Not too long ago, I was reflecting on one of the major reasons we take so many (too many!) photos.
If I told you that the amount of photos that will be taken around the world this year is estimated to hit around 1.5 trillion, would you find it hard to believe? It’s a lot of photos, and I can’t help but wonder how many of them will be filed into already cluttered digital spaces… never to be looked at again.
We could all use a fresh start. Think of a freshly organized home. The result isn’t really something that can be put into words, you just feel it. The room feels new again, and you enjoy spending your time there. Your mind and body can finally relax. You’re at ease.
The same goes for your digital space. If you’ve ever taken the time to sort through your files, clear out the junk and create organized folders to store your data, you know what I’m talking about.
If you haven’t, I’m sure it’s added some unnecessary stress to your life.
It’s not just in your head: clutter affects your mood.
Clutter - yes, even the digital kind - is linked to feelings of shame, frustration, increased cortisol levels and a lack of focus.
Is this something you’ve noticed in yourself?
If you’re ready to knock “digital organization” off your to-do list, I suggest starting with your photos. It’s likely one of your biggest sources of clutter and, as a bonus, it can be fun to do! You’ll find photos of memories you thought you had forgotten, and you’ll get to relive those moments in the process.
8 Steps to Decluttering your Digital Photos
1. Locate your photos and decide on a Central Hub
One of the reasons our digital spaces are so cluttered is because there is an endless amount of options for storing data. Between the different devices (phones, iPads, laptops, cameras…) apps, and social media accounts, it can be hard to keep track.
Most of the time, we have photos saved on more than one platform and more than one device. This can often result in duplicates of the same image.
The first step to organizing your photos is to figure out where all your photos live and to move them to one central place.
It may sound counterintuitive (and overwhelming!) but when they’re all in one place you’ll feel better knowing that once you’re done decluttering your photos, you’re really done.
I liked to keep my photos organized on an external drive and on cloud (for me I use Dropbox), which acts as my central hub.
2. Decide on a home for all of your digital photos to live
Where does it make the most sense for you to store your photos?
Take some time to think about it… ask yourself why you’re choosing to store your photos there and how accessible it will be based on your specific needs/habits.
Are you the type of person who likes to go back and look at their photos often? Or do you only do so once in a while? Do you have enough space to keep them stored on your computer, or would they be better suited on some sort of external drive or cloud storage?
Keep in mind that you can mix and match, they don’t all have to live in the same place, though I do recommend limiting it to two. For example, I like to keep a handful of my favourite photos saved on my computer, and the rest tucked safely away on cloud storage like Dropbox.
Whatever you choose, make sure that your new home for your photos is durable and secure. It would be a shame to lose your memories.
3. Set goals
Since the process of decluttering and organizing your photos can be daunting, I suggest starting slow. Break up your photos into smaller batches before getting started. It doesn’t all have to be done at once.
Maybe you want to start the process with photos from a certain year or event. By doing this, you’ll limit the number of photos you have to work with during each session and you’ll have a more accessible end goal.
This way you’ll get to enjoy multiple small wins.
4. Decide on a system for organizing your photos
You may have chosen to start by sorting through photos from a specific year (say 2011), but you may not want to keep them organized in the same way. Think about the type of experience you want to have while looking back on your photos, and what method will make it easiest for you to find photos quickly. This will be personal to you.
My favourite ways to organize photos are by event and theme. For example, all selfies or portraits are stored in one folder, and events in their own respective folders.
Other ways to categorize include: by person, theme (family, hobbies, etc.), or year.
You can also mix and match! Maybe you want to organize your folders by event, and then further subcategorize those folders by year, theme or location.
Sometimes I find that photos don’t neatly fit into one category type, so finding a mix that feels intuitive to you can be very helpful.
5. Start decluttering your photos
On to my favourite part: decluttering your photos. We often take more photos than we can even look at, or really care for. Chances are, out of the thousands of photos you have, only a handful will actually be meaningful to you.
This step can be difficult, it’s hard to let go of old memories.
Remember: the less photos you have, the more likely you are to look back on them and enjoy the experience.
The more selective you are about the photos you choose to keep, the less clutter you’ll have and the better you’ll feel moving forward.
A lot of the photos we have saved are things we captured with the thought that we would get back to them one day. Screenshots, recipes, songs etc. Be honest with yourself… if you haven’t found use for these photos since taking them, you probably never will. Save yourself a future headache and hit delete.
Very few photos are worth the negative effects of too much clutter.
If you’re really feeling stuck and can’t decide if a photo is worth keeping or deleting, try the Marie Kondo method: does the photo spark joy? If yes, you can hold on to it. If not, into the virtual trash can it goes.
6. Backup your photos!
This is a step that is often overlooked, but it’s essential. Once you’ve decluttered and organized your photos, it’s a good idea to back them up.
I personally recommend using an external hard drive for backups. For one, they’ve become very affordable… and you don’t have to keep up with monthly subscription fees. You also won’t have to worry about the privacy or hacking concerns that cloud-based storage is vulnerable to.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re realistic about how much space your photos take up (and how much they will take up a few years down the line!) so that you can find a solution that’s suitable to your needs, and your budget.
7. Share your photos
Memories are made to be shared.
Choose your favourite photos and decide on how to share them. Maybe you want to post them online to your favourite social media platform, or maybe you prefer to print them and add them to a photo book or frame them.
8. Personalize your phone settings
If you’re a member of multiple active chat groups on apps like Whatsapp, this tip is a life saver.
By default, apps (like Whatsapp) will have a “save to camera roll” feature turned on. This means that every photo or video that is shared to you, directly or via group chat, will automatically save to your camera roll.
To avoid having to manually delete these photos yourself, you can change this setting so that photos are not saved automatically. Instead, you can decide which photos you want to keep and save them.
9. Create a realistic maintenance plan
Once you’ve finished decluttering and organizing your photos… you probably won’t ever want to do it again. To avoid a massive future clean up, create a realistic maintenance plan to keep your digital photos clutter-free.
Depending on how often you take photos, you’ll want to set aside some time once a year, month (or week!) to go through and organize your them. Delete the ones you don’t need and move the others into the folders that you created on your central hub to stay organized.
Another helpful tip is to regularly delete blurry photos or obvious non-keepers whenever you have some spare time. You can also use tools like Gemini App to help you sort through duplicates and save the best ones.
If you can commit to regular clean up, you won’t ever find yourself in an overwhelming situation again. If organizing and decluttering isn’t for you, consider hiring a professional to do it for you. You won’t regret it.
Did you find these tips helpful? What other tips would you suggest?