Pruning My Overloaded Camera Roll and Keeping Some Memories

While spending so much time at home lately, I’ve been tackling small projects that my usually hectic schedule doesn’t always allow for. Whatever is helping you through (maybe it’s actually putting things off for later and taking time to slow down), is exactly what you should be doing. But for me, these little ways to keep moving forward help me stay positive during what is a really challenging time. This week I finally tackled some of the aspects of my cluttered digital life.

I love disposable cameras. Growing up, I’d buy yellow Kodak FunSavers for every trip, party, sleepover or random weekend. I’m naturally nostalgic, and quickly collected a stack of photo albums filled with random snapshots.

Film, of course, takes money and space for just a handful of photos – issues I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with with my camera phone. Then, I got an email last week that my iCloud storage was full. My unpruned camera roll (more than 8,000 images and videos!) had eaten an embarrassing amount of memory.

I dove into my backlog of photos, steeling myself to sacrifice precious memories.

Taking out the trash

It turns out that my camera roll is less of a collection of perfect snapshots and more of a garbage pile with a couple hidden gems. A majority of the content eating up my storage was surprisingly easy to delete: replicas of Instagram posts, hundreds (not kidding) of pictures of my dog, endless memes.

A little housekeeping went a long way. During a trip last year I accidentally recorded 45 minutes of garbled audio. Trashing that gave me some wiggle room. After thumbing through a slew of high dynamic range (HDR) shots of buildings during a sunset, I turned off auto HDR in my phone’s settings. I’m not a photographer. There’s no reason to be taking dozens of copies of the same photo.

What a memory actually is

But I also found myself reluctant to delete some surprising files. A shot I’d taken to sell a chair on Craigslist showed how my room was set up in my old apartment. A series of pictures at Warby Parker I’d sent to my ex, when we were so enmeshed in each other’s lives that I needed his opinion on glasses. A low-fi selfie, taken during an unforgettable night out with friends.

I realized after several agonizing deletions that I don’t have to get rid of things that make me nostalgic on my phone. I just have to be smart about what I do keep.

Last March, I went to a Tower of Power concert with my parents. I took countless videos of their famous brass riffs. I ended up just keeping one video of an impressive solo—and a blurry photo of my mom and dad cheesing.

I can find other footage of a concert any time. For me, remembering how much my parents loved the show is more important.

Letting go and holding on

With this realization, cleaning out my camera roll—a process I’ve been dreading for months—has become fun. Each day, I set aside half an hour to go through a chunk of photos. I use the first few seconds of my gut reaction to identify what I want to keep and what can go, with no judgement.

For bulk sets of pictures I like but don’t need on my phone, I download the original files to my desktop. I’m looking into making some online-to-IRL scrapbooks, using a service like Mixbook.

I’ve found that Instagram’s Archive feature has also come in handy: the app lets you view copies of Stories you’ve posted, creating an externally hosted mini-scrapbook. No iCloud space needed to keep those memories available.

I’ve realized that I was more scared of losing the memories I’ve made with my camera roll than any specific image. And the good news is that memories can work on your iPhone the same way they do on a disposable camera: with just a few shots going a long way.

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