Saturday, April 2, 2016

In which Primo and I start to sort through the boxes he brought home

We had talked about how to approach the stuff. Primo was overwhelmed. I was not. Primo sees tasks as enormous projects that cannot be completed. I see bite-sized chunks that can be managed in pieces.

"There is no way to sort through all of this!" Primo said.

"If it were me, I would start with the photos and approach the them this way," I said. "I would do an initial sort and pull out any photos with Ted, Jack, Stephanie, and the kids. Then I would send them to them. Then I would pull out the photos of Nancy and send some of those to your brothers and the kids. Then I would pick the best of the remaining photos and make an album."

I set the timer for 30 minutes. "Let's go."

Primo pulled out the smallest box of photos. I pulled out a handful and started sorting - Nancy, Nancy and Primo, Nancy and Primo with Sly and Doris, photos with nobody from the family, i.e., of trees, of hospitals, of random buildings.

Primo started panicking. (That is what he does.) "Stop! You're going too fast!"

"No I'm not. Just pick a batch and start sorting!"

He didn't want to do that. He wanted to sit side by side while we reviewed each photo together.

Can you say, "A task that will never end?"

"That's not efficient!" I said. "I am not making any decisions - I am sorting these into piles that will be easier for you to make decisions about."

Let me segue here to talk about my friend Bruce, who had lunch with us yesterday as he was driving back home. He runs estate sales. He charges $125 an hour to sort through junk.

"My record is 78 pounds," he said.

Primo said, "That wouldn't work for me. I am a control freak."

(That was not news to anyone.)

"I would still have to look at everything before they threw it out."

"They don't throw it out," I said. "They categorize it so the client can make the decision."

Bruce nodded his head in agreement.

"But I would still have to look at everything!"

"You mean you would not trust that someone you are paying $125 an hour to sort for you actually got the category of 'check registers from the 1940s' correct?"

"I would still want to look."

I sighed. Reader, this is my life.

So I sorted photos  into these categories:

  • trees
  • buildings
  • flowers
  • Nancy as a little girl
  • Nancy and her cats
  • Nancy and Primo, Nancy and Sly and Doris, Nancy and grandparents
  • Nancy with the black eye that apparently a boyfriend had given to her
  • Nancy and her skanky boyfriends
  • Nancy topless on a beach on vacation with Sly and Doris
  • Nancy pointing at her Marilyn Manson poster
Primo got all stressed out, which is understandable. He said, "All these people are dead. My family is dead. I can't just get rid of this stuff!"

He did agree to throw away about 10% of the photos - the photos of the trees and buildings. The rest, no. I suggested a compromise. "I didn't think about how emotional this would be for you, sweetie. Let's do this. Let's leave the photos and work on the financial papers instead. Those won't have so much meaning. And if you don't want to do the photos at all this year, then let's just get some of the boxes in the basement instead. I don't care about getting rid of these boxes in particular - I care about getting rid of overall junk. I am willing to trade boxes in the basement for the stuff you brought from your mom and dad's."

He agreed. What this really means is that the boxes of photos will reside in our basement until we move away from here or until Primo dies, whichever comes first. 


  1. Yeah, the inefficiency of that process would have killed me. Doesn't inefficiency bother Primo?

    Anyway, I like the idea of sending some (just keeping a few) to the others, so they have the memories, too. Someone else mentioned scanning them, and that's a great idea. There are services that do that for you as well, so then Primo would be able to keep all of the photos in a way and would still be able to send some on. It's no use keeping something you never even look at or through!

  2. I am (almost) Primo and my husband is you in this case, and I have at least half a dozen large boxes of family photos to sort through. I am going to use your method to help me narrow it down. Thank you for sharing! - Evelynne

  3. I like the idea of 30 minutes a day...
    Poor Primo, if this was November, it was about 5 months since his dad passed? Yeah, that would be hard to make the photo decisions. Maybe in another 5 months...

  4. When Mother died I took your approach and sent 50+ years' worth of pictures to my cousins, brother and old family friends. They claimed to be thrilled. Got notes and letters from several thanking me. it was a win-win. Maybe by now Primo has been able to do it. hoping for the best for you!

  5. My cousins and I sorted all our family photos after my grandpa passed. Then a cousin scanned them all, and another cousin set up a Dropbox so we could all upload scanned photos or video clips of my grandparents. Eventually, a big selection of these came to be uploaded into a digital picture frame that made a little slideshow. Maybe something like this would be good to do for Primo?


  6. Poor Primo! His emotional overload is at maximum capacity. I hope you both are decompressing at a tropical resort in real time!


  7. Poor Primo! His emotional overload is at maximum capacity. I hope you both are decompressing at a tropical resort in real time!

  8. If it makes you feel any better, this is not just a child-of-hoarders thing (although it's partly that, for sure). It also seems to be an Engineer thing, as getting mine to get rid of (or even properly unpack and store) ANYTHING involves much negotiation, shouting, pleading, and eventually just doing it myself and dealing with the fallout later.


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