How to dispose of old photos

A question that often comes up in my Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter online course is how to dispose of old photos in an energetically conscious and considerate way.

Old photos

Is it OK to put old photos in the bin?

Some people don’t like the idea of putting pictures of themselves or people they know in the bin. As one reader wrote to me to say, ‘Sending them off to moulder in a landfill doesn’t seem right.’

But that’s exactly what I do when I dispose of old photos. I simply rip them up and put them in the bin. Not in the recycling bin, though, because the chemicals used in the printing process mean that old photos have to go in the regular trash that goes to landfill or incineration.

Some people are surprised to hear I do this because they have read somewhere that we are  energetically connected to images of ourselves, so photos must be ritually burned or at least disposed of more respectfully. From my experience of hand sensing photos, I certainly agree that there is an energy connection between a person and their image. But it does not do any harm to a person to throw their photo away. When you think about it, millions of photos of people in newspapers end up in recycling waste every day and there are no dire consequences of this. If there were, all celebrities would be in big, big trouble.

Alternative methods of disposal

For people who are still not convinced, or find themselves unable to rip up images of themselves or people they know, a kinder method is to immerse the photos in a basin of water until the images float off and dissolve, which usually takes 3-5 days. But then you are faced with the problem of what to do with the toxic water you are left with. To dispose of it responsibly you certainly can’t pour it down the toilet or the sink, or empty it in your back garden. Photo paper contains a cocktail of chemicals, including silver and mercury. If you choose this method you would need to contact your local hazardous waste disposal centre first and ask them what to do.

I have to say, though, that I do draw the line when it comes to putting photos of people through the shredder. I can happily do this with photos of places or things, but seeing those mechanical metal teeth tearing through the faces of people I know feels unnecessarily aggressive. There are gentler ways to do it.

Digital photos

For those who’ve grown up in the digital age, deleting a photo is only a click of a button away. But the sheer quantity of photos most people now have has brought with it a whole new set of problems. Taking a photo is easy and cheap, but the time it takes to store it in a way that allows you to find it again, and the energy it takes to decide which to keep and which to delete, can take up untold hours of a person’s life.

Always bear in mind if you decide to take on a task that every use of your time you say yes to means saying no to something else. So if you are spending so much time organizing memories from the past, what are you saying no to in the present?

Need help?

Paper and digital clutter is one of the most challenging types there is. If you need help with this, I warmly invite you to join me in one of the highly effective 30-day Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter online courses I’ll be teaching this year:

Jul 1-30, 2021
Oct 1-30, 2021

Fee: £90 (plus 20% VAT for UK residents only)

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2014, updated 2021


Resource
Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter online course

Related article
The art of intercepting clutter before it even starts

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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9 Responses to How to dispose of old photos

  1. So what shall I do with tons of family pictures? My kids Don’t want them, sisters, brothers, no, who? The shredder?

  2. I have taken the responsibility of going through my blessed mother and fathers old photos. It is a real challenge because the bulk of them are NOT in an album, mom was obviously overwhelmed and didn’t date or label some way. Therefore I have sent nearly 60 pounds of old photos to the landfill.

  3. I feel like “purification by fire”, especially for photos of those who have passed on (and may have had a troubled life) seems a better choice to me than going to a landfill. A kind of alchemy I guess, returning to ashes and spirit, as with the physical cremation of the body. Landfills are for garbage/trash and to me that doesn’t seem symbolically respectful. Burning a photo feels like a form of release for the person in the photo and for the person doing the burning, depending on the nature of the connection. I am hoping there is no metaphysical prohibition against this that I am not aware of…that is the search which brought me here in the first place! ;-D I haven’t actually done this yet and am looking for more information/input.

  4. Really great article – it’s so hard to throw away old photos. I was debating between burning and garbage, and realized that the chemicals used to make the image are so toxic that burning them becomes a karmically worse choice. So into the bin they go!

  5. Sinds ik een digitale camera heb (2006) heb ik geen een foto meer uitgeprint, ik vind het gemakkelijker en fijner om ze digitaal te bekijken. In het begin dacht ik nog ik zie wel welke ik ga afdrukken.

    Since I have a digital camera (2006), I have not printed a picture, I find it easier and nicer to view them digitally. In the beginning I thought I’ll see what I’m going to print.

  6. I usually just throw them away but occasionally burn them in our woodburner. I have very few to dispose of. We keep family photograph albums and scrapbooks and they are well thumbed. In the digital age I print only those I know I am going to use in an album or scrapbook. I have albums on FB which friends and family can browse through and some shared albums on photobox where friends and family can order pictures themselves if they would like. In fact it is now easier for me to have less photos I don’t want because I can chose which ones I print.

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