Why I Threw My Pictures Away

I have a grand total of four (physical) pictures. I threw the others in the trash.

Photography is a relatively new invention in the world. It’s prudent to discuss the downsides of new technology. Some of the downsides of pictures are significant.

With digital storage, it doesn’t take up any more physical space to store a thousand photos vs. ten photos and sorting through them is fairly easy. But while most of this applies to physical pictures, many of these reasons still apply to both formats.

This is less relevant to photo hobbyists, professionals, and enthusiasts – as pictures are more than just instant memories to them. But for everyone else, we need to decide the best way to use them. I’m not saying my way is THE way – but this is my opinion on the role of pictures in our lives.

My view of pictures? We take too many. We keep too many.

Here are six reasons:

1. Enjoy The Moment

I’ve seen it too many times. You’re on top of the world with a breath-taking view – and out come the cameras. People are snapping all kinds of photos from different angles, trying to get the perfect one. Why?

I understand the idea of a picture is to capture the moment, but if the moment is spent taking pictures, then someone can take a picture of you taking pictures to capture the moment.  Instead of looking through a tiny viewfinder or LCD screen, we can take in the beauty through ultra high-definition eyes. Cameras make it possible to go on a trip and be absent.

I know this is true because I’ve done it myself. The more pictures I take, the less present I am. A camera requires your complete focus to use. I don’t suggest giving up photography – I suggest taking a close look at how your camera affects your enjoyment and involvement in trips.

We do it to have great pictures of the moment… to relive it later. But is reliving the past actually something you want to do?

2. Let The Past Go

If pictures exist to relive the moment, then we’d all be better off to have less of them. Hardly anybody believes living in the past is healthy, but pictures seem to be an acceptable form of this.

Before you call me a heartless anti-picture fiend, you should know that I struggle with crippling nostalgia because I loved my childhood. I look back at some of those memories and experience such strong emotions that I don’t know what to do with myself. No matter how often I revisit these, I don’t find relief. It only gets worse. I wonder then, is it wise to continue teasing myself with a past I’ll never experience again?

Might it be better to nod briefly at the past and focus fully on making the present even better? I think so, and pictures don’t help! I’m torn on this, but having fewer pictures is the one solution that seems win-win. I’m not completely forgetting the past, but I’m not dwelling on it either.

3. How Often Do You Look At Them?

Ok, say you disagree with point number two and believe it is a great idea to frequently look at pictures of the past. How often do you pull out the photo album and look at it? Like me, it might be very rare.

It was only recently that I was able to admit the photos I had stored in my “personal bin” held no real value. I never looked at them and even when I did, they just made me somewhat emotional. They didn’t add value to my life or help me to live better – they took me back to a time in my life that is gone. Forever. They can’t bring those days back.

Pictures are of course among the most sentimental possessions in the world and very difficult to get rid of. The four photos I have left are “landmark” photos that represent people and a time in my life that means something to me. They are the cream of the crop.

4. How Many Is Enough?

If you have 18 pictures of your dog, what differentiates them so much that you need to keep all of them? Why not pick your favorite one or two or five and toss the rest? Your favorite picture is the one that will encapsulate your dog’s personality the most and be the most impactful.

As you age, do you plan to continue to accumulate thousands of pictures? At what point will you have enough to satisfy you? At what point will you have more pictures than you can manage?

5. The More Pictures You Have, The Less Valuable They Are

If you disagree strongly to this point and are very sentimental about pictures, consider that less is more. The four pictures I have are now much more valuable and important than the couple hundred or so I had before. With thousands or hundreds of pictures, your best ones will be buried behind many forgettable pictures.

Consider trimming your picture collection (physical and digital) by saving only the very best ones. Then when you look through pictures, you won’t be flipping pages rapidly – you’ll be pausing and admiring each one.

6. The Picture Is Not The Person

A picture of someone is not equivalent to that person. It is a piece of paper. To put a great deal of value in the picture is insulting to the person. Again, it’s a piece of paper.

I remember everyone I had a picture of just fine. I value them and recognize their value is not as fragile as a piece of paper. If you had a house fire and the pictures burned, would it decrease the value of the people in the pictures you had? Of course not, because the pictures themselves are not valuable – they point to someone valuable.

There is no reason to feel guilty about throwing pictures away. Especially if pictures are cluttering up your life. Always remember where the value is.

