A story of stuff, pt II: The Photo Boxes

This year has been such an emotional rollercoaster; I’ve been incredibly happy only to turn around and experience some of the lowest emotional lows of my life. Through it all, however, I’ve continued moving forward and I’m learning so much in the process.

Today especially feels like a red-letter day because I am nearing the end of a project that has been years in the making: The Photo Boxes (insert dramatic organ music here).

At the beginning of the project I had about two dozen photo boxes and multiple containers of old film rolls in my possession — culled from old albums and tins. That’s not including the dozens of photos from my own childhood cameras, scattered through totes here and there.

About ten years ago my mom went through all of our photos and organized them into boxes by year — and then they stayed there. I touched a bit on my struggle with multiple moves and having a storage unit in my last post and The Photo Boxes (stylized as such because that is how I have described this project to everyone I’ve told about it) were a large part of that saga.

I brought the boxes back to my tiny, 450-square-foot one bedroom apartment where they spent the next year-plus taking up two shelves in the built-in unit in my bedroom as well as some other space in my closet.

I knew how emotionally taxing the project would be and so I put it off, month after month. I told myself I’d go through everything else in my apartment and start once everything else had been organized. Or that I’d dedicate some holiday weekend to the project… and then spend the weekend celebrating whatever holiday I had off from work.

First, I knew I had to find some other way to store the photos. I wanted to put them all in albums so I could actually flip through them — but who has room for a dozen or so 12”x12” scrapbook albums? Not me.

I thought I could go through the photos and put them back in boxes — but in a smaller quantity. I rejected this idea time and again because it broke the one of the two rules I’d set: That I wanted to reduce the number of photos I had, and make it easy to look through the ones I kept.
Finally I found the answer… although boy, did I underestimate the number of photos I had. Not surprising, it was at Michael’s Arts & Crafts (my second home) that I found my answer: Adorably designed mini albums. Probably not the most practical choice because each album only hold 200 photos, but I got most of my albums on sale, even when I had to place order after order on the website. Still, I like the size, which is comparable to a hardcover book. 

I had my replacement, and as Memorial Day approached, I had the time. Thinking I could tackle the whole project on a slightly-longer weekend (I worked that Saturday) was laughably naive and I began in such a disorganized way that I cringe thinking back on it.

But… it was a start.

I went through the first couple of albums I’d purchased in that first weekend and used the week I spent waiting for more albums going through boxes: Making sure events were in order, picking out blurry, dark, and duplicate photos to throw away, and setting some aside to give to my younger brother. I tossed the negatives, threw away the used rolls and felt incredible.

The elation had tapered off by the time I went through the last box, which felt somewhat anticlimactic and frustrating because I’d set aside so many duplicates to keep for myself.

Last weekend I made a pile of all of the remaining boxes in my bedroom — partly to keep everything together but also to annoy myself into doing something about the mess.

One thing about me: I need time to warm up to things. While there have been some notable exceptions, I usually need a day, a week, a month, to let ideas and concepts marinate in my head. And what I needed in this case was a couple of days to accept the fact that I was still allowing emotional baggage to weigh down my life. The idea that the originals could hypothetically be destroyed was allowing the extras and duplicated to attach another exhausting, manipulative tether to my existence.

So today, they went. I put some aside to send to my dad, some are for my brother, and there are two more envelopes for family friends. A very tiny fraction I saved for me, and I’m okay with that.

I had last Saturday off and used the weekend to really push ahead with organizing and clearing things out of my apartment. While working on the photo boxes I made enormous strides elsewhere — I’ve sold things through the Facebook Marketplace, participated in a flea market, donated things to thrift stores and a local material exchange center — and I feel the weight lifting.

I even took my parents’ wedding albums (there were two… one for the engagement and one for the actual wedding) and condensed them down using a cute binder from Target, a couple of packs of page protectors, and some scrapbooking supplies.

There’s still going to be one tote with pictures in it, but it won’t go untouched for the next ten years. I’ve got a high school scrapbook to finish, a sorority album to fill, and some loose pictures to frame.

I still have a lot of stuff, but what’s left feels manageable — and that’s a really lovely thing to be able to say.

Bonus: I don’t have a ‘before’ pic, but here are the fruits of my labor! Eventually the albums will go in a bookcase, with nicer year labels.

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