plenty of good shots.

    • Oh, I agree with you, Mary! I used to have photos around my house, I think out of fear of forgetting. But they were just cluttered and outdated, and after taking them down, I still remember the people and events without a house full of photos that I never even notice.
      The only photo on my wall now is our wedding photo, because I think it’s a beautiful photo and I love seeing it. And I have to keep at least one photo on the wall as a compromise with my husband who is far more sentimental than I am and would love a house full of photos.

  2. Good post. One thing I have learned from being a scrapbooker is that you don’t have to record 5 years of the same event. I have learned to make a layout or a multipage layout of an event and in the journaling to say something like, “Every year our church holds a huge Halloween blowout for the neighborhood.” To me the same holds true of keeping pictures. Unless there was something really different or life changing about a particular event you don’t need to keep pictures from multiple years of the same event. I have also found that I don’t need to keep a copy of every picture I have of a particular person. I’m learning to cull my photos based on your points and the idea of not needing every photo that comes along.

    • Hi Deb J, culling photos, as you probably well know, is something that has been on my decluttering list for a long time. It isn’t a job I enjoy so I have been happy to just do a little bit here and there. Eventually, chipping away at it, the job will be complete. Each time I do a little I learn a little more about the process and it gets easier. No rush though.

      • That’s the thing, Colleen. No rush, no fuss. It doesn’t have to all be done now. I am gradually taking my time while going through my photos to see what I want to keep and what I don’t. I went through all the photo albums with Mom and we culled a bunch of baby through 50 years old photos of cousins and such. We decided to keep only their baby picture and their most recent. What a lot of photos we got rid of. Now I am working through the ones on the computer. Once I have those culled I am going to burn them to a CD and take them off the computer.

  3. I recently culled through all my photos. Now they all fit in one small storage box in the top of a closet. My daughter helped me because some of the pictures were of her or images I’d saved for her (like pictures of her dad with her just after she was born…back when he still pretended to care). Anyway, we went through and ended up getting rid of a stack of photos. I find time and distance makes it easier to let go of photos. Especially multiple similar photos of the same event.

    I try to drive calmly because it makes defensive driving easier. And I’m less likely to get speeding tickets or improper lane change tickets or any other number of driving infractions I could get ticketed for. Driving calmly (and at the posted speed limit) is so much cheaper than driving aggressively.

    • Hi Rachel W, that sounds like a nice job you did of your photo decluttering. Good for you. I still have a long way to go in that area but I am happy to plod along at my own pace. You are so right, time and distance does makes it easier to let go of photos.

      Glad to here you drive calmly. For the most part from what I see the more people hurry the slower they go. I don’t see the point in rushing up to a red light.

  4. Two days ago I threw away a photograph album of an old friend’s wedding, cover and all. We are no longer in contact as our lives went different directions, and it made me sad rather than happy to see those photos again. Out they went!

    On my list for today (and thank you for the prompt) is to throw out all the photographs from a big box of framed photos in the garage, and donate the frames to charity. Again, the subjects of the photos are no longer in my life and that makes me sad. Out they’ll go!

    • Hi Jenny, as you know people come in go in our lives and that is just the way it is. Being a Defence Force wife myself there are no end of people who have come and gone in my life. I have learned a lot from the variety of people I have met over the years. I often fondly think of friends gone by and am just happy to have known them. Most of them I wouldn’t even have a photo of but I don’t find I need one anyway.

      • That is a nice way to think of it – just being happy you have known somebody. I will try to hold on to that. I wish I was better at staying in contact with people but it takes effort on both sides which doesn’t always happen. When my friend in the wedding album deleted her Facebook account (our only remaining line of communication) without telling me or giving me an email address, I knew it was time to let her go. Maybe that is just a type of mental decluttering. It’s sometimes good to let go of people as well as objects, or at least our hopes for what we want those people to be in our lives. It’s a bit like breaking up with somebody only they don’t know it happened 🙂

        • Jenny – some people I know their marriage split up and along with seperating the furniture and appliances, they made a list of friends and acquaintances and split them up too, just so the boundaries were set and no one had awkward situations.

