A few years ago, when comedian Jim Gaffigan was a guest on The Conan O’Brien show, he bemoaned the proliferation of digital photos in our daily lives. “I think our whole culture, we have to settle down with the picture taking,” he said. “We take pictures of everything. We act like we’re capturing history. It’s not like 10 years ago, we were like, ‘I wish I could take a low-quality photo of my dessert.’ And all these photos now, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with them. … I have more photos of my children than my father ever looked at me.”
Even though we live in a digital world, an actual printed photograph—organized in an album or framed and displayed—triggers a different kind of sensory and memory stimulation. And places where photos are displayed—on mantelpieces, window sills and shelves—are some of the most loved and peaceful nooks in our homes. Here are some suggestions on how to display your photos outside of a device.
• As you’re organizing your digital images, pick a few that stand out and get them printed in gallery-quality frames from online retailers like framebridge.com and keepsakeframes.com.
•Photos make the best gifts, and not just at the holidays. Shutterfly.com and snapfish.com turn your favorite pics into puzzles, mugs, phone cases, apparel and so much more.
• If you have old family photographs you’d like to digitize, check out services such as everpresent.com and legacybox.com to make heirloom-worthy keepsakes that tell the story of your family. Companies like blurb.com, chatbooks.com and mixbook.com allow you to create archival-quality photo books that you can pass down through generations.
• Even kids who spend all day playing with Instagram filters love the tactile quality of real photos. Go retro and gift them a Polaroid camera (us.polaroid.com) or a Polaroid Lab Instant Printer, so they can turn their phone pics into something they can actually hold.
It was a funny bit, but there’s more than a grain of truth to it. The ease of use of our phone cameras—coupled with seemingly unlimited cloud storage—has made us all a lot less discriminating on what we choose to capture for posterity. And the result? Thousands of photos spread out over various devices, with little organization and a diminishing chance of ever being looked at again.
Organizing our photos—whether in digital format or in actual photo albums—can benefit our mental health. Studies have shown that when we look at our old photos, it triggers positive emotions and strengthens our memory and our relationships. It can be particularly helpful during a time like this, when we have fewer face-to-face contact with families and friends, according to British behavioral psychologist Jo Hemmings.
“Taking the time to look back on our treasured memories can be truly beneficial for our well-being, as it can help to evoke feelings of positivity and happiness,” she told the British website Keep the Faith. “Because of this, and especially at times like this, we should take more time to appreciate and look back on them.”
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, echoed that sentiment on her blog. “One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good.”
If you’ve never organized your digital photos before and you have thousands of them stored in your computer or on your phone, it can be overwhelming, says local organizer Ginger Guerra (organizedbyginger.com). “A lot of my clients have the thinking of, ‘Well, I have it in there somewhere. I’ll figure out where it is later or I’ll organize it later.’ So it’s a lot of ‘I’ll do it later.’ And really, you could do years’ worth of later. And then you’re kind of faced with this insurmountable project before you.”
But just like any project, the first step is just to start, even if you only dedicate 15 to 20 minutes to it per month. “If you have a habit of contributing that much to organizing your photos, then you’d already have a system in place,” Guerra says. “It’s not a difficult thing to do, but there’s no quick fix. It’s just time.”
Guerra also suggests working from the present and going back, as the pictures you take in the last 30 to 90 days are the most valuable to you, allowing you to easily pick out which ones to keep and which ones to delete. Then, utilize the most useful function on your camera phone or your desktop photo organizing software—the favorites button. Even if you don’t have time to sit down to organize your photos right there and then, you can at least mark the ones you like best so you won’t get bogged down by duplicates or less-than-stellar images.
As for those past years’ worth of images? Simply organize them by year, then begin sorting through each year. In no time, you’ll be walking down memory lane with fewer interruptions from long-forgotten dessert photos.