In Praise of Deleting Your Photographs

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

I am attached to my old work, which no longer serves a purpose.

When I look at my hard drives, my cloud storage, etc — I feel like I am a digital hoarder. I hold onto too many images.

What is the problem in today’s world? The fact is that we are over-saturated with information. With bits and bytes, it is easy to have “unlimited storage” (whereas with physical storage, there tends to be a limit).

I’ve been trying to take a more “zen” approach to life— and trying to live lightly. I try to pare down my belonging to the absolute essentials, and try my best to get rid of things that are superfluous in my life.

However I haven’t really listened to my own advice when it comes to digital things. I have too many files that are backed up (even though I know I won’t look at them ever again). I also have tons of old photos which I am no longer interested in — but I still keep them for some reason.

What prevents us from deleting old work?

SF, 2015
SF, 2015

I think the fear of holding onto these old photos is this fear of “what if?” The fear that if I delete a photograph, I will regret it. That somehow it had some majestic charm, and might be my hidden pulitzer-prize winning shot.

But in reality, I know that 99.9% of the photos in my archives aren’t great, and don’t have personal meaning to me.

So what I’ve been trying to do lately is spending more time deleting old photos. Deleting old files. Deleting negative past memories.

How does it feel deleting my old work?

Tokyo, 2012
Tokyo, 2012

I feel light. I feel free. I don’t feel held back from the past. I feel more inspired to create new things, rather than look backwards.

Probably the best tip I have when deciding which photos to keep and delete is this:

Look at your photo and ask yourself, “Does this photo spark joy for me? Is it still relevant to me? Am I grateful for this moment, and can I let it go? Will I honestly ever look at this photograph ever again?” (inspired by ‘The magic of tidying up’)

I am not encouraging you to delete all of your photos. Just delete the ones that no longer have personal meaning to you. Keep the photos that bring you true joy and happiness.

I think one of the big mistakes people have about “minimalism” that it means to own nothing. For me, minimalism is about not having anything excessive, superfluous, or unnecessary. It is about having a few things that bring meaning into your life, and help enable you to be creative and happy.

The benefits of deleting old photos

Downtown LA, 2015
Downtown LA, 2015

So as a practice, try to see if you can go back and delete old photos. There are also lots of other benefits:

  • You free up hard drive space, and don’t have to stress to constantly buy new hard drives.
  • It is easier to find your files (because you have less junk to look through)
  • You feel emotionally lighter, and inspired to make new work.

So try it out. Perhaps as a first start, just start deleting some photos from social media (but keep the hard copies on your hard drive). Then slowly transition into deleting the photos on your hard drive.

Garden Grove, 2015
Garden Grove, 2015

And for the photos that have true meaning for you— I encourage you to print them out. Because printed photos will last a lot longer than any photos on your hard drive or the cloud.

Be light, be happy, and don’t let your past hold you back.