          • Oh Moni, that sounds sensible in theory but can you imagine how awkward it would get if any of the friends wanted the other partner rather than the one they were allocated?! 🙂 AWKward with a capital AWK.

        • Hi Jenny, I have been very fortunate to make become friends with some very nice people everywhere I have ended up in life. Some I have been lucky enough to come full cycle and met up with more than once. But I find there are only so many hours a day to devote to friends so it is best to give my full attention to the ones I have at the time. Should I go and we meet again in the future we just take up where we left off. Maybe some would think otherwise but to me that is true friendship, being able to let go and stay friendly none the less.

          • I do have dear friends who are like that – we don’t see each other for years at a time but it’s like we have never been apart. I treasure those people.

        • Jenny – yeah, for the most part it worked out but I imagine there were times when it didn’t.

  5. How timely. I just went through my older son’s albums and condensed them into 1. Got rid of about a 6 inch stack. I had to use additional inserts but i think it has about 400 photos. Is that enough for someone in their late twenties? I can’t imagine what it is going to be like for the next generation to sort through. Whew!

    • Hi Gloria, the next generation won’t be doing any sorting of albums because most of there photographs will be on their hard drives. Lucky devils. Mind you they may have to sort their saved pics occasionally or they will forever have to be purchasing larger memory space.

  6. The best thing I ever did was scan my best photos, put them in a digital photo frame which is in the hallway near the kitchen. I go past it frequently throughout the day and am reminded of many happy memories, especially of my children. I haven’t disposed of the originals … can’t quite do that for fear of losing the digital copies at some point … but they are no longer upstairs, and there are fewer of them than before I culled them.

    • Hi KBaker, I have never owned a digital frame and now that I am always on the lookout on how to conserve power I probably never will. That being said I do think they are a clever idea though. I wonder if they make solar powered ones. Sure sounds feasible.

      • Do digital frames come with batteries or only plugged in to the mains? I’d be happy to use rechargeable batteries (with a solar charger when we get one!) and it certainly would be nice to have some photos of loved ones and happy times on display. We don’t put up glass-fronted picture frames any more since Christchurch started having earthquakes, and only have some collages printed on canvas hanging on the walls, but I’m sure I could take a chance with one frame.

        • Hi Jenny – I’m from the Bay of Plenty and looked for battery powered digital picture frame about a year ago but didn’t have any luck, but if anyone knows of one, I’d be interested to know too.

          • Maybe they are just too power-hungry. It probably takes more than a couple of AAAs to keep a backlit display going. Maybe someday!

        • Hi Jenny I am not sure how they come but I am sure rechargeable battery operated ones are out there.

  7. Just last week my husband helped someone with their computer. It appeared to have a very bad virus. He worked on it for over a week and finally got it operating again. She really only wanted the photos saved off the computer, so he managed to save them to a disc and suggested she store them in Dropbox so she would not lose them again if her computer died.
    Even with the use of separate hard drives and USB sticks I rarely look at the photos stored on them.
    Just last weekend we had a get together with old school friends. Sue had a new granddaughter and had actual hard copy photos of her. Everyone else passed their phones around to show pictures of their kids.
    Technology will eventually make photos like cassette tapes or vinyl records. I love the fact that my phone takes photos and videos, and I can view them and share them and delete them without incurring physical clutter.
    I really like KBaker ‘s idea of the digital frame in th hallway.

    • Hi Wendy, I too love my phone camera and video capability, as you well know.
      At the thrift shop yesterday I took an empty picture frame out to the ladies sorting in the back room and said “What is this?” Catharine eyed me suspiciously because it was obvious I was up to something. I then grabbed the whiteboard marker and wrote on the glass and said “It’s a whiteboard.” She thought I was very clever. Then I said “You could hang it on your kitchen wall and write your grocery list on it. On shopping day all you have to do is take a photo of it with your phone and take that to the grocery store with you.” At that point I think she just felt old and out of date. Gotta love smart phones.

