When Should You Throw Pictures Away?

Clock in waste paper basketFor many people, the most difficult part of going through old pictures is, not knowing where to start. Looking at boxes of photos can be an overwhelming task. Not too long ago, I was helping my Mom get started on her own scrapbooking. She wanted to get started on my childhood pictures. Many of the albums were starting to yellow, and she knew that she needed to do something with them. She also had boxes of photos not even in albums yet.

As we sat down and started going through pictures, I would ask her about some of them. There were many pictures of places, or buildings that she could not remember where they were, or what they were! She knew it was maybe part of a trip she took somewhere, but couldn’t remember why she took the picture, or what the significance of the picture was. When going through old photos and deciding which ones to keep in order to preserve your family history, there are a few guidelines to follow, and questions to ask yourself.

Who, What, Where, When, and Why? In scrapbooking, you should be able to answer almost all of these questions. Maybe you may not have the date, but you know everything else. That’s fine! You can’t always have all the answers, but you should have the majority of them before deciding whether or not to keep the photo.

Is it possible to get more information about this photo? If you are looking at a photo and aren’t sure who the person is, or what the building is that you took a picture of, then maybe it is not worth keeping. However, if there is a way to find out about the photo through asking relatives, then you should probably keep it. Start a folder, or envelope of photos that you need more information on. You can always go back and add it to an album later. Save the envelope for when you have time to sit down with an older relative that may know more information.

Does this person, place or event have significance in my life? If you look at a photo, and you may recognize the person, but it is not a family member, and you can’t remember a name, or why this person was important to you, then you probably don’t need to keep it. If you took a picture of a building, and now it seems like something unimportant, then again, you should probably throw it out.

Is the person, place, or event in this photo a part of my family history? If it is a picture of something you did, or someone you knew a long time ago, but does not have relevance to future generations, then again, it is not necessary to keep it.

There is no point in scrapbooking old photos just because you have them. Many times, we took photos with our non-digital cameras, and developed them not knowing what we were going to get. Luckily now, we don’t have that problem. So, for some people, it is hard to take the step and throw some of those old photos away. But, de-cluttering your photos, and throwing some away can be a first step in preserving the photos that ARE important.

Meredith Ethington is the author of this blog. To learn more about Meredith and her history with Scrapbooking and Genealogy go here.

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