Do the photos in your home keep you frozen in time?

The photos you have around you can create a feeling of being frozen in the past, which can mean you’re not fully emotionally available in your relationships in the present.

Framed photos

‘Enjoy your photos while they are current. Make colourful montages, put them on the wall, stick them on your notebooks, make postcards and send them to your friends. Really get the most from them while their energy is fresh and new.’

This advice comes from Chapter 11 of my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui. But many people who read this think it surely doesn’t apply to the framed photos they have in their home of themselves or their children when any of them were younger.

Well, yes. It does.

If the majority of the photos you have around you depict images from the past, this can keep you from being fully available to live in the present. The reason is that a photo can be a form of sentimental clutter. It can become something more than just a functional way of capturing a moment in time. It may serve as a way of linking to a memory from the past. And if you see these types of images day after day, year after year, they will have an effect.

Wedding photos

Take the example of wedding photos. Many couples keep a photo of the happy day on display in their home. But each time they look at it, it connects them to the past, not the present. And many people find there is an unconscious internal dialogue with accompanying mixed emotions that develops over time.

Supposing you have put on weight since that photo was taken. Each time you see the image of a thinner you, it can spark a comment from your inner critic, causing you to feel bad about yourself. Or perhaps it sparks a memory of how romantically attentive your partner used to be and how that has changed. Or it reminds you of the life you dreamed was ahead of you on your wedding day but it has not quite worked out as planned.

Even if you are wonderfully happy in your relationship with your partner today, wouldn’t it be better to have a happy photo of you both as you are now instead of one from years ago, with all the clutter of these types of internal dialogue attached? As one woman told me, ‘replacing our old wedding photos with more recent ones of my husband and I allowed me to feel the richness of what we created together over the last 20 years instead of constantly being reminded of how naïve and immature we were when we first got together.’

Childhood photos

Childhood photos are another way that relationships can become frozen in time.

In one home I visited to do a consultation, the couple’s son had grown up and left home but the parents still had many framed photos of him as a child on display, as well as shelves full of awards and sports trophies he had won. The son didn’t care at all about these items and hadn’t wanted to take any of them with him when he moved out. But they lined the walls of the parents’ home, and his old bedroom had turned into a mixture of a junk room and a museum of his past.

Everywhere you looked there were mementos of the son’s history and achievements. Sometimes one or both of the parents would be included in a photo, but the son was clearly the star of the show. It was all centred on him. They had been living their lives through him but now he had moved on and they had not. Not surprisingly, they felt stuck.

The remedy was simple. Replace the old photos of their son with more recent ones of themselves or images that reflected aspects of their own life, not their son’s. They chose to put up photos of places they wanted to visit together and were astonished at the difference this made. Instead of being anchored in the past, they started looking forward and their lives started moving again.

Another woman, with a husband and three sons aged 9, 13 and 16, realized that all the photos of them in the family home were at least six years out of date. While part of her wanted to hold on to fond memories of her sons as young children, another part could see that this wasn’t encouraging them to grow up and take responsibility for themselves. ‘Removing the photos has allowed me to see my husband and boys as they are right now and a new sense of appreciation for them and who they are has grown,’ she told me.

Your parents’ photos of you

If your own parents are alive, you may also want to consider if you really want them to keep photos of you as a child on display to constantly remind them of you when you were young? Or would it be better for them to have more current photos that portray who you are today?

It happens all too often that parents secretly do not want their adult children to become fully emancipated. Having photos of them as young children prominently displayed in the home is a very socially acceptable way of holding on to a phase of a parent-child relationship that has long since passed. And some adult children also collude in this, preferring to postpone the full responsibilities of adulthood for as long as they can.

You may, of course, have no say at all in what images your parents choose to display in their own home. But if you know they have a tendency to treat you as a child and you’d like to change that dynamic, a very effective way to help that process along is to supply them with current photos of yourself from time to time to replace the childhood images they have. Updating those will have the effect of updating their relationship with you too.

Photos in the bedroom

A common mistake people make is having photos of their parents, children or a spiritual guru on their bedside table. If you have an active sex life and would feel comfortable having sex with any of these people watching in person, fine. If not, make your bedroom a no-go area for such photos.

