Should You Apply the KonMari Method for Your Printed Photos?

May 23, 2017

Is the KonMari method really suitable to declutter your printed photos? Read about the pros and cons from the point of view of a personal photo organizer.



Photos are very precious to most of us. They tell stories and bring back memories. Photos tucked away in a messy box though don’t bring us any joy. We need to be able to access and enjoy them in a different way.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I used the KonMari method in my own home and documented my experience here. To be honest, I have only done clothes and books so far, mainly due to the lack of time to tackle the other categories. Furthermore, I don’t really feel the need to declutter big time right now. However, I have recently started to specialize in photo organizing which means I help my clients to manage their printed and digital photo collections. Since the KonMari method worked well for me as far as clothes and books were concerned I am naturally interested to have a closer look at her method with regards to photos. Obviously, most people have tons of digital photos these days but most also have printed photos or might inherit them in the future. That’s what we are going to talk about today: Applying the KonMari method for PRINTED photos.


As a reminder or in case you don’t know Marie Kondo yet, this is – in short – what she suggests doing:

  1. Declutter in one fell swoop (have a tidying festival).
  2. Work by category, not by location.
  3. Only keep things that ‘spark joy’.
  4. Start with clothes, then books, documents, miscellaneous (komono) and finish with sentimental (photos belong to this last category).


Marie Kondo suggest decluttering the printed photos as follows:

  1. Gather all the printed photos.
  2. Create sub-categories (like with like). E.g. lose photos, negatives, slides (transparencies), albums, photos on cards, envelope from the developers, framed photos, film rolls etc.
  3. Hold each photo (yes, take them out of the album) and decide whether it touches your heart and sparks joy for you or not. Note: this is only about your photos, not any other person’s!
  4. Put the ‘keepers’ in an album and throw away the others.

This sounds straight forward, right? Let me share my thoughts about this process looking through the lense of a personal photo organizer.

Firstly, before you start your photo organizing project be aware that it can be very time consuming. So, set aside enough time. Furthermore, don’t forget that there is no KonMari police – you decide what you keep and what not, there is no right or wrong and it is not about minimalism.




Things I agree with when sorting printed photos according to the KonMari method:


I do agree that it is best to gather all your printed photos first. Only then will you see what you have. She suggests dedicating a box to collect all the photos you come across while you work through the whole KonMari process. Remember, photos are part of the sentimental category which comes last.
If you do go through the complete KonMari process I think it is a very valid point to do photos at the very end. I think she is right in that you will hone your decluttering skills along the way and it will be easier to work through photos when you do it as one of the last sub-categories. Furthermore, you will have collected all those you found along the way which will speed things up, at least a little bit.
In her second book, she says: ‘… we shouldn’t still be sorting photos when we reach old age. If you, too, are leaving this task for when you grow old, don’t wait. Do it now. You will enjoy the photos far more when you are old if they are already in an album …’. I totally agree with that. Now is the time to do it. Most of us don’t want to leave a messy legacy. So, do it now!
Also in her second book, she suggests sorting family photos together. Meaning, if your parents have boxes of photos, help them to go through these and make it a family project. Because guess what … you’ll end up with these boxes anyway. Another big advantage of this: your parents can tell you the stories that go with the photos. After all, the reason we take photos is to tell a story. So, use this precious time to connect and to learn about the past.
She also suggests picking the best ones and displaying them, e.g. in an album. Of course, there are many other ways you can display photos, that’s totally up to you. This actually corresponds nicely with a method many of us photo organizers use. It was developed by the funder, Cathie Nelson, of our association APPO and is called the ABCS of photo organizing.
A = Album (important and great photo, album-worthy)
B = Box (stays but doesn’t need to be in an album, can be kept in an archival box)
C = Can (throw away)
S = Story (not necessarily a great photo but it tells an important story)
Translated to the KonMari method this means the A+S photos are those going into that album. They are the most precious ones. The B photos stay as well but they’re not quite album-worthy. Hence, they can be kept in an archival box. C is self-explanatory … these photos are thrown away.

