Should You Delete (or Throw Away) Your Photos, Videos or Mementos?

Are your closets and file cabinets overflowing with duplicate, blurry prints of old photos?

Is your computer hard drive bogged down by enormous video files you’ll probably never watch again?

Do you struggle with letting go of sentimental items when you’re trying to declutter your home?

If so, you might need some help figuring out what photos, videos and mementos to keep (and which to get rid of) so you can clear out some much-needed space in your home and get clear on what is most important to you.

This article will discuss why we hold on to these items and why it’s important to separate the treasures from the junk. Then I’ll give you my best tips for choosing what to keep and what to let go.

Should You Delete (or Throw Away) Your Photos, Videos, & Mementos?

Why Do We Have This Stuff?

Most of us have a large collection of items like photos, videos, and mementoes, and many of these items are special to us in some way.

Our collections usually include a lot of physical items, like photo prints, old VHS tapes, or paperweights our kids made in their kindergarten art classes. And now our collections include a lot of digital items, too, like video files and digital images.

There are a number of reasons we hang on items like these. Theses videos, photos and mementos might:

  • Capture a memory or a moment that we want to remember forever or pass down to our kids.
  • Help us keep track of important bits of information.
  • Have a historical purpose, like a chart that shows your family’s genealogy.
  • Remind us of someone important in our lives, like photos and videos of grandparents or other loved ones who have passed away.

Our “stuff” is important, and often serves many purposes, so it’s no surprise that we have trouble figuring out what’s important and meaningful and what’s not. Sometimes it feels like it all seems important and meaningful!

Why It’s Important to Delete or Throw Away Some of These Items

If you don’t have a process for occasionally purging your less-important photos, videos, and mementoes, your stuff can start to take up a lot of space in your home, on your computer, and on your devices (like your phones and tablets). Having too much “stuff” makes it difficult to get around, both literally and figuratively.

As human beings, we navigate the world better when we’ve got a little breathing room – so don’t let a huge mountain of undefined stuff start crowding out what’s really important in your life.

Clearing out our junk items can also help us identify our most prized treasures! For example, if your closet is overflowing with old, blurry, damaged, or duplicate photos, it makes it awfully hard to you to locate the one perfect family photo you took on your recent trip to Jamaica!

Getting rid of your photographic or sentimental “clutter” can also help you figure out what needs to be preserved, digitized, backed up and organized. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. if the unthinkable happens (like a flood, fire or other unexpected disaster) you could potentially lose everything – so it’s critical to have a backup of all of your important memories.

Locating Your Photos, Videos, and Mementoes

Your first step in this process is to find all the items you’d like to evaluate to see if they go on the “keep” pile or the “toss” pile.

Look for physical items in closets, storage units, file cabinets, shelves, and drawers.

Find digital items by looking on the drives of all the computers in the house (including all desktops, laptops, and tablets). Then seek out more digital “stuff” on camera cards and phones.

Time for a Treasure Hunt – How to Judge What’s Important and Choose What to Keep

Before you decide what needs to go and what should stay, you need to develop your own set of evaluation criteria. This is a personal decision, and your criteria will likely be different than other people’s.

To decide whether or not an item is a “treasure” to you or not, ask yourself if the item:

  • Commemorates or illustrates a special moment, like a family trip, reunion, holiday, or other milestone.
  • Has any kind of historical significance.
  • Contains important Information that you don’t have recorded anywhere else, like dates, locations, names of participants, or stories.
  • Is valuable, artistic, or a gift from someone.
  • Reminds you of someone important, and helps you remember that person’s personality.
  • Is an original item, and in good condition.

Once you’ve established your “treasure” criteria, use them to sort each item into one of these three piles:

  1. The “A” Pile: These are items that are of the highest quality, are original, and meet your “treasure” criteria, above.
  2. The “B” Pile: These items are of second-highest quality. They might be nearly an exact duplicate of something you already have, but these items are probably still good enough to keep.
  3. The “C” Pile: These are poor quality items. They may be duplicates of other items, or they could be blurry. These items have no storytelling value.

A couple of other things to consider when you’re sorting items into piles:

  • Prints are often a backup copy of a digital image – but you don’t need multiple backups! If you know you have the original digital image, and you’ve got two print copies of the same photo, consider putting the second print in the “C” pile. When I’m organizing my photos and deciding what to purge, I often keep one print and one digital copy of each photo, just to be on the safe side.
  • Memorabilia can be historic – a digital copy isn’t the same as an original – so don’t be too quick to put historically significantly items in your “C” pile.
  • When you’re sorting videos, make sure to keep the original tape or reel (you can use this to convert the video to the most current format). Overall, digital copies of videos are usually best, so if you have the original, you don’t need to keep an “interim” version (for example, VHS tapes or DVDs).

Once you’re done sorting, you can toss (or delete) everything in the “C” pile. Things in your “A” and “B” piles should be organized, backed up, and preserved.

Time for Your Own Great Purge

When you’re ready to tackle your own purge, dig in! Do your gathering, evaluating, and sorting in blocks of 1 to 2 hours at a time. Shorter work blocks will help you be realistic about what you can tackle and avoid losing focus or getting overwhelmed.

Then start looking for your items, and begin making your piles. If you get bogged down at any point in this process, remember that you’re going to feel better when you have room to move (both literally and figuratively).

Dig in, and start shedding that extra clutter!

Note: After you sort and purge your items, your next step is to preserve, archive, and back up everything you’ve decided to keep. We’ll dig into how to manage that process in an upcoming article, so look for that soon.

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