Certain parts of the decluttering process are easier than others. I’ve been asked quite a few times how to declutter photos in your home. Today I’ll share some tips for how to declutter your physical photos

Before You Declutter Photos

If you are early in your decluttering and simplifying journey, step away from the photos slowly. Sentimental items can be some of the most challenging to declutter. I would not recommend starting with them.

You’ll find that after you practice decluttering, the process gets easier. You get quicker and more confident in your ability to decide what stays and what goes.

You’ve learned what questions to ask and get to know yourself better through the process. As you keep your simplifying goals in mind, you’ll gain a greater sense of what items support those goals and which ones don’t.

If you haven’t started decluttering yet, save this post for later and come back to it after you’ve decluttered some easier items first. Then you can declutter the photos in your home.

declutter photos

How to Declutter Photos in Your Home

Ready to declutter the photos in your home? Here are some tips to help you through the process.

1. Think about your goals

Before you begin to declutter the photos, think about what your goals are.

How do you want to feel when you go to look at your photos next time?

What amount of photos would be acceptable to keep?

Deciding how many and what size containers you are willing to keep will help provide a boundary before you get into the nostalgia and emotions that looking through photos can bring.

Write down what your photo decluttering goal is. This doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as I want to keep 2 photo boxes of pictures that are organized and where I can easily find what I’m looking for.

Whatever that goal looks like for you, write it down to refer to it later.

2. Gather together

First you are going to gather all of your photos together. If you have lots of boxes of pictures, start by going through one at a time.

You don’t want to get overwhelmed or create a huge mess that you aren’t able to finish dealing with.

Pick one box that you will start with.

3. Sort

Sort the pictures in time order to the best of your ability. Look for pictures that were taken on the same trip or during the same year and keep them together.

Look for duplicates and put it with its match. Sorting your pictures will help with both the decluttering and organizing process.

Try not to get too caught up or distracted as you look at the pictures. Your goal on this step is simply to put them in time order the best you can.

declutter photos

4. Declutter

Here is where we are going to get serious about keeping the best and discarding the rest. If this is a difficult idea to accept, then keep focused on the goal that you wrote down in step 1.

As you declutter the photos, look for the following things you can get rid of.

Duplicate pictures

I’m not sure why this was such a big thing for a while. Certainly no one needs duplicates of every picture ever taken. I suppose we got extras to give to friends? I don’t know but it is time to let those go.

As you take out the duplicates, also look for the other following reasons to let go as you may decide you don’t want to keep the original either.

Blurry pictures

The pictures where the subject looks like one long blurred line? Those can go. Photos that aren’t clear aren’t ones that you want to display or that you need to hang onto.

Poor quality pictures

Cameras sure have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Declutter your photos that have bad lighting both too dark or blown out subjects.

Awkward pictures

Ok so there may be a hilarious site completely dedicated to awkward family photos, the reality is we don’t need to keep most of them. Thanks to Olan Mills, Lifetouch, and other photography companies that kept posing us weird all through the eighties and nineties.

If an awkward picture brings you joy and laughs every time you look at it, keep it. If it makes you feel, well, awkward, let it go.

holding picture

Photos that lack personality or interest

I remember going on vacations as a kid and feeling like I should take pictures of every natural landscape I saw. As an adult, those pictures don’t feel special to me. I want to keep the pictures of people on vacation, not just landscapes.

Pictures taken with large groups can have a similar feel. It’s hard to tell who anyone is and they can lack interest. Also, pictures taken too far away from the subject are good candidates to go.

Photos that bring back bad memories

Hanging onto pictures from a time in your life that you’d rather not remember? There is no need to keep photographic evidence from every season of your life.

For many people, this includes pictures of exes. I’m giving you permission to let go of those pictures and perhaps also the emotional clutter that can come along with them.

You don’t need to keep photos that you look back on with regret or shame or that you feel are not representative of what you want to hang onto from your past.

Decluttering is all about letting go of the past and looking at what you want to keep in your life going forward. Stay focused on that.

Still not sure?

