Published on November 17, 2019

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

When I started high school, I insisted on giving and getting only “grown-up” presents: discounted scarves from the Gap, friendship candles with tiny trinkets at the bottom, and, most important, picture frames of all sizes and designs. I was finally old enough to pay for film and the development of it, and my room was nothing if not a canvas on which to put my friends on display.

By college, picture frames had become the fastest way for my friends and I to add personality to our spaces without breaking the bank. Titanic and Spice Girls were replaced by collages of pals, accented by frames that varied from engraved metal to glittery, feathered pieces that complemented shots of “going out” outfits or inside jokes captured on-camera. It felt so adult to dedicate precious wall and desk space to proof that I was embarking on my own parent-free adventures, making my own memories, and populating my life with people I loved. But then I swiftly stopped, donated my picture frames, and delegated all photos to Facebook or other  digital spaces, where I could show off my life without the highlight reel invading my bedroom. In the frames I had left, I swapped out my friends for old postcards or black-and-white shots of the Eiffel Tower, and told myself that generic “live, love, laugh”–branded decor was what real adults valued.

Of course, that realization didn’t come without prompting. Shortly before my mid-20s, I was at a coworker’s house where I’d noticed that she’d delegated photos of her best friends to the fridge and one accent wall. All other art was geographically-centric, found in antique markets, or the result of her own DIY efforts. Seeing this friend as the pinnacle of class and adulthood, I immediately felt self-conscious about my own room and the abundance of photos in it. So in the same way I’d retooled my bulletin board full of cutouts of bands I liked and movie ticket stubs in my late teens, I did the same to my frame-covered desk, wardrobe, and walls. I decided that growing up was to strip the intimacy of your life from your most intimate living space. Friendship was for the Internet. 

“I decided that growing up was to strip the intimacy of your life from your most intimate living space.”

But the older I get, the more I hate this way of thinking. At 34, I do use Instagram (because I love both it and attention), but leaving my home devoid of visual memories doesn’t make me feel grown-up—it makes me feel lonely. My fridge has long been dedicated to photo booth pictures, Polaroids, and holiday cards, but lately, I want even more of them to find their way around my apartment instead of hiding out in boxes of ephemera and old notebooks. I want, in the same way my aunt does, to proudly display framed pictures of me and my friends and my family. I want my home to be a scrapbook you can comb through. I want to be reminded of how much fun I have with the people I love. I want my fluffy, glittery picture frame back.

I’m ready to open a Christmas present and see a framed photo of my best friend and me doing the most (or least, as long as it’s funny or cute), and then set that frame proudly on the coffee table so I can remember how lucky I am to have people who care about me. Who says we can’t morph into 2019 versions of our parents who kept Sears portraits mounted on the wall above the television? 

We may have once flocked to generic art, hoping it would make us chic, thoughtful, or too mature for earnestness, but it’s time to return to wearing our heart on our sleeve and treat photos and the frames that hold them as valuable as they really are. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to celebrating the people who love you and the memories that help keep you going. There’s nothing juvenile or uncool about visual reminders that you have a community to lean on. Plus, let’s be real: Photos always look great. That’s the reason why when I visit a friend’s home, I always pore over their refrigerator.

See more essays:
Why My Heart Belongs to Garage Sales
The IKEA Catalog Raised Me
Living Alone Was Isolating—Until I Made This Change

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