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