Photographs make me happy, but they’re also making me miserable.

One of my resolutions is to Be a treasure house for happy memories.

As part of this, I’ve been conscientiously maintaining our family photo albums. I use them as a kind of family diary, to capture little family jokes or funny incidences as well as the usual round of birthday party, holiday, and vacation scenes.

Research has shown that depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people, but they don’t remember them as well. And even for people who aren’t depressed, thinking back on happy times elevates mood.

Plus, observing and preserving memories is one of the most satisfying ways of bringing order to life.

So I know that keeping up with family photographs is an important tool in happiness building.

But I’m feeling overwhelmed, guilty, dejected about our photographs! I haven’t finished making the Shutterfly album from this SUMMER.

I haven’t ordered hard copies of photographs in months, and now I can’t remember what I’ve ordered and what I haven’t (I’m sure I can figure it out, it will just be a pain).

The photos that I did order haven’t been put in an album yet. They’re in several disorganized, loose piles.

I also need to go through the pictures on the camera, delete the bad ones, and upload the good ones.

I know I need to get a grip on this photograph issue, because it will just get worse over time—especially because the two girls’ birthdays are coming up, which means lots of photo opps.

I realized that I’ve been making one of the WORST happiness mistakes a person can make. I kept telling myself that I’d deal with the various photo initiatives “in my free time.”

Guess what? I don’t have any free time! Not the kind of free time where I’m wandering around the house, asking, “Gosh, what should I do with myself? Well, I suppose I have nothing better to do than to sort through four months worth of on-line photographs and place my orders.”

This is a common mistake. We tell ourselves, “I’ll clean out my closet when I have a free afternoon” or “We’ll go apple-picking when we have a free weekend.” But the time never does free up.

If I want to get something done, I need to make time for it.

LifeDev is a great resource, with lots of useful advice delivered in a gentle and humorous way.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Jasmine

    Poor Gretchen! I suffer from photo chaos too.
    I gathered all my photos and, when my mother came to visit for the holidays, we sat down and organized them together. She loved it! I did too! It was a good way to catch up on my year with her (I live abroad) and she gave really helpful input on the good shots and the bad ones. Do you have any family visits coming up?

  • I found that photo guilt was more consuming and long-lasting than the actual time it took to deal with the photos. So, I “solved” it by having a plan to only put photos in albums during a specific week each year, usually between Christmas and New Years. (I figure it’s more efficient that way, too, ganging up the tasks.) In the meantime, I try and order prints as I go along, but when I receive them I throw them into a photo box so they’re accessible and somewhat organized. I try not to feel guilty if I don’t order every batch of photos immediately, because I know I can take care of all of this during my photo week. This contains my guilt to a very short period each year and has worked like a charm for me. You like to include anecdotes, too (which I love–an idea I’m going to steal), so you could make a system of jotting those in a special spot during the course of the year (journal, planner, online), then compile them during the photo week. Thanks for the info on the research of memories–what a good reminder about how important it is to cultivate them.

  • Lynn

    Can I recommend using Snapfish or shutterfly to make a digital photo album for you? It is incredibly easy, efficient, and kills two birds with one stone!
    If you want a more involved scrapbook, I have a lot of success with Heritage Makers. While on the pricey side, the product is well worth the money spent and the TIME SAVED!! 🙂

  • I can totally relate. Going digital is great, but I haven’t had photos printed in over a year. Gah.
    Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  • Hi Gretchen,
    I enjoy your blog. But you spend an awful lot of time focusing on how to be happy and not much time being happy as far as I can see.
    This is a case in point. I suggest you really try to enjoy the process or organizing your photos. Take enjoyment from looking at them.
    Then when you are not doing those things forget about photos. Take enjoyment from blogging or whatever else you are doing right now.
    That said, I got more from my photographs when I went digital. I put them on a good on line sharing site and my friends and family love it. I’ve just started, but I think its a good thing.

