Call me sentimental, but I’m a big believer in making memories. I’m also a big believer in capturing those memories for later. It’s not that I don’t enjoy living in the moment. But I’m a classic introvert in the sense that I’m an observer. I process information (and even emotion) over time. Often the moment doesn’t fully “hit me” until weeks, months, or even years down the road.
I also love a good project, so a couple of years ago I started something that ended up being one of the most rewarding parenting decisions I’ve ever made: I catalogued our family photos.
The Family Photo Project
When I say “catalogued,” I mean that I “favorited” them. I used my photo editing software to highlight and separate out the “best of best” in a separate folder. I started with the very first photo taken on our first digital camera back in 2005, and I scrolled, one by one, through every single one of them. When I thought to myself, “Oh, that’s a good one,” I clicked the little heart.
In our family, we can be pretty prolific picture-takers, so this process took some time. About a year, as a matter of fact. Sometimes it felt like a job to get through, and I had to slow down and remember why I started doing it in the first place.
But more often than not, I really grew to love those evening sessions that I spent with my external drive full of jpegs. I’d put on some music and just transport myself back to when we made those memories together—good, bad, and everywhere in between.
There was the practical part of me that loved to organize my digital life and bring some kind of order to the chaos. There was the satisfaction of knowing that I was making the records of my life a lot simpler for my children’s children, should they ever care about such things. But more importantly, I just loved having the chance to pause . . . relive . . . and remember.
I reached present day. But I wasn’t done. I went to the garage and pulled out our old photo albums full of prints. Might as well organize those for posterity, too, right? Why not scan them and archive them while I’m at it? So I did.
Side note: My own childhood photos took up a grand total of two albums—you know the kind, with sticky pages covered with clear page protectors. If I actually printed every digital photo of my own kids and tried to put them in physical albums, I think the garage might explode.
So where does that leave me today? Well, now I’ve got my favorite photos showing up on my kitchen smart device as a screen saver. As I wash dishes at night, I see a picture pop up from long ago that makes me laugh out loud or fills my heart with gratitude. (Often, it’s both.) And now, every time I import photos, I take time to “favorite” the best ones and archive them along with the others.
Here are some takeaways I’ve learned from this project:
1. It’s just a phase, so don’t miss it.
Kids grow up fast—and when we’re in the middle of the day-to-day, we rarely pay attention to the ways they’re growing and changing. But when we stop to look at important moments from a few weeks, months, or years ago, we gain perspective. “The years are short, but the days are long,” they say. And they’re right. When I remember how quickly time is passing, I tend to make the most of my time in the here and now.
2. Get in the picture.
Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles, family friends and neighbors . . . we’re surrounded by a community that plays a vital role in our story. But the people we care about don’t always make it into our photo record the way they should. So don’t just take pictures of your adorable children. Take more family selfies. Hand your phone to someone to take a pic for you. You’ll be glad you did.
3. One in 10 is a keeper.
Do you know how many photos I started with? About 100,000. Do you know how many I “favorited”? Less than 10,000. That’s one in 10. That could mean one of two things. Either I’m a really bad photographer, or there are a lot of well-intentioned attempts that just didn’t work out—because of backlighting, blinking/grumpy kids, or a million other reasons. I’d also like to point out that very few of my “food pics” made the cut. The takeaway? Take more pictures of people. I’m not saying you should live behind a screen . . . but when you do take a picture (especially a family one), don’t be afraid to take a few more options than you think you’ll need.
4. Remembering brings me joy.
It’s as simple as that. I love sitting in front of the TV as much as the next person, but those evenings I spent going through old photos and just remembering brought me immense satisfaction. And they spurred me on to make even more memories with my family going forward. (My kids have enjoyed seeing a slideshow recap of their own childhood, too!)
5. Remembering helps me see what God has done.
“The Lord has done great things for us,” we read in Psalms 126:3. “And we are filled with joy.” The Psalmist was referring to the nation of Israel, but the principle is true for us today. Photographs help me to see the story God is writing in my life, and in the life of my family, over time. That’s a reminder I need every day—even when I’m washing dishes.