Humans love to collect. We collect holiday gifts, souvenirs, mementos, and treasures of all shapes and sizes. Over time, our homes become crowded with these trinkets. Not wanting to get rid of anything, we start packaging items away. We store our treasure boxes in attics, garages, closets, and storage bins. When we outgrow these spaces, we start investing in storage units, trailers, or bigger homes. As time passes, we continue to collect rather than to purge. By the end of our lives, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of these items. What we once labeled as “valuable” and “precious”, our surviving relatives refer to as “junk” or “stuff”. If you have ever faced the death of a loved one and have been placed in charge of sorting through their former belongings, you understand how it can be a daunting task. It may take days or even weeks to sell off, throw out, or pack up these items. And then, what was once someone else’s , now becomes yours. And the cycle of keeping and storing continues.
Instead of holding on to hundreds of “items”, photograph them. In this way, you can reduce your quantity of “valuables” from large bulky objects, or dozens of little ones, to one or two photo boxes. Photos are powerful. They stir our memories helping us to recall special moments, tragic events, joyful occasions, and loved ones who have gone on before us. Photos help us remember without causing a big hassle or stress for either ourselves or for our loved ones.
Let’s say you just learned of the passing of a friend or family member. Regardless of how close you were to that individual, you now feel pressured into keeping items that once meant a great deal to them. You may never have looked twice at that cracked vase of Aunt Jenny’s, or that rocking chair of Grandma Anne’s, but now, you feel you have no alternative but to bring it into your home. Surely you can find a place for Grandpa’s fishing lures, or Cousin Tilly’s collection of dog statues. Maybe you’ve never been fond of flat shoes or chunky jewelry, but didn’t your friend always were them whenever she came for a visit? Rather than stuffing Aunt Mathilda’s old hunting jacket in your closet or squirreling away Betty Sue’s collection of salt shakers, arrange these items in such a way as to freeze the memory of them.
For some items, a mere snapshot will do, but for others, you may want to place your treasures in a particular location or pattern.
Here are some tips that might help you get started:
What to think about (before snapping the photo):
- What is this item?
- Why does this item mean so much to me?
- Where was I when I got this item?
- Who does this item make me think of?
- What memory does this item trigger?
- What era or occasion is this item from?
- Is this item old or new?
- Is this item from a relative or loved one that is deceased?
- What age was I when I received this item?
- What size is the item?
- Was this item originally located in a particular location?
- How do I want to remember this item?
Locations and Arrangements:
- Original location. For example: Grandpa’s tools belonged in the barn. Take the items to the barn and photograph them lying on his workbench. Or, Grandma’s row of plates were always displayed in her cabinet, photograph them in the cabinet.
- Near the headstone of the person who last owned them.
- Arrange the items in such a way as to display their quantity.
- Arrange them around a photograph of your deceased loved one.
- Have a friend photograph you holding the item.
- Solid backgrounds tone out distraction: wood or brick works great.
- A meaningful background. For example: Place Grandma’s Bible on top of her lace shawl.
- Think symbolic. Hang the American flag behind Cousin John’s collection of war memorabilia.
- Arrange items according to size: Smallest to biggest, biggest to smallest, or big item in the middle and smaller items on either side.
- Group items by owner or geographic location. Take one photo of all your shells from the Caribbean and another of your Hawaiian shells.
- Add pretty items to enhance the image. Grandma’s letters may seem plan just placed on a coffee table, but add a rose and the handwritten letters stand out as something special.
- Group several less-important items into one shot.
- Don’t forget location. If you want to remember sister Jemima love for horse riding, photograph her saddle and trophies in the barn where she spent most of her time.
- Think specific. A photo of a bunch of tools might not mean much, but, place these same tools on Uncle Joe’s workbench (where the two of you loved building things together), and the image will trigger specific memories of the two of you working side by side.
- Think quantity. You may only need one image of Brother Sam’s fishing pole, but you may want a few of Sister Rose’s pile of handmade quilts.
Experiment with lighting, location, arrangement, and camera angles.
These photos are for you. Photograph them in a way that you like. In a way that helps you remember what or whom you want to recall. Be patient. Going through items can be difficult on multiple levels. Going through a loved ones belongings can be emotionally draining and physically exhausting. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to think things through. Practice. Experiment.
Print, save, or look through your images before getting rid of the item you are photographing. You do not want to sell that antique chest, only to later discover that all your photos of that chest, were blurred or damaged by poor lighting.
Keep what is truly valuable, irreplaceable, or priceless.
Photograph everything else and learn to let go.