Woman's hands, sorting through old photographs

I love old photographs. I have spent many happy hours looking through old family albums and photos. My home is decorated with those I treasure like the sepia pictures of Grandma Jennie and photos of family and friends, my garden, and my trip to Italy.

But I have many more photographs and albums than I can display. In addition to my own, I inherited photos from my mom and brother. My wicker chest was full of them, presenting an overwhelming decluttering task.

Before I tackled the giant project of sorting those old photographs, I needed to make some decisions. Would I keep them in their albums? What would I do with the loose photos? How would I organize them?

The albums filled with old photos have sentimental value, so I set these aside to keep. But I also have boxes of loose photos of many different subjects spanning many decades. I sorted these into file boxes by decade. I also had three distinct categories for sorting that worked for me: “Friends and Family,” “To Be Restored,” and “For Disposal,”

In the “Friends and Family” pile I placed photos that might have meaning for a friend or relative. I have sent my cousins pictures of their parents’ wedding or pictures of themselves with Grandma. Even those wallet-sized school photos can find a new home. Maybe a nephew or niece would like a picture of their dad from fifth grade.

Old photographs of immigrant ancestors or a city scene might interest historical or genealogical societies. Interesting or vintage photos could also find a new home through Freecycle. If the photos have the right appeal, a stock photo company, like Adobe Stock, might even pay for them.

Sadly, old photographs are not recyclable because of the chemicals used in processing them. But they’re ideal for craft projects. They can be used in a collage, a charm for hanging on a Christmas tree, or a photo pocket on a tote bag. Even the negatives could be used to make a really cool lampshade.

Years ago when we took photos we didn’t know how they came out until they were developed a week later. Often, the pictures didn’t turn out well, but we kept them anyway. Today with digital photography, we can see the results instantly and retake them if needed. We print only photos that we love and can store the others digitally or delete them.

As sentimental as I am about the old photographs, I am grateful for digital photography. It helps us reduce the waste of printed photographs destined for landfills.

By Joanna Lacey

Joanna Lacey lives in New York and has collected thousands of ideas from the frugal habits of her mother and grandmother. You can find her on Facebook at Joanna the Green Maven.