The KonMari Method and Organizing Photos and Sentimental Ephemera

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is an international sensation with legions of ardent fans. Locally it seems as though most of Seattle is just as excited about the KonMari Method judging by the months long wait for the book at the library. I too wanted to read the adorable, neat little book and see what tips I could glean for myself as an organizing professional.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Ms. Kondo discusses organizing photos too.

Her ideas are admittedly a bit kooky but her method largely rang true for me. Ms. Kondo recommends a large-scale purge of any and all possessions that do not “spark joy”.  This practice of individually holding and evaluating each personal item to assess whether it brings one joy has been scoffed at, but this is a key tenant to her organizing success. Only by surrounding yourself with those items that are most special to you, by ridding yourself of emotional and clutter “weight”, will you be able to live a calmer life.

Ms. Kondo recommends moving through her process of decluttering in a specific order and she explicitly recommends saving photos and other emotional keepsakes for the very last.  Photos and other sentimental items can be an emotional landmine and this approach should ideally prepare one to confidently make the decisions on what to keep and what can be let go. Many people fear losing the actually memories these items personally represent, but her approach gives people permission to part with items that may be keeping one from moving forward in life. This resonated with me as I always make a point to give clients permission to delete or discard bad photos and duplicates. Ideally we only keep the very best photos to remind us of a special time. Again, the goal of tidying is to reduce clutter, and even printed or digital photos can be clutter.  

Ms. Kondo makes an excellent point about the ubiquitous box of unsorted photos that so many of us have from a loved one who has passed on. These photos are saved by our loved ones throughout their lives but then so often they die before anything is ever done with it. The box of unsorted photos will stay that way unless we take the time now to enjoy them again. It can be painful but it can also bring so much joy.

I may not have the energy to fully implement the KonMari Method at home but I certainly got some excellent tips just as I expected. I have plans to recycle all the nice boxes I have am guilty of stacking up in my office “just in case” but I doubt I will become a KonMari clothes folding convert. Tidying can change your life and I enthusiastically agree that organizing your precious family photos and sentimental ephemera can bring great joy to you and your home. 

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The Old Cigar Boxes Were Full of Treasure

Sometimes it takes years to begin to sift through the treasure saved by a loved one.  My grandfather was the final living grandparent. We lost him more than a dozen years ago but it wasn’t until early this year that my mother sorted through the photos and ephemera he collected in two Dutch Masters Special Blunts boxes.  

She was hoping to find another, similar photo of a beloved photo of my great-grandmother Daisy standing next to a classic Cadillac that had become faded and washed out from too many days on the shelf in the bright Arizona sun. Could we find one in these boxes? What else would we find?

The boxes held all the photos and documents my grandparents thought were special but didn’t make it into an album or scrapbook. The pictures spanned their lifetimes from my grandfather at Rockaway Beach, New York as a teenager to them as a retired couple relaxing in Delray Beach, Florida. I found a grocery list handwritten by my grandmother and my grandfather’s Selective Service card from 1945.

Some of best photos are of them as a young couple with wide smiles and tailored clothes.  They met at a tuberculosis sanatorium where my grandfather was a patient and my grandmother was a seamstress. It was several years before he was released and they could get married. Many of these photos come from that period of their lives.

 We found a couple more photos of Daisy posing with her boss’ car and Mom was reminded of stories about friends and cousins as we sorted. She was able to identify many of the faces appearing in the photos and gave me a better idea of when they might have been taken. When we were finished I packed the photos up carefully in my carry-on bag and we made a plan to scan the photos and ephemera. 

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