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Reduce. Reuse. Remix.: Greeting Cards & Photos (Website) - 10/9/2008 by Jennie Tal

For those who might have missed last week’s introduction, this is the next in our series intended to help get rid of junk in new or creative ways. This week we focus on greeting cards and photographs. When someone puts the effort into picking out a card, writing a thoughtful note and sending it your way, it’s hard to toss it. Photos, too, are difficult to get rid of, and they often take up too much space and can age poorly if stored incorrectly. With the digital age upon us and a junk-reducing spirit within us, there are plenty of ways to cut down on the clutter without getting rid of the memories.


Let's be honest with ourselves: Are those Christmas cards from 1997 ever going to get opened again? Not a chance. Chuck 'em. Yup, just get rid of them.

Most cards are recyclable, although unfortunately, photographs are not.

While labor-intensive, digitizing your photo collection may be a good place to start. There aren't many services that will create digital copies for you, and the ones that will aren't cheap (think $1 per photo).

If you've got the technology, start scanning the photos in, especially the most important ones. If you don't, odds are the 12-year-old you know best has all the right equipment and know-how. Maybe $5 to $10 an hour will get that tween interested -- it might be more appealing than mowing lawns and baby-sitting.

High-quality photos might take some room on the hard drive, so think about an external one if you plan to digitize most of your collection. Once on the computer, Picasa, an online digital photo organizing service run by Google, is a great way to organize and share your pictures with others. Roanoke County libraries have offered courses on Picasa in the past. There aren't any currently scheduled, but more may pop up, said Michael Meise, assistant director of library services.

Whether you have digital back-ups or not, it's important to store the physical photographs well. For the most valuable, create physical copies and keep them in separate, safe places (maybe with a family member, in a safe-deposit box or at the office).

Photos should be labeled with an acid-free pen and ideally stored in albums (not the magnetic sticky kind, which can damage the photos over time), scrapbooks, frames or in a photo box.


St. Jude’s Ranch for Children ( will gladly take old, unwanted greeting cards off your hands. The nonprofit home for abused and neglected youths wants used holiday, birthday and other special occasion cards to raise money. As part of the Recycled Card Program, the kids cut off the front covers, glue them onto new cards and sell the result. The program is not currently accepting card donations, but the Web site says they will be this fall. So bookmark the page and keep checking back to see when they need them.

Got a ton of extra cards and photos? Maybe a group of neighborhood kids can do something creative with them. Think crafty: collages, school projects, scrapbook lessons — the possibilities are endless.


Christmas ornaments: For a great way to spend a few (minimally messy) hours with the kids or grandkids, cut pictures out of old Christmas cards, punch holes and tie decorative ribbons. Voila.

Gifts: Photos can make great gifts. Sending photos to the people in them can really brighten their day, especially when attached to a personal note.

Scrapbooking: It can be as easy as sticking pictures onto colorful paper. Start simple — there are books available at any library full of creative ideas — and then work your way up to a masterpiece. Many libraries and civic organizations host scrapbooking lessons or parties, too, so keep your eyes peeled. Also, both the Roanoke and Christiansburg Michaels stores are hosting a miniscrapbook event for kids Oct. 25 ($5, which includes all materials and a 30-minute session).

For a twist on scrapbooking, take one of those old books that we mentioned in last week’s installment and start there. Georgia Chapman, a reader in Bedford, has made two “altered books” for her husband. She starts with a meaningful book and glues photos, decorations and memorabilia onto the pages. Chapman says there are books at the library that will help get you started.

Collage: Get together a bunch of greeting cards, photographs and other flat memorabilia to create a poster-sized collage. Find a frame and cut out a piece of sturdy cardboard that will fit. Line it with colored paper or cloth before starting to layer on the memories. Don’t worry about how it overlaps — layer it up and let what’s most important shine through. Use double-sided tape or a hot glue gun for easy sticking. Wait until dry, frame and pick a spot on the wall to hang your new masterpiece.

Your Turn

We got a lot of great feedback and some wonderful suggestions after last week's story about what to do with books. We'd love to hear from you with your ideas or questions throughout the series. E-mail or call 981-3269.

Melissa Barnhart of Christiansburg shared an idea for organizing magazines. After years and years of collecting quilting magazines, she couldn't find anything when she was looking for it, so she took all her magazines apart and sorted them into categories such as patterns, techniques and columns. She placed individual pages in protective sleeves and then arranged them into binders.

Dottie Woods of Blacksburg uses books as a coffee table. She saved a 36" glass tabletop and threw away the chrome bottom. She has several stacks of books holding up the glass, and she says it makes a perfect and inexpensive coffee table for her sectional leather couch.

Morton Nadler of Blacksburg doesn't feel like books are junk and encourages reading. He made a good point -- use the library as often as you can to keep reading without accumulating more books than you need.

Georgia Chapman of Bedford mentioned a group that leaves books in public places [note: this is different from littering] for others to read. After some Google searching, I found, a Web site that encourages leaving books with a note and an ID code for others. On the site, you can track a book you've left to see where it's going or one you've found to see where it's been.

One newspaper colleague suggested taking old books to a used-book store for credit, while another reminded me of, an online book club where members trade books for nothing more than the cost of postage. You get credits for posting books and sending books to others. Check it out!

Susan Lockwood of Radford and her husband have given almost 2,000 books to troops around the world as part of Operation Paperback. If you are interested in donating paperbacks in good condition with covers, give her a call at 639-5982. For more information on Operation Paperback or to find out how to become a volunteer shipper, visit||

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