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PHOTOS WERE THE PICTURE OF CHAOS

Do you know what it's like to haul a monster around on your shoulders for 25 years?

We all have them.Your monster may be those wedding thank-yous you've never written. Or the neighbor's power tool you borrowed and broke and hope he doesn't remember who he lent it to.

My purple monster is the fact I'm 25 years behind on my photo albums.

Now, this shabby little secret isn't going to get me on any boob tube blab shows. And nobody else cares.

But I do. Enough to think about it when I can't sleep. To torture myself with the guilt when I'm otherwise feeling pretty good. And what if I died before getting this done?

I got behind, you see, because I have three kids, and then one of those kids popped out three new little people before I ever dreamed of becoming a grandmother. Plus, I travel a lot. And on top of that, I love to take pictures. Friends and relatives complain about my constantly sticking a camera in their faces, although they're delighted to have a photographic record. To make matters worse, I have doubles made to share with others.

The result is a kitchen counter-top littered with envelopes of photos. Drawers crammed full. Boxes stacked in the closet. And even bookshelves lined with old albums which are falling apart and need reorganizing.

I couldn't get started - true to perfectionist form - because I had to do it perfectly. Sound familiar?

And I didn't know where to start. At the beginning? With the latest batch of photos? How could I possibly tackle such a project without blowing a month's vacation seated on my living room floor surrounded by mounds of blurring babies?

Ack! It was easier not to start, and just make friends with my monster.

Then I heard a talk on organizing photos. The speaker stressed what a legacy labeled photo albums are for our children and all those who come after.

She got me motivated, and I realized I had to start. Anywhere. Any project starts with one small step.

So I bought a pretty box complete with organizer cards ($5-$10 in stores), although a shoe box with index cards would do). In pencil, I labeled the dividers TRAVELS, MY KIDS, BIRTHDAYS, HOLIDAYS, FRIENDS & RELATIVES, ME and GRANDKIDS.

Then I tackled the teetering pile on the counter, sticking them into the proper places. In just over an hour, the counter was bare. Crazy with power, I emptied a drawer.

By the end of the evening, my box was full and two surfaces were cleared. I became nearly hysterical with relief, just like my daughter did when small and she survived a doctor's visit without a shot.

The next day, I rushed out and bought four more boxes (which came with more divider cards). Now I had five, and labeled them TRAVEL, MY KIDS, GRAND-KIDS, ME, AND FAMILY.

Now I could break the categories down further. KIDS, for example, was divided into their names, RENEE, MICHELLE and KEITH, each with subdivisions of CHILD, TEEN, ADULT and BEST SHOTS (for a collage). The box labeled FAMILY had categories of BIRTHDAYS, HOLIDAYS, WEDDINGS, DAD'S FAMILY, MOM'S FAMILY, GROUP SHOTS, and FAMILY designations for each of my four siblings.

In just one afternoon, I'd emptied several more drawers. I whacked off the bottom of each photo envelope, and labeled them for important negatives (not all, but ones such as first day of school, birthdays, etc.). Now I have five attractive boxes instead of messes of envelopes and loose pictures.

Next (at my leisure since the mess and guilt aren't in my face), I'll get a few more boxes, so that each child and grandchild has his or her own. The subdivisions will be more specific: BIRTH, BABYHOOD, CHILDHOOD, TEENS, ADULT-HOOD, WORKING, etc. As I sort, I'll pull out the best few shots of each person and use them to make a collage to frame and display.

Collages are a convenient, compact way to display fun photos such as weddings, babies in the bath, Halloween or one person growing up. Just remember to label each photo with full name, date and event so ancestors can identify it.

Even if I never get around to putting the photos in albums, now I can get at any photo I need or pull out a section to share with others. The kids can easily retrieve their "archives" when I'm gone.

And best of all, I've said goodbye to that monster I've known for 25 years.

Too bad I never took his picture.