Where I disagree with Marie Kondo:

Pulling every photo out of an album.
I encourage you to first have a look through the album. If it is a beautifully done album or scrapbook you will hesitate to pull it apart. And rightly so (in my opinion). You have invested a lot of time to put it together. Also, they are in an album. This means – at least in the past – you had decided that they are A-photos and belong in an album. Maybe you would change your mind about some of them. But is this really worth ripping it apart? I’d keep them as they are.
However, in some cases you might want to consider her suggestion. For example, if your photos are in magnetic albums. They can be quite damaging to your photos and you want to take them out. Another reason could be that there are only very few photos in an album or only a few that you want to keep. Or your album is damaged in some way or moldy.
Marie mentions that we often keep photos with the plan to sort and enjoy them ‘someday’ but that ‘someday’ will never happen. Yes, this is very often true and I encourage everyone to sort them now and not later (see above). As to the enjoying of photos I do believe that we get to a stage in life in which photos might become more important to us than they seem to be right now. Someday might come and we’ll appreciate that we have them, especially if they are already sorted and nicely presented (this should not be an excuse to keep them all though!).
Her tip to keep only about 5 photos per day of an event or a holiday makes sense and it would reduce the overwhelm dramatically. However, people have various reasons to keep more than that and I think one shouldn’t concentrate too much on the numbers here. I’ll give you a personal example to explain what I mean. We have always loved to travel and been fortunate enough to visit many countries and places. Of course, we took a lot of photos. Quite reasonable amounts when we still used printed photos, clearly too many with the digital camera. Hubby likes to take scenery photos and to try different things with the camera. We do delete many of these and I’m aware that most of these kind of photos we keep will eventually be thrown out by our children because they mean nothing to them. Still, reducing them to 5 per day would be too unrealistic for us at this point in time. I’m pretty sure though that ‘someday’ will come, and we will be ready to part with most of them so we can leave a meaningful photo legacy to our children. Remember, there is no KonMari police fining us for keeping more ;-)…

Getting rid of the negatives. Most people probably do throw them away because it’s considered kind of old fashioned. I recommend to keep them for two reasons: firstly, you can keep them as an additional backup. Secondly, if you ever want to digitise these photos you will get a much better quality scanning the negative rather than a printed photo. Especially if the print has already suffered from fading or been damaged otherwise.



What comes after decluttering the KonMari way (or any other way for that matter)?

What are your next steps after decluttering your photos, regardless whether you are applying the KonMari method or not?

  1. Discard your purged photos. Note that photos can’t be recycled and need to go in the bin. If you’re concerned about identity theft shred them first.
  2. Donate anything you can, such as frames or unused albums.
  3. Digitise your printed photos! Not only is this basically the only way to back them up (except if you have another printed copy, but who wants that …) but will also make it a lot easier to share and enjoy your photos.
    Scanning lose photos is easy but what about the ones in the albums? One of the easiest ways is to take a digital photo per album page. There are of course more sophisticated ways but this is quick and easy and better than no backup at all.
  4. Archive the scanned prints in archival photo boxes, create albums or display your photos in any way you like.


Bonus tip: a pile of approx. 100 prints measures about 1 inch or a shoebox can hold around 1,000 prints.


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Related posts:

My KonMari Journey – Part 1 – Clothes
My KonMari Journey – Part 2 – Books
What you need to know before starting with the KonMari method


  1. Amye

    Really great post and analysis!
    You are terrific!!!

    • Chantal Imbach

      Thanks Amye 🙂

  2. Alex

    I actually have begun scanning and throwing away all my printed photos. Digitally printed ones are sometimes archival but old film ones never are unless they are black and white. They will eventually fade to nothing. I digitally sort and back up to 2 clouds that accept full size photos.

    • Chantal Imbach

      That’s great. I always recommend keeping the prints in archival boxes as a backup. Even if the photos have already started to discolour etc. As long as there is no mould that can spread, all good. But there is no right or wrong, some choose to keep them, some throw them out. Same goes for negatives, that’s a question that comes up all the time. I do recommend to keep them but totally understand if people don’t want to. As long as you’ve got a good backup system in place – as you do – all is good 🙂

  3. Janet Barclay

    I found this very interesting and helpful. I can’t speak for anyone else, but there’s no way I could go through all my printed photos in one fell swoop. If that were possible, I’d have done it long ago!

    • Chantal Imbach

      Thanks Janet. Yes, photo organising projects take a loooot of time and most people have too many photos to do it during a rainy afternoon. I also think it depends on one’s age. Young people will usually have fewer printed photos and it might not be a huge project. Once we get a bit older though, and have possibly already inherited family photos on top of our own, it often becomes a bit trickier and more time consuming.

  4. Janet Schiesl

    Love your suggestions, but I toss negatives. Organizing those is another project most people will never do. I say organize your photos and then scan as you suggested. Then they are saved digitally.

    • Chantal Imbach

      Janet, it is very common that people throw out the negatives, you’re not the only one :-). We simply recommend keeping them as a backup. In my personal view they don’t have to be organised because chances are that one never needs them. And if we do, we can sort them then. We simply don’t have the time in our busy lives for this, that’s just the reality. Definitely recommend scanning printed photos, at least the most precious ones.

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