If you have a case of shutterbug clutter, take time to focus on the photos that truly capture your story and don’t be afraid to let go of the rest

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I have to admit that although my home looks to be quite organized and clutter-free, what bothers me (that no one else can see) is severe photo clutter! To make matters worse, I acquired a digital camera about 12 years ago and have accumulated 12 years of digital photo clutter on my computer. Do you have any advice on where to start organizing this unseen mess?

It’s perfect timing that this question arrived now, because at the beginning of this year I made a decision to get a handle on 20 years plus of photos. I had about six (or maybe seven!) file boxes filled with photos in no particular order and was able to whittle them down to one shoebox — extreme, I know, but imagine my relief when I was finished.

In this article, I’ll share what I did to get my photos into one shoebox. When you get a handle on your hardcopy photographs, let me know, and I will share my plan for organizing digital photos.

Prepare your mind

You took years to accumulate these photos, so do not expect that you will complete this project in a few hours. Commit to the project knowing that it is long term, taking focus and dedication. Remind yourself of why you want to do this, and keep your mind on how you will feel when everything is organized and de-cluttered.

It took me two or three weeks to complete the project. I worked on this project only after I finished the things I “had” to get done. I gave it my full focus in all my spare time, which I suggest you do too.


Schedule this project


Give yourself a deadline and then find a week or two on your calendar (depending on the amount of accumulated photos you have and the state of disarray) when you can devote yourself to this project, and schedule it, just like you would a vacation or a seminar.

Mentally prepare to focus and even turn down invitations. Believe me, the minute you commit yourself to this project the Universe will test you to see how serious you really are.

Let’s get started with the plan:

• Designate a working area. Decide on a space to work. A table, a counter, the floor; it doesn’t matter where, just dedicate a space to this project and let it be okay to be messy.

• Bring all your photos to the area. Gather up the photos, put them in a pile, and get a large trash bag for those you will discard.

• Start with any box. Most of your photographs are likely in the pouches that came with each roll of film you developed. Go through the pouches and put photos of important milestone events, such as weddings, births or graduations, in an “important pile” to address later.

• Be a “cullinator” and cull like crazy. Discard all duplicates, blurry images and images that have no significance or tell no story. If you have an entire roll of photos of the same dinner taken years ago, just pick one or two to remember the event. If the event has lost significance or you don’t remember the people in the photo, let the photo go. The goal is to have one or two photos of each event.


• Honor your past, but don’t cling to it. Keep this question at the top of your mind. What story do you want to tell with your photos?

• Take photos of the photos. If you have trouble letting go of some pictures, take a photo of them — “just in case” — then let them go.

• Place culled photos in a basic timeline. As you whittle down your photos and settle on the final few, label them, and put them in a timeline from past to present. Hopefully when you are done, they will fit into one box!

• Now, go through your “significant” event pile. Cull through it, settle on a group of photos that best represents each event, and put them in an album.

• Decide if you will digitize all or some. Digitize photos that you want to keep for a long time so that you can easily share them with others. It takes a lot of time to self-scan, but now some companies can high speed scan your photos, convert them into digital files, and return them to you on a disc for a reasonable fee (about $80 for 1,000 photos).

That’s it! As I mentioned, it takes a commitment plus time, focus and energy, but it is well worth it. More than the space in your closet, the space in your mind will create the greatest sense of relief!


Come to a free talk on happiness at my new school, Happiness U, today at 1:30 p.m., followed by a fee-based Feng Shui 101 class at 3 p.m. More details at www.yourhappinessu.com.


Alice Inoue is the founder and Chief Happiness Officer at Happiness U, an educational establishment at the Gentry Pacific Center on Nimitz Highway. Learn things about life that were never taught in school about how to be happy. Happiness U offers classes such as Feng Shui 101, Clutter Clearing Plan 101, Positive Mindset 101, Happiness 101 and more. Visit www.YourHappinessU.com for more information.