new photo boxes with old photo album on top

How to Store Your Photos or The Incredible Lightness of Being Divorced

I was thrown out of my life in 2007. He wanted the house, he said, so he could raise his new family there. So I left, blubbering something about how I was taking the photo albums. I moved 41 albums to my new place. And when I moved again a couple of years later, I packed up those albums again.

The second round of devatating fires here in Southern California coincided with the realization that I can no longer afford my current house, and I knew it was time to crack open the covers on the record of my seemingly perfect life. We don’t take pictures of the terrible times, do we? — the creeping doubt, desperation, and anger — and I suppose if we did, I’d have happily left those photo albums behind. Luckily, I wasn’t evacuated during the fires, but the sight of the flames from my windows made me wonder how much time I’d need to pack up a hundred pounds of memories.

Marie Kondo says she prefers to store her photos in albums, but I’ll bet she doesn’t have 40 of them. Or 20. Or even 10. Why do we Americans have so much of everything? I think photo albums are cumbersome for sharing in a group. Everyone has to huddle around, crane their necks, and hope the pictures don’t slip out of the pages as you pass the album from person to person. And these books weigh a ton when filled with photos so you need two hands and have to put down your drink. It seems easier to just grab a stack of pictures, and pass them while raising your glass to the past.

My new photo boxes hold over a thousand photos each and have index cards where you can write the year, the subject, the place, and even make special notes or comments. The company doesn’t provide nearly enough cards, but I photocopied more on card stock. I organized two boxes of pictures for myself, incorporating the photos I inherited from my mom. And I made two boxes for each of my daughters, which I will hand deliver to them when I move nearer to them in a few months. Meanwhile, if a wall of flames races from the mountains to the ocean, I can get the boxes into the Prius in a couple of trips.

If you’re wondering what I did with the photos of the ex-husband and of us a couple, I put the nicest specimens in the daughters’ boxes. And the scores of photos of his lovely family were put into a Christmas box and mailed to his office in December. His likeness does not make an appearance in my photo boxes, but I have to admit that he took a lot of the pictures. I’m grateful for that. And I’m grateful for the experience of looking through decades of photos — of seeing those new babies, birthday parties, proms, graduations, family vacations, and friends with their heads thrown back in laughter. I think when we take pictures, whether we put them in a book or a box, we are recording love. And like love, they can be destroyed so easily.

Birth/first mother, recovering wife, retired caregiver, traveler. Advocate of #adopteerights and #reproductiverights. Subscribe at

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