  • Ahh, the misery of nagging tasks. Maybe time to do the FLYlady thing and set a timer for just 15 minutes of making progress on the photographs, then stopping? 🙂

  • Alicia

    One way we enjoy our photos is with our computer screensaver program. It basically puts on a slideshow using our photos which we’ve uploaded into the computer. It samples them randomly, which is really fun. I’m sorry that I don’t know the name of the program, but it probably wouldn’t be tough to find. We see our photos all the time and really enjoy them! I find that for me, prints just sit in albums or in boxes on the shelf. This screensaver is much more enjoyable, partly because I do almost nothing to enjoy them, other than download from camera to computer (which you were probably going to do anyway at some point anyway).

  • Edward Del Grosso

    I do the same thing… and its easy. After
    each event or trip I make time for a BOT
    folder. The best ones for each event. This
    is a lot easier than organizing them. I
    have many computers and TV’s around me
    during the day and at home and I have
    random ones from the best of all my experiences pop up. Microsoft Photo Gallery is free and ideal for this purpose. It all makes me very happy.

  • adora

    I agree with previous comment. It takes more time agonizing than actually doing the task.
    Now I need to make time to declutter!

  • When my seven kids were small I had tons of unlabeled photos and a huge guilt complex over it. One day I just stuck them all in a box, wrote “Photos 1970-1978” and started over. I got file boxes and labeled one for each kid, one for “Family,” another for “Extended Family.” I put them on shelves without lids. When I had new photos, I threw them into the appropriate boxes.
    For summer projects every year, I let my kids make their own scrapbooks. I had to let go of my own expectations, and decide that something was better than nothing. Now those scrapbooks are treasures of their childhood I could never have created myself.

  • Joy

    oh skip the albums. They add to clutter (which is bad for us), and if you have more than one child you’re going to have to replicate these ANYWAY.
    Here’s the trick:
    1. delete the bad ones when you upload and look through for the first time.
    2. tag them so you can find them again (birthdays, names, dates)
    3. Get yourself a an electronic photoframe with a 1 GB card INSTEAD of photoalbums and change what’s on the card regularly. Better for the environment too, and your wallet. (I liked the idea from Alicia too. I’m pretty sure you can get it to from right-clicking on the desktop and using MyPictures slideshow, if you use Windows as an operating system.
    4. Guilt does not give you happiness. If you’re consistently not doing something that you plan to, there is a reason. Find some other way to meet that goal. Don’t mash your head against that brick wall. Remember to think about what’s important, what’s really really important. Here you have hypothesised that happy memories will make you feel happier AND that photos will make those happy memories easier to access. I personally think that depression itself makes it harder to remember things, not that the lack of remembering causes depression. So photos aren’t going to prevent depression. In fact, in your situation, they seem to be going a fair way to causing it.

  • Laura

    I feel your pain Gretchen! I’ve found that using a software called Memory Manager to organize my digital photos really helps. It keeps track of what you’ve printed, allows you to attach a story to each picture, edit colour or red eye, and organize your photos into digital sort boxes however you like. I also use Storybook Creator software to make really fast and easy digital photo books from my pictures once they’re all organized. It’s actually cheaper than traditional scrapbooking, and kids love seeing themselves in a “real” book with a hard cover and glossy pages! Preserving your memories is so important! Good luck 🙂

  • I really love the software that has. It gives you lovely digital albums and they promise to save your full-sized versions for life or send them back to you on a DVD.
    You could also look at getting one of those EyeFi cards that automatically uploads the pictures when you take them (if you’re home) or when you get back home.

  • anishka

    personally, i love the randomness of a box of photos. i love not knowing what i’ll see next under the pile. seeing them out of order makes “see” them better. when they were in an album i sort of got numb to them because of the repetition of the pattern “vacation in washington, d.c., colonial williamsburg, lake erie, then all the skiing vacations, etc.) i pulled them out of all their pages and put them all in boxes. the container store has some wonderfully colorful boxes too. and all that’s written on the label is a heart and a smiley face because they make my heart smile!

