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Ask Rose: What to do with Old Photos?

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A reader recently asked me a thoughtful question about how to deal with old photos. Since sooooo many people struggle with this, I thought it was time for another “Ask Rose” segment. Enjoy!

Dear Rose,

Over the years I’ve kept picture Christmas cards & photos of children sent by friends and extended family. I’ve let go of some, but how do I reconcile the emotional side of throwing away other people’s pictures? I know they’re mine to do with as I see fit, but I feel guilty tossing them out, as if one day that person will show up at my house and want to see that I cared enough to keep them. Any words of wisdom?


Befuddled by Photos

Dear Befuddled,

First of all, congrats on even asking this question! So many people hold onto photos out of nothing more than a vague feeling of obligation, and it’s terrific that you’re brave enough to question if these items are necessary in your life.

Like any other type of memorabilia, when it comes to photos, my general rule is this:

The only person you should save memorabilia for is YOU.

From what you wrote, it sounds like the main reason you want to keep these photos is for others.

But I feel your emotional struggle, so here are some ways to think about it…

First, it’s highly doubtful that the senders even remember giving you these pictures, and if they do, even more doubtful that they would ever ask to see them at your house. (I mean, would YOU go to someone’s house and ask them to produce a picture of your kid that you sent them 20 years ago? Doubtful.)

The reason people share pictures is to show a cool moment in time that is currently happening.

Think of those photos as your friends saying, “Hey! Look at my 5-year-old kid on Santa’s lap! Isn’t he cute?”

If that kid is now, say 35, the message no longer applies.

So look at the pictures for what they are–moments in time that people wanted to share with you THEN. Today, they’re probably sharing moments that are happening NOW: trips they’ve recently taken, photos of grandkids, etc. (And the good news is, they’re probably sharing these digitally, so yay!)

In brief, you’re more than welcome to hold onto these photos if they mean something to YOU. But for goodness sake, don’t hold on to them because they may (or may not) mean something to others.

You’re only required to be the keeper of YOUR memories, friend. And that’s how it should be.

To your peace of mind,



PS Have a minimalism question you’d like me to answer? Email me at [email protected] and let me know!

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