The Best Reason To Keep Them

Arguably, the best purpose of pictures is to show others a scene or moment. Maybe this is why we take them – we want to show our lives to others. I know I’ve enjoyed sharing and seeing pictures on facebook.

Photography is undoubtably an incredible invention that has changed the world. Pictures make us laugh, cry, and smile. They bring us to places we’ve never seen in person. They open our eyes to new things.

What is the best way to go about taking, storing, keeping, and using them? That’s up to each individual, but the wrong answer is to not think about it at all.

 What are your thoughts on pictures? What do they mean to you?  How do you like to use them?

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Riley Harrison

Hi Stephen,
I see it differently. Kathy (my wife) emails me two pictures every morning. The pictures are used to trigger fond memories from the past. We both enjoy the process and it’s a morning ritual that kicks off the day in a positive way.

Nancy Fierro

Hi Stephen,
I agree with your point of view. I think collecting pictures is a way we push ourselves to remember, may be feeling afraid to forget persons or moments or feeling guilty ( f.e. not to love enough ) or because an excesive love for ourselves.
(In spite of this, I found beautiful and tender Riley Harrison´s comment).
Thanks a lot for your great articles !.

Stephen Guise

Hi Riley,

I think that’s a great tradition and an intuitive use of pictures. I can see how that process could actually work to strengthen your relationship too. I haven’t heard of anyone doing that before, but it’s a great idea.

When it comes to pictures, remembering memories is fine, but dwelling on the past isn’t because it takes away from the present. With your two new pictures every morning, it seems like a great way to remember and not dwell. Thanks for sharing that!

~ Stephen

Stephen Guise

Hi Nancy,

It makes sense that we will want to remember where we came from. But do we need pictures for that? And how many? I don’t see why we would need any more than a couple for each occasion (if any).

I think you’re on to something with guilt. There seems to be a connection between pictures and guilt. If a moment is important, we might feel guilty for not capturing it with a picture (internal guilt). Or we might feel compelled to express our interest or approval to others by being seen taking a picture of whatever is happening (external guilt).

Then there is the guilt associated with getting rid of pictures.

I’m glad I’m not alone in my view of pictures. Thanks for sharing Nancy!


Wow. Very interesting thoughts, Stephen. I definitely agree in part, but I also strongly find myself fighting this view. I think both Sara and I fall into the: “This is less relevant to photo hobbyists, professionals, and enthusiasts – as pictures are more than just instant memories to them.” I am certainly a video professional, so I have a lot of video footage. (I may buy another hard drive this week!) Photos can also play a part in video production as transitional elements, slideshows, artwork and graphic elements, and simply inspiration and Photoshop fodder. :-p

In addition to the professional and enthusiast categories, we also fall into the parents category. Having two little dudes, we take a good amount of pictures and videos of them. And it is so much fun to see them grow up in this way. And (in contrast to the trip analogy at the beginning of your post) we are around them enough to where I don’t think we’re ‘missing the trip’ because we’re looking through a viewfinder or an LCD. And we do look back at the pictures semi-often…..and we often send pics to distant family and friends. (Sara posts pictures on Facebook way more than I do.)

I do agree that we have WAY TOO MANY pictures digitally. I don’t think we have very many physical ones though. Some pictures you shouldn’t keep. Like….oh…I don’t know…say…a picture of ….. A GIGANTIC EVIL STUPID DEADLY HELLISH BLACK WIDOW SPIDER! That might be one that we don’t want to keep…for fear of nightmares. : -p

Anyway, I will close with letting you know that my co-worker bought a new camera in December 2011 and has since taken almost 10,000 pictures. In like 4.5 months. Yeah. I thought you’d like to know. 😀

-Cameron Culboon

Stephen Guise

Hey Cameron,

Thanks for sharing that. It is really interesting to see how each person views and handles pictures differently. With your profession, it does make sense to have a good amount of photos.

I totally get the kids thing. It will be really cool for you and them to be able to see their progression of growing up. Especially considering that the memory function of our brain doesn’t usually kick in until we’re a few years old. Then again, video would work for this too.

Yeah, you should DELETE that one! *shudder* Spiders eat insects, so thanks for that…but they can all die otherwise!

Wow! At this rate, he will have a million pictures in about 35 years. I bet he disagrees with my stance on pictures. Even 10,000 is too many in my opinion. How can you manage that amount in a meaningful way?

Thanks Mr. Culboon. I should take a picture with you. Just one though. 😉

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