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Photographic Memories

How to preserve your romantic history together

No matter how long you've been married, every couple has threads of shared experiences that weave them together. You no doubt remember your first date. How about the night you were engaged? My husband and I swore we would never forget a single minute of our honeymoon.

Unfortunately, there are other equally important dates we can't remember—such as what we did for our first anniversary, or what Christmas presents we bought each other that first year. I can tell you where we stayed when we visited Italy, though, because when my husband was stationed overseas, I started to organize our memories.

By that I mean I started organizing our photographs. I realized that without some way to chronicle our adventures, I would eventually forget. Photos became a way to preserve married memories. Have you noticed how an old photograph can unlock memories you would have never recalled? But if your photos are stuffed into a drawer or hidden in a closet, going through them becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. Here are some tips to start organizing your photographs so you can have access to them whenever you want, to relive those good memories of your marriage.

Getting started

Beginning is the biggest hurdle. While any new habit takes effort, the secret is to start simple. For most people that box filled with mixed-up, jumbled photographs presents an obstacle too large to face. Instead of dealing with that looming giant, start with organizing the roll of film you picked up yesterday.

This accomplishes two things. First, it excuses you from a task you dread. That dread could become your excuse to procrastinate another year or two. You may not have the time to take on a big project, so start small. Second, if you begin with current photos, you won't keep adding to the pile. If you don't organize your current photos, but simply shove them in the photo box to deal with later, the task can feel as if you're climbing up the down escalator! Of course, if you take only two rolls of film per year, your backlog won't be as daunting as a shutterbug who buys film in bulk. If your mountain of old photos feels insurmountable, set in place a working system, then think about going back.

You can also begin by choosing a specific event to organize. If you and your spouse vacationed recently in Hawaii, put all those photos together. Last Christmas would also be a good choice. If you're newlyweds, your wedding or honeymoon photos probably need some attention. While a professional photographer gave you a beautiful album, you won't want to lose track of all those candid shots.

All in all, the key to getting started is in small, obtainable goals. Think baby steps. Biting off too large a chunk can easily end in frustration and abandoned projects. Set yourself up for success by measuring it with a short yardstick.

Getting organized

My motto for organization is "Easy does it." If it's easy, I does it. Chances are, you're already in the habit of doing something with your photographs. Yours may not be the ideal system, but it's easy. You don't want to introduce an elaborate new framework that's too difficult and time-consuming. Faced with a new hard solution or an old easy habit—well, the choice is obvious.

Try something just as easy as the old way, but better. Go to your local craft store and buy a 5x7x12-inch photo box. Place the box wherever you usually toss your photos. When you develop a new roll, stack the photos upright in your box. The next roll goes behind the first until the box is full. Your photos are now filed neatly and chronologically from front to back!

Now you have your system. When you have spare time and inclination, get out your old, jumbled group of photographs. Using a photo-safe pen, on the back of your photos write the who, what, where, when, and why of each to easily identify the moment. Go back to the craft store, and buy several boxes. You may need one for each year represented in the mass of memories you're tackling.

Sort the photos into the boxes labeled with the corresponding years. Now you have a box of photos labeled "College," a box labeled 1995-2000 (when you lost your camera), and three boxes labeled 2003 (when your spouse bought you that new camera). Success!

As your current photos come under control, try putting your favorite ones into an album. An easy way is to buy an album with 4x6-inch pockets. As you look at a new set of photos, pull out the highlights from that roll. Slide the chosen photos into your album and put the rest into your box. At the end of the year you'll have a way to remember all the special events you shared with your spouse. The effort is minimal and the pay off is high.

Some people like to have yearly albums; some people like theme albums. If keeping up throughout the year isn't your preference, choose one event each year to go in the album. An anniversary album chronicles how you celebrate your marriage every year. A birthday album or Christmas album captures those special couple memories. Ultimately, putting your photos in an album is a great goal. Organizing photographs in boxes makes looking back easier. But a convenient album on your shelf is a treat you can indulge in as often as you like.

Preserving photos

The hobby of scrapbooking has exploded in recent years. Along with it has come a new awareness of how to take care of irreplaceable photographs and mementos. Whether you choose boxes, pocket albums, or a more labor-intensive scrapbook, look for products that are acid-free and lignin-free, since acid and lignin react over time to stain your photos. Your local discount store probably carries these items with the scrapbooking materials. Look for them in the craft section or on the office-supply aisle. Of course, craft stores and scrapbook specialty stores also carry photo-safe materials.

Some papers, such as newsprint, contain acid. A helpful tip is to store cards, brochures, or news clippings separate from photos, since miscellaneous inks and papers could harm them. This is a risk you can avoid by storing them in another place, or by making an album of only these items. If you glue them into an album, check that the glue is acid-free. We have all seen artwork from our childhood that has glue streaks bleeding through to the front. With a little knowledge, your mementos won't suffer a similar fate.

A couple's shared history is a precious link. A small investment of time can keep the joy of your courtship or your first house or your tenth anniversary fresh. Your memories await!

Colin B. Morris, a freelance writer, lives with her family in Georgia.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Creativity; Marriage; Reflection
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2004
Posted September 12, 2008

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