  8. I used to have a lot of photos around the house but I sort of phased it out without thinking about it when we moved house six years ago. When we were house hunting I found it a bit uncomfortable? looking thru houses and seeing family photos and children’s photos all over the place. I don’t know why, it sort of made me feel I was intruding, even though the owners had put it on the market.

  9. This is definitely one of those things that I have not tackled yet, but it is on my list of things to get to. I know that I have some photos that I can get rid of and with time, I would love to have all of them put onto the hard drive. Sadly though, I have some photos that belonged to my mother, that are not able to be identified. She is no longer here to ask who or what the photos are about, unfortunately. They were not marked properly, and I am sure that they were of importance at some point, but I don’t think they will make the cut.

    • Hi Jen, my parents also have some old photos that I would not know who some of the people were. Every time I visit I promise myself we are going to go through them and identify all the people but the task is very daunting. Oddly just now as I read you post it occurred to me that all I have to do is use my smart phone to capture an image of only the faces I do not know and then tag the photo with the name/s. They when other photos crop up with these people I will know who they are.

      • Sounds like you have a great solution to this problem. I think that when I have an opportunity, I will get those photos out and inquire with some of my extended family. I am sure they will be able to help.

  10. What useful guidelines Colleen! The photo issue is just about a universal one. I am in my late 30s and have accumulated two long shelves worth of photo albums. I enjoy looking through them, but rarely do (and other look through them even less than me). It takes so much time to keep up with them (printing, filing and captioning) and a couple of years ago I had the overwhelming realisation of how much space these albums were going to take up if I kept adding to them. So I have stopped printing photos altogether and now just keep digital (and backed up) copies.

    In the past, I grappled with the issue of how to organise photos of our children. My mum (and my husband’s mum) kept individual albums for each child. I have found this a bit impractical as it often means making duplicate copies so both albums can be up to date. And then I thought – what happens when my children leave home and I no longer have these photos myself to look through of my children’s early years – I’d better make ANOTHER copy for a family album. Fortunately I stopped myself in time and just decided to keep a family album. And since then the digital world has progressed so much that I’ve realised when my kids leave home they will probably prefer to take a USB stick with their photos on them anyway rather than heavy albums.

    And an extra intruiging aside. My MIL has occasionally made copies of photos from holidays they’ve taken and given them to us and I’ve not known what to do with them. I felt like I should keep them and added them to my albums. But reading your post has made me realise – these are someone else’s memories not ours! So I will now be easily able to declutter these. It’s a bit like souvenirs people bring back from trips – they inspire happy memories for the person who took the trip, but don’t necessarily mean much to the recipient who wasn’t there.

    • It is interesting Kim that you went to the trouble of printing digital photos. Aside from when I was an avid scrapbooker I have rarely ever printed a photo since digital photography came onto the scene when my kids were about 5 & 7 in the mid nineties. Now with the quality of digital photos it just isn’t necessary at all unless you want to frame one and not even then with digital photo frame.

      My son would be appalled to hear me say what I just said considering he has just finished a fine arts degree majoring in photography. He loves film photography. But he isn’t likely to be reading my blog.

      You are right about other peoples’ holiday snaps and the souvenirs they bring home to give family and friends. Usually only they care. Most people don’t even want to hear about the adventure others have had never mind be bored senseless for hours pouring over photos of it. I know because I am usually the one going on the vacation and can see the bored and sometimes ~ shut your mouth you bragging cow ~ look on their faces when I excitedly tell them where I have been and what I did. I am learning to minimise taking about such things.

      • I can relate. We recently came back from a great round the world trip and naturally I took lots of photos. When we got back I picked a few from each place and put them in a folder on my iPad so I could show it to people with a slideshow – 5 minutes tops. (I could always stop it if I was asked questions.) I think people were very happy with this.

        (Unlike being shown 3,000+ photos on an iPad – many of them duplicates. I ended up just whizzing through without taking much notice.)

        I only printed one pic of me and my husband; one of those lucky outstanding shots where we both look great and happy. I framed it and put it up on the wall. (I only have five small frames of wedding pics of us and kids apart from that.)

