Most of us have a few photos in our collection that are difficult to look at.
They could be photos of a former spouse or partner, a friend you’ve drifted away from, or even a house that held painful memories for you.
Photos are a vital part of your life story – your entire life story, even the difficult parts.
Your photos may include faces, spaces, or events you don’t want to view – yet those same images tell your story, at that particular a moment in time. That includes your hairstyle, the size and shape of glasses, your beloved dog, or how you wore your shirt tucked into jeans that sat way, way above your waistline.
But inevitably, you’ll come across photos in a frame, on your computer, or on your phone that are no longer relevant or are just too painful to keep.
What do you do with those pictures? Here are a few crucial guidelines for those times when you’re trying to decide what to do with difficult photos.
Three Critical Guidelines to Think About When You’re Dealing with Difficult Photos
Guideline #1: Give Yourself Time to Decide.
Before you throw away or delete a photo, take a breath. Give yourself some time to contemplate, instead of making a quick decision.
Never get rid of a photo in anger, when your feelings are hurt, or just after someone has died. Once you delete or throw away a photo, you can’t get it back, so put some space between you and the photo if you’re feeling tempted.
Guideline #2: Create a Holding Spot for Your Photos.
I recommend creating a holding spot for difficult photos. Buy an archival box for physical photos, or a create a folder on your computer to act as a photo “vault” that you can come back to at some point.
You can scan all your physical photos, and just keep a digital copy in your “vault,” if you have a scanner.
You can also export your entire vault file out of your regular photo library, so you don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis or see it pop up on a screensaver slideshow.
Guideline #3: Once you’re ready to decide, sort your images into piles.
You can make your decisions easier by separating your difficult images into categories, according to the quality of the photo.
We recommend using our A/B/C system to sort images into three piles:
The “A” Pile: These are items that are of the highest quality, or are originals.
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.
The “C” Pile: These are poor quality items. They may be exact duplicates of other items, or they could be blurry. These items have no storytelling value.
Once you’re done sorting, you can toss (or delete) everything in the “C” pile.
How to Decide Whether or Not to Keep a Difficult Photo
Now you’ve done your prep work, and you’re ready to start the decision-making process. How do you decide whether or not to keep a photo that is brings up complicated emotions for you?
You may want to consider keeping a difficult photo in your collection if:
The image includes other family members or friends you want to keep a record of. If you want to include the photo in an album or slideshow, you can remove a person or object by cropping or adjusting the position of the photo.
The photo makes you smile, instead of upsetting you. With each photo, ask yourself: “Does looking at this make me smile, or does it upset me?” If the answer is the former, you may want to keep it.
You think you should keep the photo for historical reasons. Perhaps the image features a friend or extended family member whom you’ve grown apart from, or an event you didn’t attend. If you think you should hang onto the photo because it’s a critical part of your story or history, I recommend hanging on to just one or two images from that moment in time. Then you can toss the rest. You can also delete or throw away images that only feature people whose names you no longer remember.
Your child may want the photo. Is it possible your child might want the photo? In the case of divorce where children are involved, be sure to scan all photos that the children would want, and give your kids a copy before deleting or throwing away the originals. If you’re creating a graduation album for your child, for example, that album will need to include photos of both parents.
Another friend or family member wants the photo. Check with the friends or family members who know that person or attended that event, and ask if they want a copy of the photo. If so, make a digital copy and give the file to everyone who wants it.
If your photo meets any of the criteria above, you may want to consider keeping it or creating copies for people who may want the image.
After you’ve filtered out all the images you believe you should keep, give yourself permission to toss or delete photos you’d like to get rid of. Remember – don’t make this decision rashly! You can’t undo it after you’ve deleted or tossed a photo.
Special Tips for Deleting Difficult Photos on Social Media
There may come a time when you want to delete difficult photos from your social media accounts. Here are some tips regarding the two main photo-sharing social sites:
If you’re deleting photos from Facebook, keep in mind that once a photo is deleted, you won’t be able to get it back.
To remove a photo from Facebook:
- Click the photo to open it.
- Click “Options” on the menu bar below the photo.
- Select “Delete This Photo,” then click “Delete.”
Note: You can only delete photos that you have uploaded to your account. If you want someone else’s photo removed from Facebook, ask the person who posted it to take it down. You can also remove a tag from a photo you’re tagged in.
It is possible to delete a photo without deleting the entire post associated with that photo.
The person in the photo won’t be notified if you remove a tag or delete the image. Notifications are only sent when you tag someone in a photo, NOT if you remove the tag or delete the photo.
If you want to remove a photo from Instagram, you can delete the image by tapping on the three small dots in the top right corner above your Instagram post. Choose “Delete” from the menu.
NOTE: if you have “Save Original Photos” turned on in your settings, every photo you post on Instagram will also be saved to your phone’s photo library.
Getting Rid of Difficult Photos Can Be Empowering
The process of deleting or throwing away photos that bring up painful emotions can be hard, but it can also serve as a way of coping with grief.
Taking the first steps to change the photos in your frames, take images off your computer, or move painful photos to a storage box can give you the power to keep moving forward with the life you have now, and make you the owner of your own special memories.
I encourage you to follow these steps, filter out any photos you need to keep, and delete the photos that bring up painful memories or emotions. You might be surprised how powerful this process can be!