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Quickly Saving Drowning Memories, One Wet Photo at a Time

Quickly Saving Drowning Memories, One Wet Photo at a Time

Last November my teenagers bought me AirPods for my birthday. Spending so much of their own money to get me pieces of fancy technology made me feel loved.

But I’m not a fancy girl.

I have an old phone, our TV feels ridiculously large, I don’t own a watch (much less a smart one), and if it were up to me, Alexa would be kicked to the curb. 

But I have a husband who loves that stuff and two teens who work and volunteer in tech. So of course they all want me to jump on the bandwagon, and AirPods were one way to get me there.

On a sunny Saturday in March, I started watching a retreat online. I was the first one up that day, so I put in my (rarely-used) spiffy AirPods to respect my people and the last of their dreams. I watched for a bit, but when my distracted brain kicked in, I decided to simultaneously get a few things done. 

I don’t care if the “experts” tell me multi-tasking isn’t good for my brain or isn’t even a real thing. I dabble and I like it. As long as I don’t go crazy with too many things at once, I feel extremely productive and accomplished.

(Cue the humility.)

Fire & Water

After prepping breakfast potatoes, I threw them in the oven, set the timer, wiped the counters, filled the Brita, headed to the closet, and folded laundry. 

Wow… this signal stretches to the back of the house. So convenient! And these things are plenty loud without bothering anyone. I should use them more often. Listening to a live conference and folding laundry while potatoes sizzle and people sleep? Sweet!

Soon two of my guys are awake and I’m bouncing around the house, being ridiculously productive. Encouragement in my ears, hands free, potatoes roasting, chores getting done. Such a great Saturday!

Until a panicked yell interrupted the flow.

“Mohhhhhhhhm!” Even if you’re not a mom, you probably know the tone. 

I drop clothes, dash out of the closet, and have a terrible feeling the oven’s on fire. Sprinting down the hall, thoughts race.

Oh my gosh! How could potatoes catch on fire? Too much oil? Our oven’s old, but not that old. Could it spontaneously combust? Good thing we have fire extinguishers. What the heck?! How did this happen?!

Approximately 2.8 seconds later, I round the corner and hear it. The largest indoor waterfall I’ve ever seen in my life coming from our island. 

Zero fire, gallons of water.

Not just gallons of water flowing onto the tile floor though; that would’ve been easy. This was gallons of water flowing into a bin of photos. Photos from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Memories that didn’t yet exist online.

I couldn’t stop talking. “No. No, no, no. What the…? Oh no! Where…. Nonononono. How did…. Oh my gosh. What are the odds…? When…? Noooooooo.”

Potatoes & Purified Pics

The culprit sat quietly on the counter: Mr. Brita, full to the brim and rapidly spilling over the edge onto the island. For some reason, our island doesn’t tilt toward the sink (lame), so it all went flowing off the end.

The day before, I asked our oldest son to bring our heavy photo bin to the kitchen so I could find a picture of me taking piano lessons for my blog post. After finding what I needed, I shoved the bin under the island so it would be out of the way for the night.

Now it was approximately 90% full of purified water, with photos floating to the top.

My husband and son rushed it outside and gently dumped it upside down, while the other one (who was now awake due to the commotion) grabbed a pile of beach towels.

The next few minutes were a bit of a blur as we scrambled to sop the water in two locations and googled how to save wet pictures. 

The most embarrassing part of the whole thing? It was my fault. The second most embarrassing part? I thought it was someone else’s. I didn’t even remember filling the Brita, much less walking away from it.   

I line up the pitcher, swing the faucet to the side, and fill the gallon jug multiple times a day. But I don’t just stand there for the 26 seconds it takes—I do other things in the kitchen until I hear the sound change and know it’s full.

Due to the fancy technology in my ears that morning, I couldn’t hear the dang waterfall and I walked away. (eye roll)

“I heard the sound, Mom, but I thought it was the potatoes sizzling.”

“Yeah,” my husband said. “I heard it too but thought you were cooking them on super high heat.”

I pulled envelope after envelope from the bin, still in disbelief. Small colorful ones from Longs and large white ones from Costco. Limp paper pockets, barely holding our memories from some of the best decades ever. I worked quickly while sadness continued to bubble.

“Allllll my pictures from the 70s and 80s. And Micah’s childhood! Ugh!”

That Saturday had the potential to be full of cleaning, paperwork and emails. Instead, I spent most of the day on the floor, peeling pictures one by one and wondering if they were all ruined. 

By that evening, 3 sheets, 8 blankets and 15 towels lined the floor of every single room, holding 5 decades of our faces, friends and family.

Deep thought: When I don’t make certain things a priority (getting my pictures out of the garage and into albums, photo boxes, etc.), circumstances have a tendency to do that for me.

Lessons Learned

Turns out most of my mild panicking was pointless. Here’s what I’ve learned about photos:

  • Unless they’re ancient, pictures can stay in water for up to 48 hours without damage. After about four hours of laying them out, I realized I didn’t need to worry about working so fast. The wet ones pulled apart easily; dry ones, not so much. The few I had to re-rinse all survived.
  • They dry best when you lay them out flat, face-up, on something absorbent.
  • Let them dry longer than you think you need to. Any moisture at all will make them stick together when you re-stack them. About 24 hours with fans on was sufficient. 

Photo Storage No-No’s

If you’re older than 40, there’s a strong possibility you had/have your pictures in old albums with magnetic plastic or black paper. If you do nothing else after reading this blog post, please… for the love of film… take them out of those albums. 

Your pictures are better off in almost anything besides those. Don’t feel guilty if they’ve already started to yellow, just move them to an acid-free environment ASAP.

The second worst place to store photos is in an attic, basement, or garage. Photos hate moisture and heat, so keeping them in climate-controlled areas is best to avoid mold.

Photo Storage Yes-Yes’s

Here are the things photos love and need:

These are the Novelinks Acid-Free Transparent Photo Storage Boxes. The case comes with 16 4×6 organizer boxes and is ready to divide and conquer your favorite memories.

Photos also prefer the dark. Basically treat your pictures like expensive potatoes and you’ll be good to go. Dark and dry for the win. 

Organized Chaos

Good news: we saved about 98% of our pictures in the bin. Glory glory hallelujah. 

Bad news: it took days weeks out of my life getting them reorganized.

Good news: we’re lighter on our feet. I tossed over 50 photos of people we didn’t remember, doubles I never shared, and blurry shots I never liked. I’m also mailing extras I don’t want/need to friends and family. 

Best news: Our pictures are more organized than ever. But I did it differently this time. Instead of keeping every photo in date order, I grouped them by categories:

  • Doug’s sports, Carrie’s sports
  • Mount Hermon Summer Staff
  • 1st apartment, 1st home
  • Friends 
  • Seattle Christmases
  • Professional family photos
  • Coaching
  • Pets
  • Cousins
  • Mexico Life

Etc. and amen! This way it will be much easier to find what I need without thumbing through every single envelope in a whole decade looking for that one shot.

Alexa? Where’s that picture of me in the 70s with the fro?

“Is this the one you’re looking for?”

Have you ever had a photo flood? Share your tips & tricks in the comments!

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