The Art of Life Preserving
When it comes to sentimental things, are you a saver or a tosser?
Save the world. Save the dolphins. Save the photos. What’s a gal to do?
The world is divided into two types of people: the savers and the tossers. And most of what ensues in life forces the opposing types into some form of ongoing struggle, or, as it is commonly referred to, marriage.
Consider the savers, not in terms of the planet, but at the micro-level. They’re the sentimental ones. Every card, every note, every scrap of paper they’ve ever received bears an emotional intensity that moves them to tears. They keep ticket stubs from every concert they’ve ever attended. Playbills, stacked in the basement, serve as testaments to years of subscription theater. Somewhere in their attics sit stacks of sacred T-shirts, too fragile to wear, yet cherished because they represent beloved camps and college teams. Heaven help them if a National Geographic ever crosses their threshold. No saver has ever given away these precious periodicals. After all, the reasoning goes, you never know when you might want to go back and re-read that article about the art of South Sea pearl diving or how yak milk contains properties that make it the ideal nutritional drink for living at altitude in the Himalayas. That type of information must remain in the house forever, according to the hoarders. I mean savers. Can you guess my bias?
Then there are the tossers. These are the icy, deliberate souls who can read a card, be genuinely touched, and still make sure the missive makes it into the week’s recycling bin, along with the ticket stubs, Playbills, periodicals, and most of what the other family members leave around the house.
Full disclosure: I’m a tosser. Garbage day finds me with a spring in my step. Every Thursday, as I wake to the sounds of the deep rumbling engine and the warning beeps of the Veolia truck, I smile involuntarily. What’s not to love? With one automated lift, a week’s worth of debris leaves my life. So much for that article about yak milk. Buh-bye.
It’s easy to imagine the drill at most houses: the savers come home, make piles, and feel secure and even accomplished thanks to the accrued record of all they’ve ever done. Following at a safe distance, which means in secret, the tossers methodically throw-out the piles. The former accuse, the latter deny, and everyone knows what went down.
Is there any common ground?
Of course there is: family photos.
Even the most hardened tosser must give pause before ditching the photos that inevitably accumulate in every drawer, shelf and desktop. And those are just the printed ones from a decade ago. The cyber memories, stored within every device with a charger and a screen, float around in chaos. Like a Greek chorus, they taunt us in our dreams and remind us that if anything crashes, we’re lost. Think of all those formerly-known-as-Kodak-moments, gone in the blink of a broken device.
The problem is what to do with them.
Sidebar: Why am I surprised to discover that there are professionals out there, in the world, for hire, who know what to do with this melee of memorabilia? Last week, Bonnie Shay, a certified professional photo organizer, gave an instructive lecture at the Highland Park Public Library explaining how to organize these photos. The auditorium was packed with attentive souls, all looking for the Holy Grail of photo organization.
It turns out that to achieve photography nirvana, photos should be organized, in neat albums, in labeled boxes, in silver frames, in clever collages, and in accessible cloud sites. They should be organized by year, by family, by individual, by holiday, by event, and, by God, they should be identified, tagged, meta-tagged, dated, collated, categorized, sub-categorized, and stored on hard-drive, back-up drive, and thumb-drive.
Such organization would make both the savers and the tossers happy. The savers would have their photos, and the tossers? Well, we don’t generally ditch anything tucked neatly into archival pockets and accompanied by a reminder that this is Aunt Fay, smiling in 1954, because she just became a finalist in the flour division at the Pillsbury Bake-Off in Little Rock, Arkansas.
What Bonnie didn’t offer to the packed audience was what they really wanted. Sure, she promised method, but what about the time and discipline and sheer persistence necessary to achieve it? The savers are content to keep the tubs of photos, yet the tossers get distracted not only by the physical chaos of the piles, but also by the haunting reality of the virtual piles, clogging the technological arteries of every computer and phone ever to hold a jpeg.
The answer, of course, lies in admitting to more than two types of people. Yes there are the savers. Yes there are the tossers. And yes, thankfully, there are the professional photo organizers, who roam through the earth – as well as our drawers and our drives—preserving our memories and maybe even our marriages, one billable hour at a time.