Why should I leave photos until last?

If you’ve watched Marie Kondo’s uplifting Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, you’ll know that she recommends not decluttering photos until all other KonMari categories have been worked through. So PUT DOWN THE WEDDING ALBUM! Work through the categories as she suggests – clothing first, followed by books, paperwork and Komono. Only then is it considered wise to delve into ‘sentimental items’.

But why so strict? Surely if I have three boxes of old photos taking up space in the bottom of my wardrobe, they should be the first to go?

The problem of starting with photos

I see your logic, but we need to consider our strengths and weaknesses here. Most of us, when confronted with items such as old schoolbooks, party invites and so on, will (quite reasonably) want to spend time reminiscing. The three hours you allocated to sort through photos are likely to be quickly lost laughing at those outfits, photographing and sending to a friend, putting into albums…..in short, it quickly becomes an endless task. And ‘task’ is the keyword here. Although decluttering may not be top of the list of fun activities on your calendar, we want to keep it from turning into an onerous and never-ending feat.

Honing your skills

Leaving the photos and other sentimental items until last means that you’ll be a skilled declutterer by the time you crack open those dusty boxes. Marie talks about honing your sense of joy – by working through the vast majority of your possessions before hitting ‘sentimental’, you’re less likely to dissolve into tears at the thought of giving something up previously thought to be essential. You’ll have been on a journey and have spent a lot of time, both consciously and unconsciously, examining what objects and memories make up ‘you’. So upon opening those albums, you’ll be feeling a lot more secure about who you are, what your past looks like and where you’re going. And this gives a much more solid foundation from which to judge what you want to keep and what you’re ready to let go.

Additionally, Marie talks a lot about the value which we attach to our items. Many of us feel that our past is these items. ‘I can’t possibly throw away these photos of me at middle school – my memories will be gone’. I used become upset even at the thought of getting rid of such photos, a mindset not helped by the joy of looking through ‘the black bag’ (a beautiful black leather doctor’s bag) of photos at my grandma’s house on Sunday afternoons, and the point soon after where it was revealed that ‘the black bag’ had gone on the bonfire, photos and all.

Memories vs mementoes

My experience of both the KonMari Method and the work of Hale Dwoskin (one of the contributors to the bestseller The Secret) changed this outlook. Dwoskin talks a lot about how we remember certain events, and one teaching that I look to regularly is that when we look at a photo the first time, we may spark off certain memories, but after that, are we remembering the actual event or just the memories from the first time we saw the photo? I’m not sure even now how I feel about that! But thinking about it has enabled me to realise that although photos and sentimental items may spark off memories, I don’t need to keep every photo and souvenir to remember an event.

Managing sentimental items

Don’t despair! It’s very possible to work on reducing sentimental items as you declutter the previous categories. How? By reducing the inflow. Instead of keeping every ‘memory’ such as childrens’ artwork, make a conscious decision to keep or let go when it first comes into the house. Very few people keep every item, and nobody is worse off for this. Good strategies include keeping such items in a ‘collect-all’ box and having a recurring reminder on the calendar to sort through it once every two months. I do this and find that even after this period, I’m able to make some judgements on which items I feel are definite joy-sparkers. Additionally, sort photos on your phone and devices into albums at the end of each week, deleting those blurry shots and duplicates.

Hopefully I’ve explained the logic behind the KonMari concept of ‘leave photos until last’. As always, if you have questions or feel I’ve left stones unturned, please comment below or drop me an e-mail.

TL;DR?

  • Don’t start a decluttering journey with photos
  • Following the KonMari order of categories ‘trains’ you in the art of joy-checking.
  • Don’t be afraid to say goodbye to items that you feel you should hold onto – items are NOT memories.
  • It’s fine to keep as many sentimental items as you wish – as long as they genuinely spark joy for you.
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