Guest Blogger Terry Shames: The One Thing That Defies Organization

Terry Shames
Terry Shames

The One Thing That Defies Organization by Terry Shames

With the lead-up to publication of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, came months of unaccustomed work preparing for marketing and promotion. I had heard how much time and effort it took, but I was unprepared for the fact that everything else pretty much came to a standstill. I plunged in with great enthusiasm—and with a wave “goodbye” to my usual, organized self.

The novel came out mid-July, and at some point I realized I had to tackle the chaos in my life. I bought a filing cabinet and instigated a filing system; read through several months of “I’ll get to it later” emails, flagging and filing them; and made a list of the blogs I’ve posted for the last year so I know who I blogged for, and when. So I have managed to whip my professional life into shape, but what about my home life?

I had managed to keep up pretty well, but recently I took on the big one: I dragged out all the picture albums, boxes of photos, and negatives (remember those?) from the cabinet where they seemed to have multiplied. I thought I would take everything to one of those places that scans pictures into digital format. Before that, though, I was determined to ruthlessly throw out all the duplicates and the photos that meant nothing to me. How many pictures of a hike my family took in Colorado when I was 16 did I really need?

Looking through the albums, my first thought was, “Who are these people?” There were pictures of people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I don’t remember where they went—or even their names! The best thing I can say is that they remind me of my past. Then there were countless photos of my son’s friends from childhood—kids I don’t remember or recognize. They are darling pictures, but I don’t know who they are!

And then I started wondering whom I was going to all this trouble for. My husband and I are busy and don’t sit around reminiscing over photo albums. My sister has plenty of pictures of her own to deal with. My son hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. I can’t ever see him looking through these pictures and thinking fondly, “Oh, there’s my mom’s Aunt Lottie when she was in her 30s.” More likely, he’d say, “Who’s that?”

I have piles of pictures of me as a baby, and of my parents and their parents, taken when for some reason people thought it was better to take pictures of people standing far away. Half the time I can’t even see who is in the pictures. None of the people are famous, so it’s unlikely a future biographer will lament my profligate destruction of the pictures.

That’s not even to mention my husband’s family pictures. Removed from my mother-in-law’s apartment when she died a few years ago, the albums and loose pictures have stayed exactly where they were when they came into my house—in shopping bags in my husband’s study. Pictures of people I never knew.

So why do I keep all this stuff? All I know is that it makes me feel queasy to think of throwing them away. Do I worry that one of these days I’ll regret not having them? Do I imagine that one day I will want to pore over them? Who knows? I remember once going through a box of random photos with my grandmother. We ran across a photo of a man in a Civil War uniform. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandmother laughed, “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know why I have it.” And she tucked it back into the box.

I’d like to hear whether other people have the same impulse to keep all those pictures—and why?


Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where her grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery, the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.

Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at

0 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Terry Shames: The One Thing That Defies Organization”

  1. Terry, how strange you should touch on this topic. We’re still in the process of moving in. Prior to this move, which we think is our last, we’ve been hauling around unorganized boxes of photographs for ages. Sorting through them was low on my list of things to do to get the new house organized, but they were bothering my husband. So, we took a few days and went through them. They’re not really organized yet, just moreso than they were. I, too, wonder if anyone else will ever want them. Especially the pictures my mother had from her cousin’s house. That cousin was childless and no one wanted her pictures, so my mother took them. That makes me sad–but I can’t throw them out!

    1. Funny that with all the things you’ve had to sort in your moves, the pictures were nagging at your husband to be addressed. Maybe knowing it may be your last move is making him nostalgic?

  2. I have those boxes of pictures, too, and in a frenzy of organizing got them all sorted, only to find another large box! Keeping photos and memorabilia is a way to try to throw an anchor into the past and hang on, when life is flowing away so swiftly. Good luck with the new book. Promotion’s a time-killer.

    1. Vicki, thanks for stopping by. I so feel your comment about the anchor to the past when life is flowing away so swiftly. Recently, my son was home and grabbed an old box of pictures from when he was a baby/toddler so he could have things to post on Facebook on throw-back Thursdays. As I see what he is posting, those days — first haircut, baseball game, dance recital seem like yesterday. The first haircut is particularly poignant. His twin sister is being married next month and besides his, he pulled pictures of her first haircut — by the same person who will be doing her hair for her wedding.

      1. Debra, that’s so cool that the person your daughter go her first haircut from is also doing her wedding hairdo. Sounds like her brother really loves her. I can’t imagine my son going through pictures.

  3. My mom made a big box for each child and threw photos into each, which she gave to the children (us). My box is in the bottom drawer of a dresser in my guest bedroom. I have stacks of boxes with old prints. I have shelved boxes of sorted, organized slide shows on dedicated shelves in FL and in nice bags stashed in a small attic in CO. Also stacks of the slides that didn’t make the show. Now have 1000’s of digital photos taking up space on my computers and backup external drives. The problem just multiplies. YIKES! When do we make the decision to “throw the stuff out”?

    1. Marty, you are so right about the boxes and digital photos, even the ones saved in dropbox and other cloud devices. We also have discs which were converted from my in-laws old home movies. I barely recognize the people in them, know my children don’t and won’t, but at some point in time, they will be the ones who get the boxes and discs. I won’t destroy them.

  4. Great blog topic.

    Okay, here’s what we have done thanks to a daughter who was in to scrapbooking. Hubby and I wrote up short stories to go with special pictures. We gave her pictures of our parents and grandparents which each had some sort of story. We also gave her some baby pictures. We are in the process of sorting and/or tossing the rest. This way history in both word and pictures will be handed down for posterity, but the clutter will be gone. Hubby has also put all the old 8mm and VCR family movies on DVD. The next generation appears to have less clutter and are more organized. Hubby does worry they will regret having lost something but they will have at least one set of wedding pictures, important baby photos, and a few ‘cutesy’ photos. Hope this helps you all trying to deal with the issues.

  5. Terry, recently I went to a big family reunion where I was one of the older generation there. A large bulletin board had been set up with pictures – my dad was one of 11 kids, so there were a lot of my cousins there and their kids, too. Also, numerous photo albums were brought and you can’t imagine how much those pictures were appreciated. The fun part was trying to figure out who some of these pictures were of. It was like a puzzle we worked together to solve and how excited when we reached a consensus on who someone was in the pictures. I can’t and won’t throw away pictures. In fact, now that my pictures are all digital, I’m thinking of making print copies of them to put in albums to share with my siblings.

    1. Gloria,
      I’m with you on printing everything I like out AND keeping the digital copies in a storage center. My fear as time goes by and I use more snapfish vs. kodak or dropbox or whatever, my pictures will end up archived and lost without anyone generations from now being able to retrieve them. Hence, print copies, too.

  6. Terry, your post resonates with me because just last week I spent several days with my sister on the opposite coast. One day when she had to go to work she sat me down in front of three large plastic tubs of family photos, letters, and other documents, hoping I’d help her clear them out. Over several hours I built a stack of items I was willing to discard, though of course she has veto power. A few things (too many!) I set aside to bring home. To her delight I managed to consolidate three tubs into two. But what I weeded was the easy stuff. The next sort will involve much tougher decisions.

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