Picture this

I am on a decluttering kick, spurred on by months of being a virtual prisoner in my own house. I have bags full of clothes to give away, books someone else may enjoy, junk that needs to be pitched.

Most of this is rather easy and kind of fun. But in the past few days, I have tried to tackle the Holy Grail of decluttering, the Mount Everest of those climbing the ladder of reorganizing.

I am trying to weed through boxes of photographs.

Now, to younger readers, this may seem strange. Why do I have such a mountain of photos? But to anyone who raised their kids in the '90s or early part of this century -- you understand.

You did not take digital photos and store them on your phone or computer like we do now. No, you, like me, took photos and had them developed at the drugstore. And sometimes a bonus -- double prints!

In my small home office this week, I found myself surrounded by mounds of photographs. But these aren't merely pictures on glossy paper. No, these are memories, and a lifetime of blessings as well.

They stretch through generations. I have pictures of great-grandparents, Irish famine survivors who prospered in a new country. I have photos of my husband's great-grandmother sent from an Italian cousin. Here's my mom, a stylish young woman with luxuriant brown hair; my dad, on the basketball team long ago. Pictures of my husband and me as young Jesuit volunteers in Bush Alaska. And then, our wedding, our first home, our many friends.

But the real challenge? The pictures of kids. Did I take a picture to record every day of my first child's life, birth through kindergarten? Possibly, judging by the photo count. Did I put them in albums? Sure, I have lots of well-labeled albums, but if I had put all these pictures in albums, I'd have to rent space from the Library of Congress.

The spirituality of St. Ignatius teaches us to "find God in all things." Taking time to look through hundreds of old photos definitely brings one to God, the God who brought all these people -- and these beautiful children -- into my life.

It's good to take a moment to pray for each old friend, the special aunt, the crazy cousin, the grandma who died this year, holding my daughter's hand tightly in an old photo.

This leads to reflection. How did God walk through my life, often without me even noticing, from the farm where I grew up, portrayed here in black and white, to all that followed? If you're called to reflect on your spirituality autobiography, an old box (or boxes) of photos will guide your way.

But then the hard part, the letting go. How many different pictures of this soccer player kicking the ball on this field do I need? The elegant prom pictures -- but do we need one from every angle? How about these blurry ones? And wait a minute, who's this kid? The garbage bag began to fill.

Don't suggest I scan them and make them digital. Life is short. I'll leave that to the next generation.

I didn't make a huge dent, and I have much organizing to do. But I made piles, and I've warned my kids: Someday I'm handing this pile to you.

In the meantime, it's a spiritual as well as a housekeeping quest: the memories given by a gracious God, a reminder of the swift passage of time and the preciousness of each moment and person, and the challenge of letting go.

- Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.