Photos - Tidying by category works like magic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

Tidying by category works like magic

Cherish who you are now

If you have been sorting and discarding things in the order I recommend, you have likely stumbled across photographs in many different places, perhaps stuck between books on a shelf, lying in a desk drawer, or hidden in a box of odds and ends. While many may already have been in albums, I’m sure you found the odd photo or two enclosed with a letter or still encased in the envelope from the photo shop. (I don’t know why so many people leave photos in these envelopes.) Because photos tend to emerge from the most unexpected places when we are sorting other categories, it is much more efficient to put them in a designated spot every time you find one and deal with them all at the very end.

There is a good reason to leave photos for last. If you start sorting photos before you have honed your intuitive sense of what brings you joy, the whole process will spin out of control and come to a halt. In contrast, once you have followed the correct order for tidying (i.e., clothes, books, papers, komono, sentimental items), sorting will proceed smoothly, and you will be amazed by your capacity to choose on the basis of what gives you pleasure.

There is only one way to sort photos, and you should keep in mind that it takes a little time. The correct method is to remove all your photos from their albums and look at them one by one. Those who protest that this is far too much work are people who have never truly sorted photos. Photographs exist only to show a specific event or time. For this reason, they must be looked at one by one. When you do this, you will be surprised at how clearly you can tell the difference between those that touch your heart and those that don’t. As always, only keep the ones that inspire joy.

With this method, you will keep only about five per day of a special trip, but this will be so representative of that time that they bring back the rest vividly. Really important things are not that great in number. Unexciting photos of scenery that you can’t even place belong in the garbage. The meaning of a photo lies in the excitement and joy you feel when taking it. In many cases, the prints developed afterward have already outlived their purpose.

Sometimes people keep a mass of photos in a big box with the intention of enjoying them someday in their old age. I can tell you now that “someday” never comes. I can’t count how many boxes of unsorted photographs I have seen that were left by someone who has passed away. A typical conversation with my clients goes something like this:

“What’s in that box?”


“Then you can leave them to sort at the end.”

“Oh, but they aren’t mine. They belonged to my grandfather.”

Every time I have this conversation it makes me sad. I can’t help thinking that the lives of the deceased would have been that much richer if the space occupied by that box had been free when the person was alive. Besides, we shouldn’t still be sorting photos when we reach old age. If you, too, are leaving this task for when you grow old, don’t wait. Do it now. You will enjoy the photos far more when you are old if they are already in an album than if you have to move and sort through a heavy boxful of them.