Picture This

It is one thing to know that I will never be a professional athlete, or even a competent amateur one. Or a cook, or a singer, or even that I’m ever going to manage to be much of a carpenter. But when it comes to basic competencies, it’s discouraging to learn what a failure I am.

Like basic house sortation. We have been in this house about 20 months now, and there are still boxes and piles everywhere, most of them mine. Almost every week I make what feels like a heroic effort, and every week I mostly just make a bigger, messier pile.

I told a friend of the trouble I was having, this complete ineptitude that totally fries me, and one of her questions was, “Why do YOU feel the need to let these things go?” I haven’t answered her, of course, because while I can find endless hours to lie without effort in front of the TV, time that requires effort feels very scarce. But I have been mulling that particular question over, and the answer comes down to: because everyone else told me I needed to.

It seems to be expected, that when you move you will divest yourself of the detritus you let build up over a quarter-century, and when I open boxes and inspect things I haven’t even looked at in years, perhaps I think these people are right. There’s an entire industry out there, most famously helmed by Marie Kondo, making money off my guilt that I’m hoarding too much stuff. (Well, not making much money off me; I haven’t purchased a single one of her books or looked at her videos, if she has them.)

I also came to the realization that some of the people telling me I need to learn to let go don’t necessarily practice this themselves. I think they just have more space to put their things. I started thinking about this when I toured my sister Tia’s partially-built house. It’s bigger than this one, for the same two people (although they do have kids that might pop in). And Tia already sounded worried that she might not have enough closet space.

One thing I did read (in a free newspaper article somewhere) that made sense to me was: if you have keepsakes you want to keep, you should put them on display, to honor them. Tucking them in drawers or boxes doesn’t really get you too far. To that end, my newest shelf project at my woodshop — which is way above my skill level — is intended to hold some of my millions of boxed-up treasures.

One project I did have in mind, even before we moved, was to digitize all my photos. Back in the days of film I was a fairly avid, and avocational, photographer (a decade’s worth of sports and school photos for the local newspaper). This one seemed easy: I’m never going to get around to anything more than the one photo album I put together, and there are digital picture frames that allow you to display lots of pictures in one space.

But the conversion seemed like a process. My initial thought was to box my photos up and send them to a company that would do this for me — companies that used to sell film and photographic supplies will do this. But I have billions of photos — every other box I open up seems to contain pictures — and this costs about $1 per photo, and I don’t have billions of dollars.

Then I read a suggestion to use your phone to take pictures of your pictures. That means setting out photos one by one, taking a picture, making sure it’s not blurry (although yesterday a local photographer offered tips for better cellphone pics, and one of the tips was to use the “up” volume button to snap the shot. That’s already come in handy), and then transferring it from my phone to my computer. This didn’t seem like it would happen either.

Then I thought to look up photo scanners on the Miracle of the Internet. Some site recommended a $199 unit from Plustek, whoever they might be, and it was sold by Amazon and Walmart. Someday we can go into a thorough discussion of whether it’s better to enable Amazon, now starting to roll out hair salons in its quest to take over the world, or Walmart, where the billionaires might contest Jeff Bezos for richest human if there weren’t so many Waltons to share the wealth, but those were my choices so I supported a company that doesn’t really need my dollars.

My scanner arrived this week, and I’m very excited. It scans photos in mere seconds, putting them in some obscure place on my computer, although my cloud back-up found them no problem. And I am deciding this is a really good, beginner exercise for someone who can’t throw away old shoes with the sides ripped completely out of them.

As a photographer from the days of film, I take multiple pictures of the same setting, to make sure at least one turns out, and already this morning I am noticing that for whatever reason I frequently ordered double prints. And it’s occurring to me that I don’t need to keep every crappy photo I took — I imagine the subjects might even thank me for judiciously not preserving them not at their best. Except for the picture of my sister Terri after she downed seven glasses of champagne in quick succession at my mom’s wedding to John — that one’s a keeper forever.

So I have a small pile already of photos that can go in the trash. Mind you, the pile isn’t yet in the trash, and I could backslide. I also have the pile I have run through the scanner, and I’m aware I don’t need to keep these, but I want to make sure I know what I’m doing and can find them in the depths of my computer before I store them neatly alongside the others that can go in the trash.

I have, at least, put the envelopes the prints were stored in out in the recycling bin. I feel like this is progress, and maybe by the end of the weekend I will have emptied one box out of the closet — and enjoyed some memories along the way. Whoever said that was right: it’s a lot better to look at your pictures than tuck them in a box and not even remember you have them.

So I have found at least one house-sortation project I think I can manage without feeling completely inept, and it’s already bringing me joy. Move over Marie: I’m breaking through!

Does it surprise you to learn I still have the SpongeBob CD holder? And I swear, I don’t look a day older from when this photo was taken back in ’04.

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