  11. I’m obviously a cold-hearted one as it just doesn’t occur to me to look at old photo’s. Certainly not for recreational reasons. When we visit family, someone always finds it necessary to drag out some old box of photo’s & at first it goes ok…but soon everyone is finding their collars are too tight & fresh air is warranted & oh look – anything else!
    I’ve never been one to display photo’s of anyone & it literally just doesn’t occur to me to do otherwise. Having said that, I’ve tried to…but found the persistent staring by whomever is in the photo to be creepy.
    When folks are asked what items they would take if they had to quickly flee their homes (fire, flood, etc) – more often than not people say family photo’s. Oh heck no! I’d grab the husband & the pets! Here & now will always precedence over the past.

    • Jane – several years back we had to evacuate at 5 in the morning due to a tsunami warning, fortunately it didn’t eventuate, my hubby grabbed the hard-drive which does have all the pictures on it – what did I grab? I left with my make up bag – why? I was thinking that it would be just my luck to be a survivor interview on tv beamed all around the world looking all washed out and mussed hair. Oh Vanity Smurf!

      (in case you’re wondering, the kids and the cats were in the car too)

      For the record, the kids had the cats in the car.

    • Don’t worry Jane, I don’t think you are cold hearted at all. The only reason I look at the albums we have is to declutter them and I am not excited to do that. So I am on your side. It doesn’t prove me to be cold hearted I just don’t need visual reminders for remembering my loved ones. Maybe I am even more “cold hearted” than you because I don’t even have any pets. 😉

      • Oh gosh remember the days when folks would come back from a big vacation & then invite friends over for a dinner party not soon after?
        The dinner being the trap which would ensnare the victims. The punishment would be forcing them to watch slides of the vacation photo’s along with indepth commentary on each and every slide. All 454 of them.

  12. I have a friend who employs the “rule of 5” in picture keeping. No more than 5 pictures of each event are necessary to keep, scrapbook or place in an album. I followed suit years ago. So simple, and it works beautifully!

  13. I just trashed over 600 photos from our digital library, and didn’t put a dent in it. It’s so hard to get rid of all those cute pictures of my babies who are growing up so quickly!! The photos of the orangutans and the giraffes were much easier to part with!! : )

  14. Great post. I’ve been through stages with clearing photos over the years and thanks to this blog I sent my remaining small box of photos to be scanned earlier this year – I’ve still got to sort them out and digitally file them and then decide which hard copies if any to keep, but that’s an ongoing work in progress, lol. Previously I had dumped all fuzzy, doubles etc and put the remaining ones in albums but I was finding that I was ready to part with quite a few of those in the albums too so ditched the albums. All negatives got the heave several moves ago.
    My mum and I have always talked about going through her photos so recently I went through and was able to give her the advice here on how to thin out – she has many doubles because she has inherited her mother’s and aunt’s photos. She had already cleared out her own ones several years ago and got rid of her camera so she wouldn’t gather any new ones. And we went through and named the ancient ancestors where possible.
    I’m in the category of people who don’t really understand the photos of relatives on the wall thing – creepy (to me). I do now keep a current pic of my nephew and nieces on my desk since they give me these for Christmas but these may not last the year out.

  15. Getting rid of photos is hard for both me and my husband. Thanks for the tips they really help.

  16. I love looking through old pictures from time to time, though I never felt the urge to display any.
    I’m not much of a photographer though (not that the photos I actually do take would be particularly bad, most of the time I just don’t bother bringing my camera along or taking it out to step back and take pictures while I’m absorbed in experiencing that particular situation), so I didn’t accumulate too many. I do own a couple of most travels, of some festivities, but really not that many. When I look at my sister who has pictures of all the parties she attends and albums (or huge digital albums) of her travels, I think, I’m rather minimal in that regard…

    • Hi Sanna, I am with you on minimising the photos I take in the first place. I enjoy and experience,event or celebration much more without my field of view narrowed down to what fits in a camera lens.

