I just deleted thousands of old photos, here's why you should do the same

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
I just deleted thousands of old photos, here's why you should do the same
I have a hard time letting go of stuff, virtual or physical. Sometimes, it's because of the voice in my head telling me that I might need that thing one day – which is why I have a sizeable bag of assorted cables in my basement. Or it could be because of the item in question holds a sentimental value – a postcard, for instance, or an old, worn-out piece of clothing given to me by a special someone. And I'm pretty sure I still have my save files for Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on an old hard drive.

So let's just say that Marie Kondo won't be proud of me. Although I have been making progress in what looks like the right direction – all of my 58 T-shirts are neatly folded following the KonMari method! But in all seriousness, I have been trying to tidy up my life by getting rid of things that no longer spark joy. And something I recently got rid of was a whole bunch of old digital photos – literally thousands of pictures many of which I had forgotten about.


Why do we take photos at all?


Cleaning up my photo archive wasn't just an action or a process. In a way, it was a ritual, as lame as this may sound.

And it got me thinking.

I remember a time when I'd browse through old photos for the fun of it, either by myself or with a bunch of friends, and we'd laugh at how silly we looked a year ago at this party or that weekend trip. People today don't really look at old photos, do they? Not unless Facebook pops up to remind them what they had for lunch on that day 5 years ago.

And it's probably because people take photos for different reasons now. Once, we took pictures to document events, to store happy memories in a more tangible form that's easily accessible in the future. And we did it for our own enjoyment. Today, we take pictures so that we and the events we're involved in are seen by others; so that we can impress other people – people we may not necessarily like or know in person. We shoot, share, and count the Likes we get. Thus, the photo fulfills its purpose and is then easily forgotten. And it feels like we take more pictures than ever, but they're of much lesser value to us.

The great purge: cleaning up my photo library


Going through my photos felt like the old times. It brought back memories – of people, of events, of places I have been to. But it took quite some time – both because of the sheer number of pictures I have taken since 2003, when I first got one of them newfangled digital cameras, and because my cloud backup service was struggling to generate the thumbnails for the 50,000+ images.

I started the purge by going through my oldest photos first. I was amazed by how bad these photos looked now and how great I thought they looked back in 2003 – in all their 1.3MP glory. But then again, their sentimental value was more important than their actual quality. Photos that brought back happy memories I saved and sorted in albums. Those that didn't went straight to the Trash folder. 



Curiously, the decision of whether a photo got deleted or not was mostly affected by the people in it. Not by the location. Not by the activity. Even by how good I looked didn't matter all that much. What mattered were the people – and the memories they brought. Because these were the people I cared for, and to a great extent, the people that shaped me as a person.

Some of these people I've already lost touch with, and after going through my photos, I felt inspired to reconnect with them. As for the people who I've chosen to no longer be in my life, clearing out photos with them that were still somehow in my archive felt good, delivering a strange kind of satisfaction similar to writing off a long-overdue task from my to-do list.



On the more practical side of things, erasing tons of photos and videos (as well as many duplicates) cleared up plenty of storage space – about 100 gigs of it. This isn't only a lot of room for newer, more important files. To some, it could also make the difference between a $2.99 and a $9.99 cloud storage tier. And the photos I actually cared for were now easier to find as they were better organized.

Lessons learned and the true value of a photo


We live in an age where taking photos – and storing as many of them as we like – is easier than ever. However, one thing I learned from my experience was that being able to hoard all the photos that I take doesn't mean that I should be doing that.

Don't get me wrong: we should all back up our photos, and I'm thankful for all the cloud services making this process fast and convenient. But I'd strongly advise you to go through your archive and clear it up at some point in time. Because you don't need a dozen photos of that special sunset over the lake. You need just one – the best among them. We have a limited amount of emotional energy to spend, and discarding the pictures that don't spark joy will let you appreciate the ones you've saved a lot more.

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27 Comments

1. japkoslav

Posts: 1507; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

I just deleted PA from my tab list, here is 10 reason why you should you do the same. 1. W 2. H 3. Y 4. N 5. O 6. T 7-10. Who cares. Just use Google photos in unlimited mode "problem" solved. Pathetic excuse for an "article".

3. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Spends money on a phone with a "great" camera, dis other phones, saves compressed pictures in Google Photos. :facepalm_meme:

9. Cat97

Posts: 1892; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

You do know that the human eye cannot actually distinguish between a compressed and an uncompressed picture taken with a phone sensor, right ? The noise is so high on closeup look (or, if not, the noise reduction is so aggressive), that there is no point even talking about this. We are not talking about DSLRs here.

15. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Do you not know what funny thing is happening when I say the human eye cannot distinguish more than 300 ppi in a phone display from a 30 cm distance? But Google's compression in photos is very noticeable even for the pictures taken with iphone 7; I still sync them from the XR, but only because I use the camera for work related tasks and another backup is welcomed.

11. darkkjedii

Posts: 31049; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

iPhones have notches

16. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Treat your ocd, old man.

20. darkkjedii

Posts: 31049; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Notches lol

24. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Here's a lollipop --O.

25. darkkjedii

Posts: 31049; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Here's a notchipop

26. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

That's pathetically stupid...

27. darkkjedii

Posts: 31049; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Issa notch

12. japkoslav

Posts: 1507; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

I pay my cloud, but he clearly stated old photos, 1,3 MP ... and you know what older phone photos in general. Phone photografy still pretty much sucks, so you are not really able to tell apart unlimited and paid quality. I belive especialy for old photos (old smartphones) it's more than good enough. It's even more than those smartphones were capable off.

17. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Even small resolution photos get compressed by the horrible algorithms of Google photos.

14. cmdacos

Posts: 4208; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

I know common sense isn't your typical realm Leo but isnt a compressed picture (for those that actually compress, not all) better than deleting it and losing it?

18. Leo_MC

Posts: 7432; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

Sure it is. I was just noticing the irony (and why I ignore all those dumb assess who have nothing better to say except "... is better than ...").

21. Kloak

Posts: 82; Member since: May 27, 2018

Pixels have unlimited storage on original size on Google Photos, also storage its only a problem for phones without expandable storage.

23. japkoslav

Posts: 1507; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

That is actually a good point.

10. Mreveryphone

Posts: 1821; Member since: Apr 22, 2014

Yeah... Not understanding why anyone wouldn't just use free unlimited Google photos. Slow picture storing news day...

2. GreenMan

Posts: 2697; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

"People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy... No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget." And this is the opening line of a movie called "One Hour Photo" starring the legendary Robin Williams. Watching this movie gave me a whole new insight about photography and what it truly stands for... Anyhow... Don't wipe your photographs. Just dump them in Google Photos and call it a day! G'Day!

4. superguy

Posts: 453; Member since: Jul 15, 2011

This is a classic example of an author being bored so he decided to pontificate about something. I really hate the "I did this and you should too" attitude. Digital storage is so cheap you can store what used to take boxes full in the past. Whether you use Google Photos, store them on a hard drive at home, or wherever, is there really a need to declutter these? Yeah, there may be 10 pics of a particular sunset - so what? I suppose you could declutter them, but is it really worth the effort? And is he serious when he says "We have a limited amount of emotional energy to spend, and discarding the pictures that don't spark joy will let you appreciate the ones you've saved a lot more." How much energy do you spend on your pics? If I have 10 pics of the same sunset, I'm not going to have the full range of emotion for each of the 10 pics. That's an extremely weak argument. I can see removing bad pics that didn't turn out and I do that as I run across them, but it all comes down to who cares? Organizing pics by event or date makes much more sense than advocating dumping them. Ok, I'm done. I've spent way too much emotional energy on this. :rolleyes:

5. Jason2k13

Posts: 1462; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

I can't believe I read the whole article, was the author told to quickly make an article on PA to get more likes and Web traffic? Has this guy not heard of unlimited google photos? Meaning it's free? No need to pay? If so, why would some people go out of their way to delete most of their photos just to find the best one? And who knows, you may regret deleting some photos in the future. I would highly recommend not deleting most of your photos, especially if you have unlimited storage from Google.

6. Valdomero

Posts: 677; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

The same as everyone is stating, just upload the crap out of those photos to Google Photos and call it a day, by today's age nobody prints photos anymore, only some professional photographers and companies for publishing.

7. MrMalignance

Posts: 296; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

It's your storage, do what you will with it. If you like photos, keep them If you want to store them on the cloud, do it. If you feel that you have too many photos, delete some. This isn't hard or worth an article. If you have some OCD tendencies, do be aware and seek help if necessary

8. TheWhoWhatWhy

Posts: 1; Member since: May 09, 2019

Good article with a valid point to make. He is not stepping on anyone's free will and personal choice. Those who "get it", will appreciate what was said with the author choosing to really think about their own life with careful introspection. Those who don't, won't.

13. matistight

Posts: 986; Member since: May 13, 2009

BACK UP THE PHOTOS ON A $40 1TB DRIVE. PROBLEM SOLVED

22. dumpster666

Posts: 74; Member since: Mar 07, 2019

exactly... storage is cheap af

19. JCASS889

Posts: 539; Member since: May 18, 2018

I just backup every year to a 8tb desktop hard drive, not an issue.

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