Take a Load Off Your Devices: Clearing Digital Photos

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If there was a clearing theme for me personally this year, it would be the year of the pixel.

More specifically, the year to clear my massive collection of unloved and unseen photos (over 36,000 to be exact) that have been taking up space on various generations of laptops since digital photography was invented.
Yes, I know. It’s insane.

It would have been easier to just delete the whole lot of them with one flourishing swipe and start fresh. (Believe me, I wanted to do that a million times).

As a longtime lover of pictures since I started taking them at the age of 10, however, the task of deleting with abandon was not an option. My heart needed to go through every single boring, fuzzy, duplicate photo and clear mindfully until it the job was done.

Inside those digital albums are countless memories that I wanted to be able to reach for and enjoy – like the cute pictures of my daughter boogie boarding each summer on Cape Cod; the stunning images of our visits to Rome that included multiple stays with the US Ambassador and his wife; the rich assortment of classes, students, and book signings that played a big part of my life over the past twenty years…

Dipping into my digital past took six months. And what a trip it was! If you’re curious to know how I did it, what can be gained from the experience, and learn some tips for lightening your digital load, keep reading.

NOTE: If your eyes start glazing over from all the detail in part one, skip to the second section where I talk about the takeaways and clearing gifts (which can be applied to any form of clutter clearing). Once you see the benefits, you might have more juice to take in the details.

Also, if you are not an Mac (Apple) user, you can disregard Step #8 and research options that fit the technologies you use.


How I Did It

(The Outer Work)

  1. The work: Every day I went through a modest batch of images, and then another, as time and energy allowed. I started from the top – oldest photos first – and worked my way down my library.
  2. Intention: I set a goal to delete all the boring, fuzzy, or duplicate images that no longer added value or made my heart sing. Generic photos of landscapes with no people, or people I didn’t recognize or care to remember, were the easiest to go.
  3. Self-care: At any moment when I started to feel exhausted, bored, or even nauseated and despairing by the sheer enormity of the task, I would stop, name and feel the discomfort and do something else until I felt better.
  4. Memory aid: At the end of a session, I recorded on a sheet of paper the date/location of the last image I’d worked on so I could easily pick up where I’d left off the next day (week, or month).
  5. Tags: For work-related photos, I added tags to some of my best images as I went along – “self-care,” “simplicity,” “letting go,” etc. – for use in future blog posts and/or Instagram. Entering a tag into the search box makes it easy to reach for a photo later.
  6. Albums: For personal photos, I created albums (placed inside of folders) to group my favorites for easy finding and sharing later. My “Travel” folder, for example, has all the trips we took over the years: “France 2010, Italy 2012, Portugal 2017,” etc.
  7. Titles: Once my albums were complete, I gave all the images within each album the same, simple title. All the photos from our 2010 trip to France, for example, are labeled “France-10.” [To do a batch change: highlight all the images within the album at the same time, type in your title where it says title, and hit enter.]
  8. Support: After all was done, I called up Apple Support for guidance on how to upload my entire library to the Cloud and synch all my photos to all my devices. [Note: If you have slow internet speed, this can take several weeks. I ended up upgrading to a higher speed for one month to finish the job more quickly.]
  9. Moving forward: From now on all new photos go through a quick decluttering process so I never get backed up again!
  10. Happily ever after: I can say that this process has taught me to be much more discerning at what stays, ruthless at what goes, and, dare I say, a much better keeper of photos. And PS… thanks to Instagram, I now have a place to showcase some of my better pictures – like the sampling above from our recent trip to Portugal. 😉

Takeaways and Opportunities

(The Inner Work)

  1. It’s all energy: From an energetic standpoint, digital clutter is no different than physical clutter. Just because it isn’t tripping you in the hallway doesn’t make it less worthy of your attention and efforts to clear it.
  2. It’s lightening: Releasing digital clutter – be it photos, emails, files, Word docs, bookmarks, etc. – releases stuck energy. It lightens your load and opens the channels for something new to come through.
  3. It’s enlightening: Deleting photos gives you a terrific opportunity to observe and bring compassionate awareness to the thoughts and feelings that can come up: Ugh, I looked awful back then… Why am I holding onto these…? When is this task ever going to end…?!
  4. It’s a practice: As with any practice that you repeat regularly, it gets easier over time.
  5. It’s habit forming: Consciously releasing your digital clutter in small, doable batches has a magical way of easing you into clearing the bigger things (i.e. physical, mental, emotional clutter) that might be stressing you out.
  6. It’s fun: Little by little you’ll begin to see that you are creating something to be enjoyed – not just a vibrant record of your life that you can share and reach for any time, but a whole new organizing principle that can change everything.

Bottom line: It’s baby steps: When you manage a task by dialing it down you have an opportunity to reduce overall stress, overwhelm, and any resisting patterns that might be keeping you stuck. As I like to say: go slow to let go – one baby step at a time.

The Spacious Way

If you’d like to learn more about my counter-intuitive approach to clearing what’s holding you back, I recommend you read my first book Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are. It is the foundation for a whole new way to clear. My second book, A Year to Clear, takes you on a deeper clearing journey of peeling more layers. It is designed to integrate the slow-drip principles in a daily, nourishing way.

And PS, you may not find me blogging as much these days as exploring what spaciousness looks and feels like through the lens of my iPhone camera. If you’d like to join me on my photographic romps via Instagram, I welcome the company!

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Showing 5 comments
  • Darlyn Robertson

    Just saw you on KUTV Fresh Living. I can’t wait to check out your website and get lots of ideas.

  • June

    Yee Gods, just thinking of this projects makes me sweat!!

  • Emily

    This is brilliant Stephanie! Definitely something I can relate too and after hearing your story and tips, I feel ready to get started on my photos.

    I notice you mentioned different laptops…did you have to combine old libraries? I think my first step will to get all my photos in one place…

    • Stephanie Bennett Vogt

      Thank you, Emily. I didn’t need to combine any libraries. With each new upgrade, the same (growing) library went with me.

      Let us know how it goes with you!

      Happy clearing!

  • Anne

    All the photos from my iPhone are automatically uploaded to DropBox, then when my account starts to get full I pull them off onto my MacBook and back them up onto an external hard drive – I don’t even bother with iPhoto. However I like your idea of creating albums and syncing them to iCloud, so I might do this for my travel photos and others of sentimental value.