  17. I somehow ended up being the repository of family photos and I had in excess of 50 large photo albums! I scanned around 7,500 photos myself at home with just a normal document/photo scanner over the course of a year doing a little at a time. Doing them at home worked out well as I had them organized in physical form and I was able to keep them organized digitally after I scanned them. I opted to discard the hard copies and I don’t regret it at all. I store them on flickr so I don’t have to worry about losing them if my computer crashes, I can access them from anywhere I have an internet connection and they are easy to share, find, organize, edit or order a print if I ever need to. I think I pay $25 a year for unlimited storage, but there are lots of other cloud storage places out there that may be more or less expensive. I also keep video and things like scans of my kids’ art work on there.

    • Hi Henave, that scanning job sounds like it must have been a gruelling task. I also use a cloud which I set up for when I take photos with my smart phone. They are so convenient because it automatically downloads the phone photos to my laptop. I make sure I constantly declutter the photos I don’t wish to keep though.

  18. On our last vacation, it was just the two of us. Just me & the husband.
    Usually it’s all 3 of us.
    The husband, me & the camera.
    But this time, we just didn’t drag it with us & that thrilled me to no end!

    • Hi Jane, I would really like to give that sort of vacation a try but I don’t think you could convince my husband.You never know though, maybe one day.

      • I gave mine the choice. Do you want to hold the camera all day or hold a beer?

        • I love the concept but I don’t think that would work with mine. We don’t do the relaxing kind of vacations that that plan sounds like it might work better with. We are more the exploring new places kind of people. I am happy to just remember what I saw but hubby likes to capture it in all its digital glory. Can’t say I have actually looked at any of the photos of our last to adventures though. And he doesn’t expect me to carry the camera so I can hardly complain.

  19. I was having a declutter of photos a few months ago when I found several taken in the back garden of a friend of a friend. I’d only met most of the women in the shots the once and although they were perfectly nice women, I had no emotional attachment to their images.

    So I mailed the photos to my friend, whom I’d grown apart from in recent years, with a little card and a friendly message. She wrote back soon after. Two of the women in those photos (who’d been her friends for many years) had subsequently died although only in their fifties and she’d belatedly realised that she had no photos of one of them and very few of the other who’d been her set’s chief photographer.

    So, I was very happy I’d taken the time to post them to her.

    I haven’t moved across to digital photography yet and am tending not to take films either. I find that wielding a camera can be a barrier to the actual experience of an event or a place and, as others have remarked, you end up with stuff that no one really wants to browse through. Even yourself.

    Out family albums at Mum and Dad’s contain things like pictures from the 1950s of Grandma’s spaniel and her lodgers…..fascinating – not!

    • Hi GreyQueen,
      how lovely that those photos were received so happily by your friend. Many of the ones I have been through recently are of absolutely no interest to others I am sure. Bad photos, animal photos, photos of place even I am not sure about or don’t care to keep and copies of copies of copies that everyone else in the family already have.

      I actually find the old photos my mum and dad have to be more interesting than many of my own. But one only needs so many to record history and after that they just become repetitively boring.

  20. You know you have too many photos when you ordered two sets and kept both even though they’re bad quality. That’s me. With the old non-digital camera I didn’t know they’d be a disaster but I still should’ve known not to order an extra set. I’ve no excuse with digital. I have yet to declutter a few sets though I did a big declutter of photos three years before I went digital.

    It’s so true that a camera can be a barrier to the experience of an event itself so I take fewer photos of events.

    • Hi LenaC, do you still get prints done of your digital photos and if so do you print them all. I used to print my own copies when I was using them in scrapbooks but I haven’t done that in years. Unless I am going to frame a photo I don’t print any these days. I am curious, is there a reason you do or did this?

      • No, Colleen, I don’t get digital photos printed except years ago I printed some for display and for relatives. Not any more except for part of a recent art exhibition when I printed three. In my last comment I meant photos developed from films. I still want to do a further cull of old photos since reading about decluttering, including your blog. You’re brainwashing me! But in a good way. 🙂

        • Hi LenaC, thanks for clarifying. You may be pleased to know that after reading your comment today I pulled out one of my photo boxes and decluttered 100 photos. Thanks for the inspiration. I feel better for having done this and I feel keen to do some more.