These are “interesting times we live in” is the understatement of the month, year or who knows how long. I’m glad I have access to news, especially local news.

But there is danger in too much news. Even though we may feel the need to keep abreast of what’s happening 1,440 minutes a day, it’s not healthy for us. God bless those who are so busy helping others that they can’t stop to notice 24 hours passing, but the rest of us, with a little too much time to sit and worry, need an occasional mental escape. I’m about to suggest an activity you might find rewarding, therapeutic and productive. But first I have an announcement:

Using the Nextdoor app, a social networking site for communities and neighborhoods, a group of Moscow residents recently formed a network of volunteers to help neighbors who might be in need of help with shopping, deliveries and other essential needs during this time. One does not need to have the app to access help, or to volunteer. This is an informal group with no affiliation to any party or religion. People needing assistance can simply email jenny.neighborsinneed@gmail.com. They will be asked to provide a first name, an address and a note indicating their specific needs. They will then be connected with a person who can assist. Those interested in volunteering should use this same email.

Now, back to my suggestion for a useful break from Facebook or the news. It’s geared for people like me who have anywhere from a closet shelf to a basement full of print photos in our “someday I’m going to get to this” zone. Well, that someday can be now.

First, my reassurance: We’re doing this by layers. Set an intermediary goal if you like. Mine was, “decrease total volume by half.” And I’ve passed it (yay!) but not in one session.

Here’s my first guideline: Find space. Those with a ping-pong table are the luckiest. Or a dining table with all leaves installed will work. The project won’t have to live there indefinitely, but a tablecloth or trays under your dinner dishes might be in order for a few meals. A table extension is another option, using plywood, or a pocket door or two, borrowed from a closet. Set up anything that will provide clear, horizontal space. I don’t recommend a bed, because it’s too uncomfortable to lean over, but I have been known to clear off kitchen counters and cover the stove burners and sink with cookie sheets so I can spread things out. This might be an excellent excuse to go for take-out and support one of our local restaurants.

Next, gather a few supplies: photo marker (or wax crayon); a notebook and pencil; Post-its; rubber bands and boxes and lids of any size, but larger than your prints and preferably with low sides. Then, gather up all the photos you can find, ones from crates, envelopes and albums you need to condense or re-do, desk drawers ... everything.

Turn off the radio, TV and your cell phone. Close your laptop. If this is too scary, set a timer for 30 minutes, when you can check things if you absolutely have to.

Now, set all your photos out. If they’re already in groups that make sense, leave them stacked in box lids or whatever. Otherwise, layer or spread them out. As you do this, look for common broad categories. Perhaps they are more or less chronological, or by events, trips, projects, etc. If there’s absolutely no order to anything, then I suggest guessing the year or decade, and grouping chronologically for starters.

As you proceed, it will likely become clear what sorts of life events you’ve been documenting, so let these categories guide you. For now it’s OK to have a generous “not sure” pile.

I had the presence of mind, way back, to date most prints on the back so I pretty much sorted by the year. But sometimes there was a special event or subject like house-building, garden, a trip that told a story, so I separated out these groups.

Another goal was, and still is, to make each of our children a year-by-year “babyhood till fledged” album or two. Each will also get their own box of “seconds” that they can laugh over, pitch or do whatever they want with. I’ve kept some special ones for a rocking chair album for my husband and me, but my enjoyment is really in the doing now and the passing along, not the keeping. There are a few other categories I separated, and created a “Friends” box, alphabetized by first letter of last name.

Working on this has been an engrossing blast from the past, and a gift to myself to do it without distractions, although I suppose for someone else it could be a great family activity.

Before pausing here, I must share one more simple but extremely important instruction: At each session’s end or pause, make a checklist in the notebook. Write down what you just accomplished. Even if it’s simply “spent 30 minutes trying to find stuff.” Check it off. Then write down a plan for the next session, a list of one or two items is fine, or just “continue with …” No cheating; come up with something. The more you break things down and list them, the more checkmarks you get to make as you proceed (which trust me, really ups your game and helps you stay on track.) Leave the notebook right there in the middle, on top of things.

When, after one session or several, you must put everything away for a while, rubber-band stacks together, box up groups, and label anything and everything with a Post-it. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone back to a project and realized, “I don’t know where the hell I am now?”

Next time, I’ll share my philosophy about purging photos. With brutal practice, it gets more and more exhilarating. For any of you who get ahead of me and delve into it, let me know how it goes.

A final note: No, you can’t recycle prints. They must go in the trash.

Jeanne Leffingwell has been working at downsizing without moving or dying for a quite a while. She can be reached at jleffingwell4@gmail.com.

Recommended for you