I wish clearing up my digital photos was as easy as clearing out the house for moving. There are a lot of things I am unsentimental about. I get rid of old clothes without a second glance. Marie Kondo would be proud. I look at something that’s been stored away for ages and dump it. If I haven’t needed it for the last six years, I’m not going to need it now. Digital photos are different. There are 23,465 digital photos in my photo library as I write this. I don’t think I’ve deleted one.
My logic is always the same: it costs nothing to keep the photo. It doesn’t occupy physical space the way 23,465 Polaroids would. So why get rid of them? They provide an unedited collage of my life for the last twenty years or so.
The problem is that I am not organized about my photos the way I am in other parts of my life. I’ve made reluctant attempts at organization now and then, but my heart was never in it. I’ve had all kinds of great ideas for photo taxonomies that would allow me to put my finger on a photo within seconds. These ideas never pan out. I just don’t have the interest. And yet the photos accrue.
Look at all of these screenshots I’ve captured! I don’t even get rid of these. I think, for some reason, that I’ll need a particular screenshot at some point in the future. This is preposterous, but the screenshots are still part of my photo library.
I must have dozens of pictures of a barn in Maine. The barn doesn’t change much. But I have my phone, so I take the picture, even though I know I already have plenty.
Digital photography has created a crisis and turned me into a digital packrat. I find myself wishing that we still had to put film in a camera, or that there was some equivalent cost to a digital photo. I think I’d be more careful about what pictures I decided to snap, and what I chose to keep.
I’ve been taking fewer photos these last two months. Many of the photos I had taken previously were taken spontaneously with the thought, “This would make a good post on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.” But when I gave up social media and found myself pulling out my phone to snap a photo of the two deer munching away at shrubs alongside the bike path, I made a decision. I slipped my phone back into my pocket and decided to stand there and watch the deer. No photos necessary.
The 23,465 photos in my library will only continue to grow and continue to be disorganized. Whenever I get the idea to purge and organize the photos, I break out in a cold sweat. The number alone—23,465 (and counting)—terrifies me. If I managed to look at, and make a decision on, 100 photos a day, it would take me nearly 8 months before I finished. And by then, who knows how many more photos will have appeared.
Thinking about how difficult it is to purge all of those photos make it so much easier to get rid of the physical stuff around the house. The more I can get rid of the, the less I have to move to the new house.
Which reminds me: I need to get over there next week and take pictures of all of the rooms so that I know where everything is going to go.