The reason for this is that we are deeply affected by images of eyes. A psychology experiment on a phenomenon known as priming has shown that, on average, people will contribute three times as much to an honesty box in an office kitchen when an image of human eyes is stuck behind it on the wall. And this happens whether they consciously see the image or not. Being watched, even by someone’s eyes in a photo, makes us self-conscious and changes our behaviour.

Is it better to have no photos at all?

Of course I’m not suggesting you never have photos of anyone in your home. What I’m advocating here is that you become more selective about how long you display them and where you place them.

Any image you see many times a day will affect you. So it really makes sense to choose those that will nurture and support you and those you care about, not ones that will hold you or them back.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2020

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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 fifth 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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7 Responses to Do the photos in your home keep you frozen in time?

  1. Hi Karen, thank you very much for reading my comment and giving me this link. I hadn’t read this article before, and I’m glad it confirms my suspicions.

    Yes, that’s my mother’s mentality to a T. She doesn’t want to let go of her past, which includes me but also her deceased parents (both dead for over twenty years). I have been making an inventory and half of the pictures where I’m a kid have also my grandparents in them, so it’s not likely she will change her mind about them. There are more photos of them all over the house too. They had quite a case of enmeshment going on, and I’ve always been the black sheep that resisted it.

    Hmm, I’ll try slipping some new photos in but I think I can also add some of the other rule: try putting over fifty percent of new things. Thinking about it, she is only averse to the idea of getting rid of possessions, not to recycle them. Now that you told me that the refurbished old desk is not a thing of the past, I’m starting to get some fresh ideas!

    Your reply has given me some new insights! Thank you very much again, Karen! It’ll take a while, but I hope to be able to deliver some good news in the future! 😀

  2. My mom always scolds me for not having more photos of the family and my kids around the house. I have never been a fan of looking at myself in different phases. They bring up some crazy memories. I also have a hard time looking back on my kids as babies because it makes me sad. This article really has helped me understand that aspect of my home decor and that my mother is not correct. I feel I need to share this with her in hopes she will get off my back.

  3. I don’t have family photos all over my house either. It feels burdensome to have the same old things staring out at me every day. I know what everyone looks like. When I want to re-visit memories, I look at albums (which I trimmed back years ago).

  4. This is timely and interesting. I’ve been looking at photos in our home recently and really wanting to get rid of them. They are lovely photos of all four of our parents, but they no longer bring me joy. And yes, we have wedding photos of both ourselves and our daughters, and I’ve wanted to get rid of them too! I did not know why, but I’ve also felt stuck, empty, in limbo, and I am anxious to get on to a new phase of my life. Empty nest syndrome? Probably. And the photos don’t really help.

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

    1. Hi Josanne – It’s not possible to update a photo of a deceased person to a more current one because they are no longer alive for you to be able to do this. So all photos of deceased people keep a person frozen in the past in some way. If they are happy in their life and seeing these photos brings them pure joy, fine. But if they evoke feelings of sadness, this means there is unresolved grief that needs to be worked through. In short, it’s more about WHY a person chooses to keep photos of a deceased person or people on display. Are they a source of inspiration or are they keeping them locked in the past?

  5. This is fabulous information! I’m 77 and my boyfriend is 81. We’ve been dating 2 years this Feb. It took me almost a year to request that he remove his wedding photo from his bedroom if he wanted me to feel more comfortable in our sexual relationship. He agreed and put it on a top shelf in his walk-in bathroom and closet. I see the edge of the frame and it still bothers me if I let it.

    We’ve turned his large bedroom into our room. Bought a comfortable love seat sofa, burn the fireplace frequently – which he never did with his wife – have a couple photos of us togetherness, for his birthday I gave him a hot water kettle for tea and Graham crackers every morning soon as we get up, sit on an upholstered bench and look out onto our view of the 10 Mile Mountain Range in Summit County CO. She died 5 years ago and they seemed to have had a happy marriage of about 60 years. I’ve had several marriages and relationships some good some not do good. I respect his past but I want to be foremost in his present life. Photographs is an amazing topic of influences. Thank you for confirming what I knew unconsciously!

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