First, determine the best family member to take ownership. I have a client who found out from a sibling that her grandmother’s boxes of photos were out on the curb waiting for the trash truck to pick them up. Her father, for whatever reason, felt no emotional connection to the thousands of photos his mother left behind. However, those photos were extremely meaningful to this woman’s grandchildren. So they were rescued from the curb and ended up at my client’s house where, even though she knew she wanted them, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them (more on that in the steps below.) So if you’re tasked with clearing out a home and have no desire to keep the photos yourself, ask your family who’s interested in taking them. I can guarantee you that photo collection is valuable to somebody.
Second, take your time. Sometimes the grief is too raw and painful to dive right in and start an organizing project. I had a client hold on to her sibling’s photos for years before she initiated work with me. And even then, there were moments of breathtaking pain as she sorted through her sister’s memories. But there can also be moments of sheer joy. Another client who stored her mother’s photos for years was surprised to see baby pictures of herself that she’d never seen before. So, store them well, in enclosed boxes to keep the dust at bay, in a temperature-controlled area either in your house or at a storage facility. They’ve lasted this many years, so another few months or years won’t damage them beyond repair.
And third, when it’s time, enjoy the organizing process. You’ll find it easier simply because they aren’t YOUR photos. You won’t recognize half the people in the pictures, so you can either pass them along to another family member who might or you can throw them away with minimal guilt. Also, it’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know your loved one better, to see through their eyes what they felt was important enough to document on film. One of my clients found dozens of pictures her grandmother took of flower arrangements. At the start, she wanted to keep them, but as the process moved along, and we found more and more of them, she realized she could toss most of them. Still, she found humor in the photos and was able to learn a little bit more about the grandmother she’d lost. It’s always difficult to lose a loved one, but the photo legacy they leave behind can be a great source of comfort as you move through your grieving journey.