  • In honor of “Delurking Day,” just wanted to let you know that I am a regular reader who enjoys the great information and fun tips that you bring to my oft-uninspired self.
    A Pregnant Ass-Kicker in Florida ; )

  • Faith

    Couldn’t you enlist the help or at least the companionship of your girls for some of those tasks? Might change that overwhelmed, guilty, dejected feeling into something fun for you all…

  • My mother follows the box o’ photos method, and I really enjoy it. I’ve been thinking about whether I should do that, too. It’s just so much quicker and easier. But my whole family really loves turning over the pages in teh albums…I’m going to try to stick to it, at least for now.
    GREAT idea to enlist the help of the Big Girl! She would probably actually enjoy doing it. Why didn’t I think of that????
    I am making an album on Shutterfly…quick, efficient, satisfying, but another item on my to-do list.

  • Elissa

    I second the recommendation to involve your kids, or older relatives in process. I have found that putting together albums is a fantastic activity, when your only aim is to spend time with an older person. My grandparents love to hear the stories of the photos involved, it gets them intrigued with the project, they have good advice about placement, and it’s not physically demanding the way a trip to the movies, or a store or restaurant might be. They also love picking their favorites to put in a photo album I bring along for them.

  • My solution is to get a digital picture frame and a big enough memory card for it, and stuff all my digital pictures onto it in one go. Put it on random rotate, and enjoy the memories. Sure, the occasional house-wiring shot shows up from when we were building out house, but it only lasts 5 seconds 🙂 then we’re on to the next memory.

  • Joe

    Photos can be overwhelming, I am currently making time every night to deal with the photo’s I’m taking. – 100 Photos A Day. It is easier than you would thing, I just download and crop and put into a graphic program. At the end of the year I’ll have 36, 600 photos and all of them in an index. My own little Happiness Project (so far).

  • Have you considered using “Remember the milk” ( It’s a great online tasklist. It has an interface to iGoogle, so every time I fire up a browser I can see my list of tasks. Some tasks have dates where they need to get done, some have no dates, which I think would be the right category for you photo task. Or you could break it down into little tasks, which sometimes helps in getting them done.

  • Maybe it’s too overwhelming to do everything (download from digicam, check, tag, order prints) in a single step.
    It may be less painful to break this up into tasks. E.g., I’m used to create timestamped folders like “2007-12-25 Christmas at London” immediately after I return from travels. I just dump all pictures into the respective folder for later processing.
    Mind the “year-month-day” timestamp format: if you do it this way, then sorting all folders by name (in Windows Explorer) preserves the chronological order. The folder name serves as a short reminder – very useful if you simply haven’t got the time to tag all pics right now.

  • Jasmine (first commenter): Having grandparents help choose photos is great. If there’s no visit planned soon, they can help online easily:
    I’m happy to see so many commenters pointing out the value of organizing by date. It’s a system that works well for family photos, and with digital pictures it can be done automatically.

  • So I know that keeping up with family photographs is an important tool in happiness building.
    But I’m feeling overwhelmed, guilty, dejected about our photographs! I haven’t finished making the Shutterfly album from this SUMMER.

    Oh, honey. LET IT GO. the point is to treasure the happy memories, right? Why are you making yourself miserable over them instead?
    You have the photos. They’re online, and some are even in print in that box. You can find them, see them, when you want to. How often do you look at your physical photo albums? How often do you think about your loose photos and feel bad? Are those two instances in anything like a correct ratio for your personal happiness?
    I heard about a woman once who spent her days scrapbooking obsessively, recording every moment of her daughter’s life. She spent so much time scrapbooking, I wondered how she…had any time to spend with her daughter!
    So yes, be that treasure house. Remind yourself of wonderful moments in your three-sentence diary. Don’t forget to take out the camera and make the pictures in the first place. But as for arranging them just so in shiny rows of perfection – it’s NOT IMPORTANT. Enjoy your kids’ birthday parties. Don’t sweat the albums.
    if you really feel you must? I multitask that sort of thing while watching movies or listening to news radio or a new album I’ve purchased. It doesn’t take your whole brain, so do something for yourself that’s fun while you get it out of the way.
    But honestly? Let me tell you, this last week, I finished EVERYTHING on my to-do lists for the first time in my life. At home, at work, everything. And I did it through a combination of increased efficiency, circumstance (I had a slow patch at work that allowed me to catch up) and LETTING THE SMALL STUFF GO. Life is way too short to make ourselves unhappy over photo album organization.