Consider how you feel when looking at the picture. What emotions or memories does it bring back? Is that something you want to hang onto? If you feel no attachment to the picture at all, that may be a good sign it should go.

Pictures of people you don’t know

If you have pictures where you don’t know who the people in them are, that could be a sign they should go or that you should check with another family member.

The pictures may be of meaning or value to them even if they aren’t to you. At the same time, try to refrain from dumping loads of pictures onto other people unless you are sure they want them.

declutter photos

5. Organize

Now that you’ve taken the time to declutter the photos in your home, it’s time to organize them.

Hopefully you were able to get them mostly in date order as you sorted through them. Now that you have fewer photos you’re dealing with it may be easier to finish getting them in order.

For the really meaningful photos, take a few minutes to take note of the who, where, and when. You can simply write on the back of the picture for the time being.

I’ve found that if you store your photos in boxes, you are less likely to look through them regularly. However, if you have them organized in albums, it is much easier to flip through and reminisce.

That doesn’t mean you have to put every picture you own into albums, but perhaps creating a few with memorable moments will make them more likely to be enjoyed.

To digitize or not

With papers and photos, I’m often asked if I recommend that people move to all digital. And I really don’t have a standard recommendation on that.

I think different things work for different people. Not everyone is comfortable with having everything just in digital format.

However, if that is appealing to you and you’re willing to spend the time scanning so that you can let the physical photos go, then go for it. Just make sure to keep your digital files organized so that you don’t end up with digital clutter.

If that is of no interest to you, that’s fine too. It may be a good idea to have a digital copy of some of your most treasured pictures but you can keep that to a minimum.

declutter photos

Re-evaluating yearbooks

Before you start yelling at me that your yearbooks could never be considered clutter, hear me out. It could be that your yearbooks are something that you treasure and are meaningful to you.

If that is the case, that’s fine. They wouldn’t be considered clutter since you love them and hopefully look at them from time to time.

However, if you are like me and have gone years and years without opening them at all then consider whether or not they have become clutter in your home. After decluttering my photos, I took out my yearbooks.

I opened them and leafed through them looking at the pictures and notes written in them. As I looked through it, it confirmed for me that the yearbooks really had no meaning for me. They didn’t contain all of my best memories or the best years of my life.

The photos I kept were far more meaningful to me and I saw no reason to continue to let the yearbooks continue to take up an entire bookshelf. I’m not saying you need to do the same.

In my simplifying journey, I’ve come to the place of questioning everything and thinking about what I keep and why. Does it support my goals? If it does it stays. If not, it goes and I feel lighter and freer for it.

Looking for how to declutter the photos on your phone and computer? That post will be coming up soon!

Want to keep up to date with The Simplicity Habit? Sign up on the form below and get weekly decluttering and organizing tips sent to your inbox. You’ll also get the Your Home Decluttered Jumpstart which includes 100 easy items to declutter and 12 high impact areas to declutter in 10 minutes.

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  1. What to do with those yearbooks?? I hate seeing them in the landfill but don’t want to try to get rid of them on line either. Between my hubby and I we have at least 8 of the things. They are in the far corner of our closet and do drive me crazy.

    1. Hi Karen. That’s a personal decision. I opted to get rid of mine as they were not something I wanted to continue to store nor did they hold any value for me. I realize that is not an option that everyone is comfortable with though.

    2. Our town has a museum for all local high schools, they accept yearbooks. That way if someone is looking for a particular year, they may have it.

      There’s also a website that will buy them from you. I’m sorry, I don’t remember the website.

    3. I work at a school district and we get requests from people looking for yearbooks. See if your school would take them for their archives.

  2. Great article! I’ve been reaching out to friends who were subjects of photos (baby showers, birthdays, etc.) to ask if they want their photos; they’ve all said yes so far. One of my friends just lost her dad and I found several pictures of them together at her bday, she’s looking forward to having them.

  3. I’m putting together albums for my Grandchildren. It lightens my load, plus they Love seeing themselves from birth to now!!!
    Plus, I have fun doing it!!!

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